Murton man volunteered to go to war - and paid with his life

A family tree researcher has paid tribute to his great grandfather who volunteered to go to war '“ and paid the price with his life.

Tuesday, 30th January 2018, 10:00 am
The medals awarded to Joseph Flemming White.

Kevin Dance has dedicated many painstaking hours to researching people who lived in the former pit village where he was born.

Now he has shared the story of his own great grandfather Joseph Flemming White, from Murton, who had already been wounded once before during the brutal First World War.

Joseph Flemming White who died aged 27 on the battlefield.

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Joseph served with the 1st Battalion East Kent Regiment when it was stationed to the east of Ypres in Belgium in July 1915.

Less than two months later, on September 22, 1915, he suffered a shrapnel wound to his right thigh during the second Battle of Hooge.

For seven days, he was treated at the Canadian Field Hospital before he was evacuated to England.

And for ten more days, he convalesced at the Orchard Convalescence Home in Dartford.

The Dead Mans Penny which was given to the family of Joseph Flemming White.

The war must have seemed a lifetime away when he was given home leave until October 20.

But by December 2, his recuperation was over and ‘JFW’ was back in the war. He was posted to the 6th Battalion East Kent Regiment – otherwise known as ‘The Buffs’ – in France.

Action was not far away and Joseph was caught up in it in the Pas de Calais region of Northern France to the North of Loos en Gohelle.

He survived but his luck ran out just weeks later.

Joseph Flemming White who died aged 27 on the battlefield.

Kevin explained: “On March 18, 1916, the battalion was in action at the Hohenzollern Redoubt which is to the west of Bethune when Joseph was killed by mortar fire aimed at the craters he and his comrades were defending.”

And to explain further, Kevin provided the diary entry which was recorded by the commanding officer of the 6th Battalion East Kent Regiment for that day.

It talked of officers from the 7th Norfolk Regiment arriving at the scene at 10.30am to view trenches before taking over.

He said the day was quiet until 5.30pm when the enemy opened “a very heavy fire” with trench mortars on all the craters.

The Dead Mans Penny which was given to the family of Joseph Flemming White.

And to make matters worse, it had its artillery targeted on the back trenches.

The commanding officer spoke of garrisons of craters either killed or buried.

And at about 6.15pm, the enemy blew a mine between two craters on the British side and it completely filled in what were known as saps. They were short trenches across No Man’s Land.

It was only around one hour after the heavy fire started that the bombardment lifted at 6.30pm.

The commanding officer’s diary talked of the bombardment ceasing and the enemy creeping up from the lips of the craters and “proceeded to consolidate its position.”

To try and counter attack, B company moved forward but found that it could not advance across the open land because there was so much machine gun fire.

Three companies of the West Kent Regiment were sent up to reinforce the British ranks but and the Pioneers were used to dig out the Saps.

Kevin, originally from South Hetton, told us: “The body of JFW has never been recovered. His last known position, of the craters at Hohenzollern Redoubt, are still visible to this today and I have stood on that very spot.”

But he is remembered with honour at the Loos Memorial in France and his name is also inscribed on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres in Belgium.

In August 1914, the British Government called for an extra 100,000 volunteer soldiers to come forward. They got 750,000 men by the end of September 1914, and by the end of January 1915 more than 1 million men had joined the armed forces voluntarily.

Kevin added: “JFW didn’t have to join the Army. He was not a conscript.

“He was awarded the 1914-1915 Star, British War, and Victory campaign medals.”

The Memorial Plaque – also known as Dead Man’s Penny – was issued to the next of kin of the British and Empire service personnel who were killed as a result of the war. By the end of the conflict, 1,355,000 plaques were issued.

If you have an ancestor who served their country, we would love to hear from you.

And if there is any other aspect of Wearside or County Durham history you would like to share, get in touch. Email [email protected]