New blue plaque honours more than 600 Sunderland war heroes as part of Southwick heritage project

Hundreds of men who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars have been honoured with a new blue plaque installed at the heart of a Sunderland community.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 11:45 am

Once separate to the then town of Sunderland Southwick-on-Wear lost 460 servicemen in the First World War, and another 184 in the second World War, devastating the close-knit community.

Now, a blue plaque has been installed on the Green Bean Cafe, which stands on the village green in the shadow of the war memorial, to honour their sacrifice.

The plaque is the latest in a series which have been installed around the village to honour its people and heritage as part of a project being led by Southwick Village Green Preservation Society.

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Peter Gibson, chairperson of Southwick Village Green Preservation Society with fellow committee members and Sofiani Sarhani from Green Bean Cafe.

Peter Gibson, chairperson of the society, said: “There’s some remarkable tales of tragedy when you look at the individual stories of the servicemen and lots of stories of bomb damage and hardship of the women who were left behind.”

The war memorial for the village was created in 1928, when Southwick was incorporated into Sunderland – but the society are hoping to champion the village’s unique history and identity.

Peter said: “The memorial is increasingly becoming more of a focal point on Remembrance Sunday and the plaque complements that. There’s only so many words you can fit on a blue plaque, so we also have plans for an interpretive panel which will be placed on the green to honour the fallen.

"The village green is ancient and Southwick went on to have its own industry and economy, and we want to honour that. We’re sick of people knocking Southwick, we want people to look at its positives and not just the negative.”

Peter Gibson, chairperson of Southwick Village Green Preservation Society with the new blue plaque to honour the fallen on Green Bean cafe at Southwick Green.

Green Bean Cafe opened its doors last year and has a firm focus on being part of the community.

Cafe owner Sofiani Sarhani said: “I thought it was a great idea when the society asked us if they could install the plaque here. I asked the owner of the building and he agreed too. We are at the centre of the community and we try and be involved in all sorts of things and to help people in these difficult times – it’s not all about business.”

Other blue plaques installed as part of the society’s mission include national markers of historical significance at Stoney Lane, once a vital thoroughfare in the village which linked the communities of High Southwick and Low Southwick, as well as on the Southwick Neighbourhood Youth Project, which was built on land given to the village by shipbuilder Robert Thompson Jnr and opened by his wife in February 1893 as a purpose-built base for Southwick Local Board whose members ran Southwick Township.

Meanwhile, a plaque on The Times Inn pub honours Sir William Mills whose hand grenade invention changed the course of WWI.

Society member May Robson said: "We’ve been doing litter picks and flower planting to improve the area. We really want to get young people involved, for them to take pride in the area and learn about its heritage.”

Future blue plaques are also planned at Scott’s Bank, also known as Scot’s Bank, as well as on the Co-op building where five people were killed in a biplane crash in 1917.

Eventually, the society hopes the markers will form a blue plaque heritage trail around the village.

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Sir William Mills is honoured with a blue plaque in Wear Street
Stoney Lane was once a vital road in Southwick