Mackem paint-pot lad became worldwide star

King George V chatting to teenager John Cassidy during a visit to Sunderland's shipyards in 1917. The photo was used in newspapers world-wide.

King George V chatting to teenager John Cassidy during a visit to Sunderland's shipyards in 1917. The photo was used in newspapers world-wide.

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A Sunderland youngster became a global star - thanks to the King of England.

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the death of King George V, the first Royal to officially visit Sunderland in the 20th century.

The official proclamation on the steps of Sunderland Town Hall of Edward VIII's accession to the throne following the death of George V in 1936.

The official proclamation on the steps of Sunderland Town Hall of Edward VIII's accession to the throne following the death of George V in 1936.

His Majesty, second son of King Edward VII and grandson of Queen Victoria, made the trip with his wife, Queen Mary, during World War One.

“The couple visited on June 15, 1917, to show their support for the men who were building vessels for the conflict,” said Echo archivist Susan Swinney.

“But what was supposed to be a chance for the King to quietly watch shipyard workers going about their normal duties, ended up as an international story.”

Indeed, as King George toured Laings, so a young paint-pot lad caught his eye. John Cassidy was 17 but, at just 3ft 6ins, looked much younger.

King George V visiting JL Thompson's shipyard, Sunderland, during the war in 1917.

King George V visiting JL Thompson's shipyard, Sunderland, during the war in 1917.

“Haven’t you made a mistake with your age?” enquired the King. “No Sir” came the reply.

“Then why don’t you grow?” said the King. “I can’t,” John told him.

Photographers scrambled to take pictures as the pair stood chatting and smiling. Within 24 hours, the snaps were published in newspapers around the world.

Almost 20 years on, following the death of King George, John once again stepped into the media spotlight – this time to pay tribute to His Royal Highness.

“As a paint-pot lad I shook hands with King George – God rest him,” he recalled. “I have been treated like a king myself since by my own people.

“Something in him put me at ease and gave me courage. They say the picture of His Majesty talking to me has pleased thousands of people all over the world.

“Children still shout ‘There’s t’little chap who shook hand with t’King.’ But anyone who might shake hands with me must take the left hand.

“Now that King George has passed, I shall honour him in my heart and with my right hand as long as I live.”

** Look out for more Royal photos next week.