Fallen Wearside war heroes are at the centre of an appeal for help.
Volunteers from Houghton War Memorials Project have spent more than three years researching hundreds of names engraved on the World War One cenotaph at St Michael’s Churchyard.
Now, just 16 out of the original 237 names remain a mystery - sparking an appeal for help in tracking down details before the group publishes a book marking the men’s sacrifices later this year.
“These final names are proving extremely tricky, but I’m sure there must be someone out there who knows something.
“Hopefully, they will see this appeal and come forward,” said project member Fay Judson.
“I’m intending to publish the book this year anyway, as we have collected so much information on our brave men already, but we would really like it to contain details on all those mentioned on the memorial.”
More than 25,000 men from Sunderland and the surrounding villages signed up to fight in the “war to end all wars”. It was all supposed to be “over by Christmas” - but it wasn’t.
Many were shelled, gassed or shot – and one in 10 never returned home. Memorials to the hundreds of local fallen heroes were erected in the months and years following the end of the conflict.
“We believe it is very important to remember those who gave their lives in the Great War. Their names should never be forgotten, and our project is a tribute to them and the sacrifices they made,” said Fay.
“There are stories attached to all the men on the memorial and, after three years of hard work, we are down to needing information on just 16 of the 237 names engraved on it.
“We intend to include all the soldiers featured on the cenotaph in our book. We won’t be leaving anyone out, but it would be nice to have more than just a name to print. Every man deserves to have his story told.”
Among the Houghton soldiers traced so far are Thomas Rutherford, who fought with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, as well as DLI Home Front soldier Joseph Greathead.
Details on 20-year-old Private Frederick W. Wheatley, who fought with the York and Lancashire Regiment and died in 1918, have also been uncovered during the project.
But further help is still needed on soldiers with surnames such as Brown, Smith, Taylor and Wilson, as well as Coulson, Fenton, Guy, Mulholland, Robinson, Scott and Sedgewick.
“This has been a huge exercise, but we have been determined from the start to do all the men justice – and that means getting things right. Hence our appeal for extra help,” said Fay.
“We have tried everything from archive research to searching old newspapers. It really comes down now to someone recognising one of the names.
“It is possible, for instance, that the men named only lived in the village for a short while.
“Please, if you spot a surname you know, get in touch.”
Houghton War Memorials Project was launched back in 2013, after members of Houghton Access Point switched from researching their family trees to tracking down fallen soldiers.
The project has involved tracing multiple Joneses, Smiths and Wilsons, as well as dozens of other surnames – but details on the final 16 are proving to be almost impossible to unearth.
“Many families had the same surnames in Houghton back then, and children were often named after their fathers or grandfathers - such as George, William or John,” said Fay.
“This has made tracing the names of the cenotaph particularly hard, as we have had to ensure we’ve matched the right man to the right name. It really has been a mammoth task. Now we just need to find the final pieces of the puzzle, and we’d love to hear from anyone with information on the men named on the memorial – especially the “missing” men.
“I’m aiming to get a draft of our book to the printers by Easter at the latest. If we haven’t found all the men by then, then unfortunately only their names will go in.”
* Can you help with the project? Contact the group via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, at Houghton Racecourse Community Centre, by phone on 512 0189 or via Facebook.