An appeal has been launched to help solve a mystery surrounding the life of a Wearside soldier before his death in a horse riding accident 100 years ago.
Historian and musician Keith Gregson has spent months gathering information on the hundreds of members of Ashbrooke Sports Club who served in World War One.
But one particular soldier, George Herbert Carter, is proving a puzzle - as records kept by war officials appear to conflict with those drawn up by the club.
“It is always sad to uncover the stories of those who lost their lives in battle. Sadder still, perhaps, are the tales of those killed by accident while in the forces,” said Keith.
“Conflicts of recent years have led to deaths through so-called friendly fire, while accidents during training for the Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force were far from rare.
“However, my most recent discovery is stranger still.”
George, son of paint manufacturer William Carter and his wife Frances (nee Stone), was born in Sunderland in around 1884 and lived at Beauclerc Terrace as an child with his three brothers and sister Martha.
William had established his firm, William Carter of Sunderland, in 1862 and by 1891 was trading from Avon Street. The business specialised in white lead, paints, colours and varnishes - and also held a patent for “anti-fouling enamel composition for ship’s bottoms”.
The Clarks enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle thanks to booming business, employing a housemaid and cook. Even in later years, following the death of William in 1900 and a move to 14 The Esplanade West, the family continued to employ servants.
Many years on, however, during the air raids of World War Two, the Carter home was left badly bomb damaged and had to be bulldozed. Today the site is part of Gorse Road car park.
“Despite being in his thirties when war broke out, George immediately signed up to fight - serving as a second lieutenant with the 2/4 Northumbrian Howitzer Brigade,” said Keith.
“According to official records he suffered a fractured skull in a riding accident at Newcastle Town Moor on November 17, 1915, and died the following day at Armstrong College Hospital.
“He had been practicing moving heavy equipment on horseback when his horse’s bit broke, causing George to fall and injure his head. He was buried in Monkwearmouth Cemetery.”
Although the details relating to George’s death are presumed to be correct, the story of his whereabouts before war was declared remain slightly shrouded in mystery.
“War Office records indicate that he was appointed to the Battery in May 1915, but Ashbrooke records suggest he had “gone to Australia” by the time war broke out,” said archivist Keith.
“Our records have him as a keen sportsman who played cricket and rugby at Ashbrooke in the early years of the 20th century, but the membership book suggests he then left for Australia.”
Indeed, the minutes of a wartime governing board meeting at Ashbrooke show that a George H Carter was serving as a sergeant ‘in the Commonwealth Artillery - Australia’. But, in the club’s Roll of Honour, George is described as a ‘lieutenant Royal Artillery.’
Keith is “fairly certain” that he has traced the right George Carter, but he is hoping Echo readers may be able to help solve the puzzle of where the soldier was at the start of the war.
“As a young man George worked as a clerk at his father’s firm and lived with his widowed mother. He is not around for the 1911 census,” said Keith.
“Did he stay in Australia for some time, sign up for the forces there and then transfer or be promoted ‘back home’? This seems the most likely explanation.”
More than 25.000 men from Sunderland fought in the “war to end all wars”. The losses were grievous - one soldier in every ten - and many of the men had links with Ashbrooke.
“I’m hoping to publish the results of my finished research in 2018, when Britain marks the centenary of the end of the Great War - but first this puzzle needs to be solved,” added Keith.
* Any contact with information on George Herbert Carter, his family or links to Australia, can make contact with Keith via his website at: www.keithgregson.com