In Whickham (St Mary) Churchyard) is the Commonwealth War Grave of WR/265564 2nd Corporal William Nevin, serving with the Royal Engineers, who died on 29 August 1919.
William Nevin was the eldest son of Henry Octavius Nevin and Sarah Ann Goodfellow who had married towards the end of 1891. Henry was a coal miner, and Sarah came from the same mining village. The couple moved to Burnopfield where their first two children, both daughters, were born. William was born on 13 October 1895. He was taken for baptism to the parish church at Burnopfield on 7 November.
William started school on 21 November 1898, attending Eggleston Church of England School with his older sister Charlotte. At that time the family lived at 38 Front Street, Burnopfield. By the time the census was taken in the spring of 1901 the family had moved to Cinder Row and another daughter had been born into the family. On 1 May 1902 William moved up to Tanfield (Burnopfield) Leazes Council School, where he stayed until 3 June 1904.
When the 1911 census return was made William was 15 and had left school. He was working as a pony driver underground at the pit. On 25 January 1914, by then working as a gangman on the pit railway, he joined the National Union of Mineworkers.
On 22 September 1914 William went to York where he joined the Northumberland Fusiliers, and was posted to 17th Battalion with the service number 838. This was a ‘Pals’ service battalion known as the North Eastern Railway Pioneers. After initial training in England, the battalion travelled to Southampton on 20 November 1915. The men embarked for Le Havre at 6.30pm, arriving at 3.00am on 21 November. After several days marching they arrived at Meaulte where they took over work in the trenches – draining, clearing falls, improving and making dugouts. The battalion stayed in Meaulte until the end of the year – Christmas passed by apparently unnoticed, ‘work as usual till 27-12-15’ being the only comment in the war diary for that day.
The battalion moved to Bouzincourt in the new year, and spent January there, making a new road, building and improving dugouts, resetting fire bays and building iron shelters. They continued this type of work near Bouzincourt and Albert. We know that William, promoted to Lance Corporal, was sent back to England on 2 April 1916; perhaps he was one of two men wounded in D Company on 21 March.
William remained in England and in February 1917 he was transferred to the Royal Engineers and given a new service number – 239740. His service number was changed yet again, to WR/265564, WR being the prefix for Waterways and Railways troops. On 12 August 1917 William embarked to rejoin the British Expeditionary Force in France with Number 26 Light Railway Workshop, and was appointed 2nd Corporal on 29 August. For the next year William played his part in the operating of the light railway system. There would likely be about 200 men in the Company, mostly tradesmen like William – drivers, brakesmen, quards, wagon repairers, and few officers, so as a 2nd Corporal, William would have held a responsible position.
On 21 August 1918 William was sent back to the UK. It was determined that he was no longer physically fit for war service and he was discharged about three weeks later, on 10 September 1918. He was awarded the Silver War Badge, indicating that he had served his country in the conflict, and was no longer able to do so. William returned home, but it is not known whether he was ever fit enough to go back to work. A little under a year after he was discharged William died on 29 August 1919, and was buried in the churchyard at St Mary’s, Whickham, with a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone. He is also remembered on the Whickham parish WW1 plaque and on the memorial at Swalwell Junior School.
For his service to his country William earned the 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He was 23 years old when he died.
William’s parents stayed in Whickham, living at 12 William Street just after the war, and by 1939 at 37 Lenin Drive, with their two youngest children, John and Hilda. Henry and Sarah both died in 1950.