Sunderland artillery brigade’s First World War sacrifice remembered

The Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Stuart Porthouse, and author Philip W. Adams, at the unveiling of the blue plaque.
The Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Stuart Porthouse, and author Philip W. Adams, at the unveiling of the blue plaque.
  • Brigade was one of many ‘pals’ units raised in First World War
  • It saw action in battlefields including the Somme, Arras and Passchendaele
  • Its nickname, ‘The Idle and Dissolute’, was worn as badge of honour
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THE sacrifice of Wearside’s own artillery brigade has been commemorated at a ceremony, 100 years since recruitment began.

The War Office contacted Mayor of Sunderland Alderman Stansfield Richardson in January 1915, asking whether it would be ‘possible to raise an artillery or engineering Unit in the district, for service over seas.’

Dignitaries, forces representatives, descendents of brigade members  and representatives of the Houghton Heritage Group.

Dignitaries, forces representatives, descendents of brigade members and representatives of the Houghton Heritage Group.

The Mayor responded that a decision had been taken to raise a ‘Gun Brigade,’ numbering just under 800 men, which would become the 160th (Wearside) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.

Recruitment began on March 1, 1915, in the grounds of Houghton Hall and the overwhelming majority of recruits, including the officers, hailed from Sunderland, Wearside and surrounding districts including Whitburn, Seaham and Gateshead.

Now a plaque has been unveiled in the grounds of the building, in Hall Lane, Houghton, to mark the occasion.

Although not deployed to the Western Front until January 1916, the Wearside Brigade would see action in many of the most infamous battles of the First World War.

When I started to do the research, I was taken aback at the lack of knowledge of the brigade in its homeland.

Philip W. Adams, author

They included the Somme, Arras, Passchendaele and the great battle of the March 21, 1918, during which the 160 Brigade played a significant role in halting the German advance to the channel ports.

The brigade was given the ironic nickname The Idle and Dissolute, which was worn as a badge of honour by all who served.

Yesterday’s ceremony was particularly moving for author Philip W. Adams, who spent 15 years researching and writing ‘Idle and Dissolute - The History of the 160th (Wearside) Brigade Royal Field Artillery,’ published in August 2013.

Philip and his father were both given the middle name William in honour of his great-uncle William H. Adams, who was killed in March 1918.

The official blue plaque marks the first HQ of the 160th (Wearside) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.

The official blue plaque marks the first HQ of the 160th (Wearside) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.

“It has been quite a journey for me,” he said.

“Fifteen years ago, when I started looking into the circumstances of my great-uncle’s death, I never imagined that I would be sitting here, having seen what I have witnessed today.

“If I had found my great-uncle’s war records 15 years ago, I would not have done anything else.

“But because I did not, I started reaching the other men of the brigade, and that is what led me to write the book.

Author and historian Philip W. Adams, who has researched and written a book about the regiment.

Author and historian Philip W. Adams, who has researched and written a book about the regiment.

“When I started to do the research, I was taken aback at the lack of knowledge of the brigade in its homeland.

“This county has a fantastic military tradition in the DLI, but I was surprised the 160th Brigade was not that well known.

“As the book took shape, I wondered whether it would be possible for the brigade to be recognised in its home city, in Sunderland and in County Durham – that is what today is all about.”

Mayor of Sunderland Coun Stuart Porthouse unveiled the plaque in yesterday’s ceremony.

“This is an opportunity to commemorate the founding of our ‘friends brigade’,” he said. “It shows the willingness of young men from our area to take part in the fight to preserve our way of life.

“At this point the war was already seven months old and many stories about life on the front line would have made it back home.

Houghton Hall, where the plaque is sited, was the brigade's HQ.

Houghton Hall, where the plaque is sited, was the brigade's HQ.

“These young men were probably under no illusion about the reality and cost of the conflict. The fact they volunteered for service goes to show how brave and committed they were.”

The plaque will act as a memorial for those who gave their lives at some of the First Wiorld War's most famous battles, including the Somme, Arras and Passchendaele.

The plaque will act as a memorial for those who gave their lives at some of the First Wiorld War's most famous battles, including the Somme, Arras and Passchendaele.