James Miller

James was the son of Edward John Miller, a blacksmith, and Jane Isabella Wilson.  The couple had married on 14 April 1896 at St Paul’s church, Hendon, and James was born in Southwick on 15 March the following year. James was taken for baptism to Holy Trinity church, Southwick on14 April.

By the time the 1901 census was taken the family was living at 3 Thirlwell Terrace, Southwick. Edward and James had two daughters living with them, but James was staying with his paternal grandparents at the tailor’s shop on The Terrace, Southwick.

When the 1911 census return was made the family had moved to 25 Armstrong Street, Dunston. James had left school, but wasn’t yet working.

Unfortunately James’ service records haven’t survived, but from the amount of War Gratuity paid it looks likely that he enlisted around the autumn of 1915. He was posted to 2nd/9th Battalion Manchester Regiment with the service number 50846.  The battalion landed in France in February 1917, though it is not known whether James was with them at that time. In April 1918 the battalion was reduced in size; it is possible that it was at this time that James was transferred to 2nd Battalion. After April 1918 the 2nd Battalion was involved in the battles of Amiens, Albert, St Quentin Canal, Beaurevoir, and the Sambre. The battalion ended the war near Sambreton south of Landrecies.

By February 1919 James was admitted to hospital in Manchester, where he died on 21 February just four weeks before his 22nd birthday. He was buried in Whickham (Garden House) cemetery. His War Gratuity payment was sent to his parents who were living at  20, Barry Street, Dunstan. For his service to his country James earned the British War Medal and the Victory Medal; these were also sent to his parents.

James parents stayed in the area. Edward died in 1932 and Jane in 1950; both were buried in the same plot as their son James.


William Mitchinson

Another of my north east men.


William Mitchinson was the third child of John Mitchinson and Elizabeth Smith who had married in Winlaton in the summer of 1876. Their first two children were born in Winlaton and William was born around June  1880 when the family was living in Newburn. When the census was taken in 1881 the family had moved to The Lodge, Walbottle. John was employed as a gardener and william’s older brother was living with his great uncle in Winlaton..

By 1891 John and Elizabeth were living with their two youngest daughters at Whitley Park Gardens in Whitley, but the older children, including ten yer old William, were living with their mother’s family at Rectory Lane, Winlaton. William’s great uncle was a painter, which could have influenced William in his choice of employment.

On 17 February 1900 William married Isabella Noakes Gamble at Tynemouth Register Office. When the census return was made in 1901 the couple lived  in Winlaton and William was working as a house painter. Isabella gave birth to a son, Norman in February 1902, followed by twin daughters in 1904; both sadly died in infancy. Another son, Richard, was born in Cullercoats the following year, then James in June 1909 in Gosforth.

When the 1911 census was taken the family had moved house again. William, Isabella and the three boys were living at 12 Wilkie Street, Sheildfield, Newcastle. This time both William and Isabella listed their occupation as house painter. In December that year Issabella gave birth to another son, Martin.

William continued to work as a house painter, and when war broke out in 1914 he was quick to volunteer his services. As a married man with four sons, he was under no compulsion to enlist so early in the war, but on August 31 he went to North Shields and attested into the Northumberland Fusiliers. William was 34 years old, 5’4½” tall and weighed 131½ lbs. He had grey eyes, brown hair and a sallow complexion, and gave his religion as Church of England. He was issued with service number 11681 and on 1 September was posted into C Company in the newly formed 9th Battalion. William went off to start his basic training with the battalion near Wareham that month. In December the battalion moved to Wimborne, and on 17 December his son William was born in Whickham.

On 6 July 1915 after several months of training in the UK the battalion received orders that they were to be held in readiness to proceed on active service. The men stayed at Hursley Park, Winchester for a week, and on 15 July marched into Winchester to entrain for Folkestone. The men embarked on the ‘Invicta’ and sailed from Folkestone at 9.10am the following day, arriving at Boulogne at 11.00pm.

The men would soon get into the routine of being in the front line, in reserve and resting. On the night of 16/17  November the battalion moved from reserve near Vlamertinghe to Hooge, to relieve 6th Battalion Dorset Regiment. The war diary describes the trenches they were to take over: ‘ Owing to recent heavy rains the trenches taken over were in a deplorable condition, average depth of mud and water being about 2 feet. Throughout the day rain, hail and sleet fell continuously. Communication by day, (except by telephone) between battalion headquarters and the firing line was entirely cut off, all communication trenches having fallen in.’ The battalion remained in the Hooge area until 24 November.

At the end of the year the battalion was on the ramparts near the Menin Gate at Ypres, New Year’s Eve being a quiet day, with intermittent activity from the enemy on 1 January.  In 1916 the battalion was involved with the Battle of Albert and the Battle of Delville Wood.

On 17 January 1917 the battalion moved into billets at La Nieuville, near Corbie for a period of training which lasted until 27 January. It was during this time, on 22 January, that William was appointed Lance Corporal.  Most of February was spent either training in the camp at Bronfay, or in nearby trenches. On one of the marches that month William was ‘blind’ for a few seconds.

William went on to be involved in the first & second Battles of the Scarpe and the Capture of Roeux before he was sent to hospital on 25 September because of pains and weakness. He was invalided back to England on 16 October, having been diagnosed with Valvular Disease of the Heart.  William spent the next ten weeks confined to bed, and made no improvement.

Isabella and the children were then living at 7 Back Ellison Road, Dunston.

In a medical report written at Bermondsey Military Hospital in February 1918 William submitted a personal statement ‘In November 1915 at Hooge, was chilled down several times from standing in water in the trenches.  This was followed by pains in shins and ankle joints but no fever. In February 1917 became short of breath and was “blind” for a few seconds on the march…’  William was discharged from the army on 28 February 1918 because he was no longer physically  to serve. He was awarded 100% disability, caused by exposure hardships of campaign. Hospital treatment as an outpatient was prescribed. He was awarded 27/6 pension and 15/- allowance for the four children still under age.

Sadly William’s health continued to deteriorate, and he died on 26 November, just two weeks after the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front. He was buried in Whickham (Garden House) cemetery.  For his service to his country William earned the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. His £16 War Gratuity was paid to Isabella.

Isabella stayed in the North East and in 1939  was living at 29 Cambridge Avenue, Whitley Bay with her son Martin, who was then a chef.  Her youngest son, William also lived in Whitley Bay at 32 Maple Avenue. Isabella died in 1957.

John William Stanley Wright

Another short life from the north east commemorated.

John William Stanley Wright was the eldest child of James Wright, an iron moulder, and Grace Jane Pluse (sometimes Plews) who were married early in 1896 in the Sunderland area. The young couple began their married life in Washington, where John was born towards the end of 1896. They moved to Swalwell, where a second son, Anthony, was born in 1898.  When the 1901 census return was made the family was living in Church Square.

In 1911 the family was still living in Swalwell, at Church View. Fourteen year old John had left school and was working as a screener in the coal mine, and by then had two younger brothers, Norman and James.

John’s brother Anthony enlisted in December 1915, a week after his eighteenth birthday. John’s service records have not survived, and it is not known whether John was already serving at that point.  He served in 4th Battalion, North Staffordshire (Prince of Wales’s) Regiment with the service number 48252. This was a reserve battalion, which was in Marske in October 1916 and moved to Saltburn in March 1917. Perhaps it was around this time, when the battalion was serving locally that John enlisted.

The battalion sailed on ss Archangel to Le Havre from Southampton on the night of 10/11 October 1917. On 15 November 1917 the battalion was transferred to 106th Brigade in  35th Division near Ypres and was engaged in action on the Western Front. In 1918 the battalion fought in the 1st Battle of Bapaume, the battles of Ypres and Courtrai, and the action of Tieghem. At the end of the war the men were in Belgium, near Audenhove.

It looks likely that John wasn’t discharged until after the end of the war – he wasn’t issued with a Silver War Badge – but he must have had physical limitations as a result of his service because when he died on 31 July 1921, aged 25, he was given a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone, in recognition that his death was caused by his service for his country. John is buried in  Whickham (Garden House) cemetery.

John was eligible for the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, as was his brother Anthony who served in the Durham Light Infantry and the West Riding Regiment.

In 1939 John’s widowed mother, Grace,  was still living at Church View with her three surviving sons. She died in 1944.

William Laybourn

Another of the young men from the north east this week.

William was the son of William Laybourn, a labourer in an iron works,  and Mary Jane Watson who had married early in 1898 in the Gateshead area. By the end of the year Mary Jane gave birth to their first child William who, like his parents, was born in Swalwell. The following year a daughter was born, and by the time the 1901 census was taken the family was living at Brewery Bank in Swalwell.

The family grew over the following years, and when the census was taken again in 1991, there were five surviving children at home in Brewery Bank. William senior was working underground in the local coal mine, twelve year old William was still at school, but would soon be old enough to leave school and go to work at the colliery like his father.

The family moved to 22 Axwell Terrace, Swalwell, where they were still living when in October 1916  just a few weeks before his 18th birthday, William went to the recruiting office in Blaydon on Tyne and enlisted in the army. He was posted to the army reserve until he was mobilised in Newcastle on 16 February 1917, being posted to 86th Training Battalion (later 52nd (Graduated) Battalion Durham Light Infantry.) in Hornsea the following day.  This would be where William would undergo basic training before being posted to an active service unit. His service records show that he was 5’2” tall, weighing 113lbs. He was issued with the service number TR5/65918 and on 6 June 1918 was appointed acting Lance Corporal.

Whilst still training, William became ill, and was admitted to the Cliffden Military Hospital (the VAD hospital) in Saltburn on 8 July suffering from influenza and pneumonia. He was in hospital for a week, during which time he showed no sign of improvement; his breathing became more laboured, and during his last day was delirious most of the time and eventually collapsed. His service records say that ‘ He probably died during (this) crisis.’  It seems uncertain at what time William died during the night of 14-15 July.

As a single man, William’s accrued pay of £3/15/9 and War Gratuity payment of £4/5 were sent to his father. William was buried in In Whickham (Garden House) cemetery.

Elias Levy

Elias Levy

Last week I had the opportunity to visit several war graves cemeteries in the Albert area, Elias Levy is one of the men whose headstone I visited.

Elias was born in London, the son of Louis (Lewis) and Elizabeth (Betsy) Levy, who had married in the Mile End area in the spring of 1878. Elias was their fifth child, born in February 1887. In October 1889 the family emigrated to Australia, arriving in Adelaide on 20 November.

Louis initially worked at the Enterprise Boot Factory, and later became an official for the Operative Bootmakers Union. By 1913 Louis had his own boot shop, and in July of that year he disturbed armed intruders in his shop. Louis died of pneumonia later that year leaving Betsy widowed. At that time Elias was still living in the family home at 83 Halifax Street. Elias was working as a labourer, and enlisted in the Australian army on 15 November 1915, in Adelaide. He gave his mother as his next of kin, and stated his age to be 28 years and 9 months. At the time of his attestation Elias was 5’2″ tall, weighed 126lbs, had a medium complexion, brown eyes and light brown hair.He was given the service number 4812 and appointed to A Company, 2nd Depot Battalion.

Elias was transferred to 50th Battalion on 20 May 1916 and on 7 June embarked ship in Alexandria, disembarking in Marseilles on 14 June. On 15 August he was admitted to 9th field Ambulance suffering from shell shock, and was discharged the following day, rejoining his battalion on 24 August.

He suffered from a heart problem in October 1916 and was treated for several days at 13th Field Ambulance for tachycardia, being discharged back t duty on 20 October. A little over three weeks later he was wounded in action, and admitted to 4th Australian Field Ambulance on 15 November, where he died of multiple shot wounds later that day.

Elias was buried at Longueval cemetery. His personal effects, comprising his identity disc, wallet, letters, safety razor in case and fountain pen, were sent to his mother in July 1917. As the widowed mother of a single son, Betsy was awarded a pension of £2 per fortnight.

Elias’ death was announced in the Adelaide Chronicle

LATE PRIVATE E. LEVY. News has been received by Mrs. B. Levy, of 83, Halifax-street, Adelaide, that her youngest son, Private E. Levy, had died of wounds on November 15. Private Levy was 29 years of age. He was born in London, and enlisted on November 15, 1915. Private Levy served in Egypt before he was sent to France. He was wounded on September 14. He died exactly 12 months after his enlistment.

Betsy was sent three photographs of his headstone in December 1920, just a few weeks before she died in January 1921, leaving Elias’ eldest brother John as his next of kin.  Accordingly, in 1922 Elias’ plaque was sent to John in Torrensville, followed by his Victory Medal in 1923.

It is not known whether any of Elias’ family have visited him, but it was an honour to pay my respects at his graveside last week. Rest in peace, soldier.

Levy ESources used: UK census records, UK Birth registration, UK marriage Registration, Victoria, Australia assisted and unassisted passenger lists 1839-1923, Find a grave, Commonwealth War Graves Commission records, British Jewry Roll of Honour, Service Records, Trove.

Richard Knotts

Another short life remembered this week.

Richard Knotts was the fifth child of Thomas Knotts and Ann Bulman who had married in the summer of 1885 in the Gateshead area. Thomas was an iron worker and the family lived  in Winlaton. Richard was born towards the end of 1891and by the time he showed on the census return in 1901 his mother, Ann, was recorded as a widow, working as a washer-woman to support her four surviving children.

It is not known what happened to Ann, but by 1911 the family had dispersed. Richard was living with his mother’s brother and his family. He had left school and was working as a labourer underground at the colliery. His older brother was living with another uncle and the girls had gone into service.

Perhaps looking for better opportunities, Richard enlisted on 2 May 1913, joining the 5th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, a territorial battalion which was part of the York and Durham Brigade. He was initially given the service number 1568

When war broke out the men were at their summer training camp in North Wales  and were recalled to battalion headquarters at Stockton on Tees. After further training and preparations the men were ready for battle, and sailed to Boulogne, where they disembarked on 18 April 1915. The next couple of days were spent travelling to the field of battle where they arrived on 20 April.

The battalion fought in the second battle of Ypres in 1915, and spent much of 1916 on the Somme.

In 1917 when territorial soldiers numbers were re-numbered Richard was issued with his new service number, 204948. That year the men fought in Arras and Passchendaele, and at some point Richard was injured, and was eventually sent back to England. In the summer of 1917, whilst still in the army Richard married Dorothy Oliver in Newcastle. He was unfit to return to his unit and was eventually discharged 4 October 1917.

In the autumn of 1918 Dorothy gave birth to their first child Thomas and on 8 March 1920 to a daughter, Jennie. It must have felt like things were settling for the young family, but barely two months after the birth of his infant daughter Richard died on 11 May 1920 at the age of 28.

He was buried in Whickham (Garden House) cemetery.

For his service to his country Richard earned the 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Dorothy stayed in the area, and in 1939 was living in Newcastle upon Tyne and working as an examiner in a naval ordnance store. Jennie had left home and was working as a domestic servant in the orthopaedic hospital school in Gosforth.

1000000 steps?

I’ve just discovered the 1 Million Steps challenge set up by Diabetes UK – don’t know enough people well enough to ask for sponsorship, so I’ve sponsored someone I do know, and committed to support her by doing the 1000000 steps along with her.

It starts tomorrow, and lasts until the end of September. Rather than add daily posts here, I’ll set up a temporary page on the blog to record my progress. All ready for the off tomorrow. It sounds like a great way to increase the amount of walking I do in a sustained way (works out at only 11,000 ish steps a day, providing I stick with it!

Benjamin Harold Hankey 1899-1920

Benjamin is another soldier buried in the Whickham (Garden House) cemetery.

Benjamin Harold Hankey was the second son of Benjamin Hankey and Lucy Smith who had married in the spring of 1894 in the Newcastle registration district.  Benjamin worked as a clerk for North Eastern Railway and the young couple began their married life in Gateshead, where they had a son and daughter. At some point between 1896 and 1899 the family moved to Darlington where Benjamin Harold was born in the spring of 1899.

In 1901 the family lived at 34 Louisa Street, Darlington, and by 1911 they had moved to 1 Kensington Terrace, Whickham. Benjamin still worked as an N.E.R. clerk, and the eldest son Oswald was a labourer in a local flour mill. Benjamin Harold was still at school, and by then had three younger brothers.

After leaving school Benjamin Harold followed his father into the employ of N.E.R. and attained an apprenticeship as a fitter in Gateshead. He didn’t wait to be called up for service, but attested for the duration of the war in Newcastle at the age of 17 years and 9 months on 5 February 1917. By this time the family was living at 35 Oakland Road, W Jesmond. He expressed a wish to join Royal Garrison Artillery (R.G.A.) and was posted to number 4 Depot of R.G.A. at Ripon, being given the service number 189179.

On 19 February 1918 Benjamin was posted to the R.G.A. Signals Depot at Halton Park, Tring. At the end of May, he was posted to ‘A’ Siege Depot, R.G.A. and qualified as a First Class Signaller on 2 October, on which date he was appointed a gunner signaller. Benjamin was discharged from the army under AO IV of 1918 and re-enlisted for a period of two years at Catterick on 10 February 1919. Following a medical examination at Catterick Camp he was declared fit for the army. At that time he was 5’5” tall, had a fresh complexion and light blue eyes. On 26 May he was posted to 2/3 Siege Artillery Reserve Brigade and then on 7 June to Central Siege School at Lydd.

Whilst stationed in Lydd on 19 October 1919 he was confined to barracks for 2 days for absenting himself from parade. Benjamin qualified as a Gun Layer 20 March 1920, and endured another 3 days confined to barracks from 11 May for missing parade.

On 18 May Benjamin was admitted to the Military Hospital at Shorncliffe complaining of pain in his back and the left side of his stomach, thinking that he may have injured his back when he slipped down a couple of steps three days earlier. It was suspected that he might have pneumonia, but there were no definite signs. By the following day he was very ill, finding breathing difficult, and being delirious most of the day. Benjamin remained delirious and he died at 10 minutes past 12 on the morning of  23 May 1920 at Shorncliffe Military Hospital. His father was listed as his next of kin, and was with Benjamin when he died.

Benjamin’s father arranged for his body to be returned home, to be buried in the Garden House Cemetery. In due course both of his parents were buried in the same plot; his father in 1948 and mother in 1951.

Hanky CWG

Image used with kind permission of Brian54 (FindaGrave.com)


Benjamin’s older brother Oswald attested to the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1915 and was discharged in March 1919. He went to live in Gateshead, where he worked as a grocer, and died in 1962