A tribute to a “forgotten” band of Sunderland men - who marched off to fight for King and Country 100 years ago this week - is to be unveiled.
The soldiers of 160th (Wearside) Brigade Royal Field Artillery saw action across Europe during World War One, including Quentin, Fleubaix, Albert and the Somme.
But despite winning a clutch of gallantry medals, the courageous deeds of the ironically nicknamed ‘Idle and Dissolute’ unit were largely forgotten - until now.
Earlier this year a blue heritage plaque honouring the 160th was unveiled at Houghton Hall, and this Wednesday a Memorial Standard to the unit will be blessed at Sunderland Minster.
Author Philip Adams, who published a definitive brigade history in 2013, will be a special guest at the event - having spent two years campaigning for greater recognition of the 160th.
“The Memorial Standard is a fitting tribute - one that the men of 160th would understand and fully appreciate - as it will be marched in future Remembrance Day parades,” he said.
“The timing of the blessing carries great significance too, as it is the 100th anniversary - to the day - of the brigade leaving Sunderland to train for their fights in battle after bloody battle.”
Crowds of Wearsiders gathered outside the Town Hall on August 4, 1914, to hear Britain’s declaration of war against Germany. It was meant to be all over by Christmas, but it wasn’t.
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.
And, 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.
“Shipyard workers and miners provided the backbone of the 160th, but every trade skill was represented - from bakers to hat makers,riveters, hewers, dairymen and lawyers,” said Phil.
“The skills of these men, as well as their capacity for hard work, would prove vital on the battlefield. Indeed, they could dig the deepest and safest trenches in double quick time.”
Wearsiders raised funds to feed, clothe and train the men of the 160th and, after months of artillery and horsemanship drills, the troops embarked for northern France in January 1916.
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 Idle and Dissolute started as an insult during early training but, as the men proved themselves, it became a tribute to their formidable fighting prowess,” said Phil.
“They served in terrible conditions and many did not return. Those who did kept the horrors they witnessed to themselves. They never forgot the sacrifices made and neither should we.
“That these men won 157 gallantry medals, including four Distinguished Service Orders, 19 Military Crosses and ten Distinguished Conduct Medals, is a real tribute to their bravery.”
The brigade was officially disbanded in August 1919, just over four years after being raised, but reunions for old comrades were held until the 1960s - usually at the Palatine Hotel.
“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 Memorial Standard too,” said Phil.
“These men should never be forgotten. They were so modest about their part in the war that their brave deeds were not recorded in their lifetime. It is up to us to remember them now.”
* Funds for the standard were provided by Sunderland Council’s East Area Committee, following an application by Robbie Robson - a member of the authority’s Veterans Forum. The blessing will be held at 1pm on Wednesday, with the ceremony open to all.