Britain celebrated the Armistice - but a Wearside dad and daughter were dead

Phoebe Rutherford must have thought her Wearside family was going to survive the First World War intact.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 02 November, 2018, 10:56
Trois Arbres cemetery. Photo courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

By early September 1918, her husband James had fought in two major battles and come through them both. But just eight weeks before the Armistice, he was dead.

Heavy fighting broke out on the border between France and Belgium and James was in the thick of it with the 11th Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment, close to Armentieres.

Kevin Dance.

Historian and researcher Kevin Dance, who has studied the fallen of South Hetton, said Phoebe, once widowed, was awarded a £3 War Gratuity, but tragedy wasn’t finished with her family.

Eight weeks later – and just one day after the Armistice – one of her four children, four-year-old Phoebe, also died when she was struck down with the flu.

“During 1918-19, more than 50 million people died worldwide and a quarter of the British population were affected. The death toll in Britain was 228,000,” said Kevin.

It was the last act in a tragic story.

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

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James, 19, was a colliery banksman when he was called up in November 1917, and joined the 3rd Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment at Withernsea Yorkshire, later transferred to the 1/4th Battalion.

Back at home was his wife Phoebe, son James, 4, daughter Phoebe, then 3, Ellen, aged 2, and six-month-old Joseph.

Kevin said: “The Battalion saw action at the Battle of the Lys, and the Battle of the Aisne, leaving the troops completely exhausted.”

After a period of behind-the-scenes action, he was back in the thick of it on the French/Belgian border close to Armentieres.

Kevin told us: “It is during this action that James is killed on September 8, 1918.

“Records reveal that he is buried in an isolated grave near to Soya Farm, two miles north of Armentieres.

“He is awarded the Victory and British medals and is remembered with honour at the Trois Arbres Cemetery, Steenwerck, France.”