One man's tribute to Seaham's brave 800
A labour of love for a Seaham man has resulted in a tribute to Seaham's brave men of the First World War.
William Metcalfe, 63, decided he wanted to honour the men of his hometown by researching their lives and deaths.
The outcome was almost two years of painstaking work.
Now, he’s hoping to find someone who will help him to get his work published.
Chris Cordner reports.
William Metcalfe is a man of many talents and workplaces down the years.
He is a former coal miner and then went into the Royal Air Force where he spent 12 years. It is part of the reason for his inspiration to research others who served their country.
He also worked as a carer in a pensioner’s home and then was employed in a fish factory in Peterlee before it closed down.
His passion in retirement, especially in the last two years, has been the research of his fellow Seaham men. He has looked into the background of the 800 men from the town who served in the First World War and paid for their loyalty with their lives.
The Melrose Crescent man said: “It was interesting to me with being in the services. I thought I would do something to record them.”
His quest for history took him to libraries, to online research and to regimental museums.
William said his personal investment into the past ran into hundreds of hours of investigations and he is now hoping someone will step in and help him to get his work published, especially with the 100th anniversary of the First World War Armistice Day just weeks away.
He added: “A lot of records were destroyed, lost and burnt and I have gone through each regiment. I went to Durham County Hall for the Durham Light Infantry, to Greenwich for the Royal Navy and to woolwich for the Royal Artillery.
“I found out that the youngest person from Seaham to die was 17 and the oldest was 54. He was in the Royal Engineers and the youngest was in what was the sea cadets. He died in England from either a wound or from sickness.”
William’s painstaking investigations uncovered some heart-rending stories, he told Wearside Echoes.
One concerned a man who was about to ‘go over the top’.
Like his fellow soldiers, he decided to write a letter to his loved ones, but he did not have any paper. Instead, he ripped a piece of his uniform and wrote to personal poems.
He was killed in action on July 1 - the first day of the infamous Battle of The Somme. “When they retrieved the body from the battlefield,” said William, “they found the cloth and traced his family from it.”
That one day at the Somme become one of the most infamous days of the First World War with 57,470 British casualties, including 19,240 dead.
The two sides came into conflict just yards from each other.
And land which had been captured by Allied troops was sometimes later re-taken by the Germans later in the same day.
As well as British losses, the French had 1,590 casualties and the German 2nd Army is thought to have lost up to 12,000 men.
Another story concerns a Seaham man who served on board HMS Black Prince.
The ship - a Duke of Edinburgh-class armoured cruiser with a crew of around 800 - was involved in the Battle of Jutland in June 1916.
She was separated from the rest of the British ship and later, during the night, found herself amid the German High Seas Fleet. She turned away from the German battleships, but it was too late.
The enemy fixed strong searchlights on her and up to five battleships engaged her. She was sunk with the loss of all hands.
William told Wearside Echoes: “Men from Seaham were on that ship.”
When asked what he felt about his work and the history he has gleaned, he said: “It has been worth doing. A lot of people have asked about buying it.”
If it does get a publisher and go on sale, William plans to donate to the British Legion and that donation will be whatever is left after the costs of the book.
He said; “I don’t want anything for myself. I just want to know if anyone would be interested in helping me publish it.”
Those interested in helping - and anyone who would like to share their own piece of nostalgia - should email [email protected]