A father-of-three got one last chance to see his beloved wife and children before he died in the most brutal war of all.
William Stevenson, from South Hetton, was only 32 when he was manning a bombing post in the First World War. A colleague watched as he was hit in the enemy attack near Ypres.
William’s story is another of the tales of the South Hetton men who died serving their country, and whose story has been followed by keen historian Kevin Dance.
Kevin, a former resident of the village himself, has carried out hours of painstaking research.
And like many of the other stories, he has uncovered, the one of William was “another fascinating story about a remarkable man”.
He took up the story with Wearside Echoes.
Sgt Stevenson was wounded, I saw him in the bombing post. He was sitting in the shelter. Later in the day the shelter was blown up. Sgt Stevenson was killed and buried by the explosionAn Army colleague, 1916
The date was March 2, 1916.
William Stevenson was serving as a Sergeant with the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders, but tragedy struck on the frontline.
A colleague, who saw the whole thing unfurl, reported: “Sgt Stevenson was wounded, I saw him in the bombing post. He was sitting in the shelter. Later in the day the shelter was blown up.
“Sgt Stevenson was killed and buried by the explosion.”
It was a tragic end for a man who had everything to live for. Just two months earlier, he had been enjoying a week’s leave at home with his beloved wife Isabelle, nee Kernick, and their three children, Margaret Annie, 4, Mary, 2, and Thomas William, 1.
When the week was up he rejoined his unit in Belgium and paid the price for serving his country with his life. But worse was to follow, according to a Sunderland Echo report in 1928.
It told how the Hetton soldier’s body had been found after being missing for 12 years.
A body had been discovered at Verbrandenmolen, but whose was it?
Tragically, Sgt Stevenson’s widow held the answer.
A gold ring was found on the body and, when she was shown it, she recognised it as belonging to her late husband.
Sgt Stevenson’s life had been an interesting one even before he joined the war.
He had been a policeman before the war, and had been stationed at Wingate, Horden, and Hetton.
He was born in November 1884 in Middlesbrough to parents Thomas and Mary. His father died in 1885 and his mother remarried, to a man named John Smith.
Kevin told us: “The 1901 census shows William working as an agriculture labourer in Linthorpe, Middlesbrough.”
William Stevenson got his first taste of the military in 1902 when he enlisted with the Northumberland Fusiliers at Middlesbrough aged 18.
He was posted to South Africa between December 1902 and February 1905 towards the end of the Boer War.
In April 1905, he was posted to the Army Reserve and then in April 1914, he was discharged from the reserve.
But he was still determined to do his bit and this time joined the police force.
He joined Durham Constabulary on May 13, 1907, as a Police Constable and was posted to Darlington.
It was aroubnd three years later when he met and married Isabelle, probably while William was working in the Wingate area.
Kevin added: “The 1911 census shows William and Isabelle living at Hedley Terrace, South Hetton, and his profession stated as Police Constable.”
Then, when war broke out, he was determined to serve his country.
He enlisted with the Gordon Highlanders in March 1915 – only a day before he resigned from the police force.
Kevin added: “He is remembered with honour close to where he was killed at Sanctuary Wood Cemetery in Belgium.
“He was awarded the British, Victory, and Star medals.”
Isabelle did eventually find happiness again. She remarried to a man called William Gray Weatherby and in 1939, was recorded living in Front Street in South Hetton where she ran a shop.
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