A tribute to Wearside war heroes is to be unveiled. Sarah Stoner reports.
THE bravery of a ‘forgotten’ band of Wearside war heroes is to finally be remembered – 100 years after fighting for King and Country.
The soldiers of the close-knit ‘Idle and Dissolute’ unit saw action across Europe in battle after bloody battle during the Great War – winning dozens of gallantry awards.
But, a century after the 160th (Wearside) Brigade Royal Field Artillery was raised, the courageous deeds of its 2,500 troops have been largely forgotten – until now.
Next month will see council bosses erect a blue heritage plaque honouring the unit at Houghton Hall, its former HQ – 100 years and one day after the brigade was formed.
And the move has delighted author Philip Adams, who has campaigned for greater recognition for the 160th since publishing a definitive history of the unit in 2013.
“Their deeds were just as heroic as those of their illustrious infantry comrades of the Durham Light Infantry, but there was no proper memorial to them until now,” he said.
“These men carried the Wearside name into battle. I wrote the book to ensure their sacrifices were not forgotten and I’m delighted there will now be a plaque as well.
“As a final gesture, I would love to see a standard or a flag dedicated to the brigade, which could be displayed at Sunderland’s Remembrance Parade each November.”
More than 25,000 Wearside men stepped up to fight for King and Country in the ‘war to end all wars’ – a conflict the like of which had never been seen before in Britain.
Such was the show of patriotism that, in 1915, the Mayor and Recruiting Committee raised both the 160th (Wearside) Brigade and the 20th Battalion Wearside DLI.
The losses would be grievous – one soldier in every ten – but the courage of the men was supreme. The 160th won 157 medals for gallantry, while the 20th collected 163.
“Public subscription helped raise the Wearside Brigade in March 1915, with shipyard workers and miners providing the backbone of the new unit,” said Phil, from Stoke.
“But every trade skill was represented, from bakers to hat makers, dairymen and lawyers. University graduates fought alongside hewers, boilermakers and riveters.
“The capabilities and skills of these men, particularly those from the mines, as well as their capacity for hard work, would prove to be invaluable on the battlefield.
“Indeed, the 160th officers were immensely proud of their men for numerous reasons – not least their ability to dig the deepest and safest trenches in double quick time.”
Months of training in artillery and horsemanship followed the creation of the brigade until, in January 1916, the troops embarked for the battlefields of northern France.
Action at the Battle of the Somme, Arras, Passchendaele and Ypres soon followed. Tragically, 135 men would lose their lives in battle, with many more being wounded.
“The ironic tag of The Idle and Dissolute was given to the men of the 160th as an affectionate tribute to their formidable fighting prowess,” said Phil. “Initially it started as an insult from their commanding officer during early training, when commenting on their inadequacies, but it was later worn as a badge of honour.
“It just goes to show how much this unit of miners and labourers made other people stand up and take notice.”
Phil’s interest in the 160th was sparked by family history research into his great uncle William Henry Adams, who fought with the brigade and was killed in March 1918.
Unfortunately, as the majority of the unit’s personnel records were destroyed during World War Two, Phil’s investigations ground to a halt with little further information.
“To make up for my disappointment of not knowing what happened to William, I decided to research the 160th instead. I saw it as a debt of honour and a labour of love.
“That the men won 157 gallantry medals, including four Distinguished Service Orders, 19 Military Crosses and ten Distinguished Conduct Medals, is a real tribute to them.”
The brigade was officially disbanded in August 1919, just over four years after being raised, but reunions for old comrades were held at the Palatine Hotel until the 1960s.
“These men should never be forgotten. They were so modest about their part in the war that stories of their brave deeds were not recorded in their lifetime,” said Phil.
“It is therefore very fitting that a plaque to these brave soldiers is to be unveiled a century after they joined up to fight. I’m very, very pleased this is finally happening.”
The unveiling of the plaque on March 2 forms part of a programme of events and activities organised to mark the centenary of WWI by Sunderland City Council and its partners.
Councillor John Kelly, the council’s portfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture, today applauded the bravery of the men of the 160th and said: “During the First World War the brigade was the only artillery unit to be afforded the official “Wearside” title, which they carried into battle many times. This commemoration event gives our city the opportunity to take pride in the contribution these brave men made to the war effort and to remember the many sacrifices they made while fighting for our freedom.”
l Phil is to give a talk on the 160th (Wearside) Field Brigade at Sunderland Museum from 2pm on March 14. The talk is hosted by FOSUMS and admission is £1.50. His book, The Idle and Dissolute – The History of the 160th Wearside Brigade Royal Field Artillery, is published by the Memoir Club at £24.99. Contact Phil on 07729 992700 for details.
Extraordinary tales of Wearside heroes
•THE men of Wearside’s 160th Brigade were in the middle of the storm when German attackers launched a barrage of 1,160,000 shells on March 21, 1918.
Death and destruction rained down on the Allied battlefront during the Battle of St Quentin, leaving thousands dead, gassed, captured or wounded.
But, although many British troops were forced to retreat, one Wearsider rode straight into the heart of the conflict - to retrieve abandoned guns.
George Moses, a former horseman from South Hylton, was awarded a Military Medal for his bravery - but rarely spoke about his actions after the war.
“I am very proud of my grandfather; my whole family is,” Stephen Scrafton revealed in 2013. “He was an ordinary, decent man who did something extraordinary.”
•WALTER Robinson was barely 18 when he signed up to fight for King and Country with the 160th Wearside in 1916 - and his service would last just a year.
The youngster, son of award-winning police officer Fairley Robinson, left his job as an apprentice boilermaker to take up arms, quickly winning promotion to corporal.
After arriving in France on January 23, 1916, Walter fought his way across the country at battlegrounds including Fleubaix, Albert and the first day of the Somme.
The corporal survived the bloody carnage without injury but, within days, was summoned back to work in Sunderland - due to a chronic shortage of boilermakers.
“I am very proud of him,” said his son Jack in 2013.
“He developed a love of horses during the war, going on to join the mounted section of Sunderland Borough Police.”
•WEARSIDE teenager James Moody Donaldson was so desperate to fight for King and Country that the 16-year-old lied about his age to join the army.
The Southwick lad saw action at some of the Great War’s bloodiest battles, including Passchendaele and Arras, as a driver with B Battery of 160th (Wearside) Brigade.Young James concluded his war with a role in the bloody Offensive of Picardy, in which the 160th Brigade helped to halt the German advance to channel ports.
But, although the brave young man made it home safely once peace was declared in 1918, he would die during the next war – after an accident in the shipyards.
“James Donaldson was destined to be one of history’s heroes and is greatly remembered by his family,” said his great nephew Kevin Donaldson.
Some of the 160th’s award-winning soldiers
Richard Baggott. Born in Washington. Awarded Military Medal and Bar.
Richard Collins. Miner from Grangetown. Military Medal.
Thomas Cowan. Labourer from Sunderland. Military Medal.
Charles Curle. A shoeing smith from Chester-le-Street. Military Medal.
Thomas Dixon. Sunderland coal miner. Military Medal.
John Dryden. Miner from Fordland Place, Sunderland. Military Medal.
Thomas French. Born 1885 in Burnhope. Military Medal.
Mark Glancey. Born Southwick 1897, died February 19, 1919. Military Medal.
Abner Harrold. From Sunderland. Meritorious Service Medal.
Charles Hamill. Born in Sunderland, killed in action 1918. Military Medal.
George Herring. Born 1896 at Bishopwearmouth. Military Medal and Bar.
Thomas Hudson. of Southwick. Killed in action 1918. Military Medal.
Oscar Jepson. Blacksmith of Milburn Street, Sunderland. Military Medal.
John Johnson. From Sacriston. Distinguished Conduct Medal.
John Lowther. From Gragetown. Military Medal.
Frederick Mackel. Of Hind Street, Bishopwearmouth. Military Medal.
Thomas McManus. Policeman from 8 Marlborough Street. Military Medal.
George Moses. South Hylton horseman. Military Medal.
John Naden. Plater from Ward Street. Military Medal and Croix De Guerre.
Reevel Pounder. Of Hendon Street, Sunderland. Military Medal.
John Reynolds. Miner from Pity Me. Military Medal.
William Sherrington. From Sunderland. Military Medal.
Edgar Spendley. Born 1891 in Sunderland. Military Medal.
Alfred Swinhoe. From Monkwearmouth. Meritorious Service Medal.
William Taylor. Born circa 1879, Southwick. Military Medal and Silver Badge.
Henry Wilson. Railway clerk from Monkwearmouth. Military Medal.