Killed just before his 18th birthday - the story of one brave Wearside soldier

The Helles Memorial  where William Murdie is honoured. Photo: Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The Helles Memorial where William Murdie is honoured. Photo: Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

A Wearside man has been remembered after giving his life while serving his country in Gallipoli.

The investigative work of Kevin Dance got our attention earlier this year when he looked at the fate of 46 South Hetton men who died during the First World War.

Researcher Kevin Dance.

Researcher Kevin Dance.

Today, we return to Kevin’s investigations and feature the tragic tale of another of the 46 – William Murdie.

He was still virtually a boy.

William Murdie was 17 years and 11 months old when he met his fate.

It happened at Gallipoli during a battle where British forces were struggling to make any sort of headway. The date was August 21, 1915, and William was a part of the 1st Battalion Border Regiment.

He was 17 years and 11 months old when he died. He was awarded the Victory, British, and 1915 Star medals. His mother Isabella was awarded 6 pounds 12 shillings and 7 pence

Kevin Dance

It was a fateful end to a five-month journey for the Battalion, which had been on the move since March 17, 1915. Its soldiers had sailed on the SS Andania from Avonmouth to Egypt via Malta.

The regiment spent a couple of weeks close to Alexandria where they trained with the newly created 29th Division (the Incomparable Division) before sailing from Alexandria on April 10.

They arrived at Gallipoli (Turkey) on April 25.

William, along with 198 other privates, arrived from England to reinforce the regiment on July 17 at Mudros, a port on the Greek island of Lemnos.

Libray photo dated circa 1916 showing British infantrymen from 331 Infantry occupying a rudimentary shallow trench in a devastated landscape in France before an advance in the 1914-1918 First World War, released Saturday July 31, 2004. On Wednesday, four veterans of the First World War will travel to the Cenotaph in London to remember the 750,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who lost their lives during a service to mark the 90th anniversary of the outbreak of the  First World War in 1914. See PA story WAR Anniversary. PA Photo.

Libray photo dated circa 1916 showing British infantrymen from 331 Infantry occupying a rudimentary shallow trench in a devastated landscape in France before an advance in the 1914-1918 First World War, released Saturday July 31, 2004. On Wednesday, four veterans of the First World War will travel to the Cenotaph in London to remember the 750,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who lost their lives during a service to mark the 90th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. See PA story WAR Anniversary. PA Photo.

Kevin told us: “The regiment left Mudros for Gallipoli on July 21, 1915, and took up positions in the firing line on July 27.”

It was nearly a month later, on August 21, that the Battalion received orders to attack Hill 70 (Scimitar Hill) in the Suvla area of Gallipoli.

Kevin said: “The summit of the hill was reached by the Battalion only for it to be forced back by the resolute defence of the Turks. Successive assaults also failed.”

The men were not only pushed back but also came under heavy artillery attack.

Kevin said the shelling in the area “made the brush undergrowth catch fire resulting in hundreds of wounded men lying in-between the lines being cremated alive.”

The report of the officer of the day – the 1st Battalion Border Regiment Commanding Officer – read “38 killed, 274 wounded, 64 missing”, in one day of action.

Kevin added: “William was killed in this action on August 21, 1915, and he is remembered with honour at the Helles Memorial which is situated on the Gallipoli peninsula Turkey for First World War missing, presumed dead from the Gallipoli campaign and have no known grave.”

It was a tragic end to a life which had started in September 1897. His mother was Isabella Murdie, “father is unknown”, said Kevin.

“The 1901 census shows William, aged three, living at Hylton with Isabella and her mother Barbara at the house of Isabella’s sister Elizabeth who is married to Andrew Anderson.

“Sometime between 1901 and 1903 the whole extended family moves to South Hetton when Andrew Anderson takes a job as farm bailiff.”

His job was on a farm which was owned by a colliery company.

In 1903, William’s mother married Thomas Gray who lived in South Hetton. And by 1911, Thomas and Isabella lived in James Street, South Hetton, with William Murdie, then 13, Elsie May Gray, aged five, and Norman Vivian Gray who was one-year-old.

It was only four years later that William enlisted to serve his country.

He joined the Border Regiment but as Kevin explained: “Unfortunately his military records perished along with millions of others after an incendiary bomb fell on the building containing them during the Second World War.

“Out of six million records only two million survived and most of those received fire and water damage and are referred to as the “burnt documents”.

“He was 17 years and 11 months old when he died. He was awarded the Victory, British, and 1915 Star medals. His mother Isabella was awarded 6 pounds 12 shillings and 7 pence.”

Do you have any information about the men of Wearside and County Durham who gave their lives in the First World War?

If so, send your information by email to chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk