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Alston Moor and The Great War
Alston Moor and The Great War
Alastair F. Robertson
This is the story of the effect that the Great War had on one small community in the North Pennines, its servicemen, its nurses, and the men, women and children at home.
In 1914 the Vieille Montagne Zinc Company of Belgium was the main employer in the area, extracting zinc and lead that was shipped from Tyneside to Belgium for processing. The company employed a large workforce that included many foreigners, mainly Italians, Germans and Belgians, who worked and lived with their families in Nenthead. This created a society that was unique in Britain and led to some awkward situations in the early days of the Great War.
Paperback; 210 x 150mm
B & W Photographs
Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Alston Moor and the Great War by Alastair F. Robertson. Hundy. £9.95
Alston Moor, in the heart of the northern Pennines - nowhere in England could be further away from the convulsions of the trenches and the cataclysmic conflict which overcame Europe in 1914. Nonetheless, this small, isolated community found itself sucked into the great drama.
The Vielle Montagne Zinc Company, which had extracted zinc in Nenthead since 1896, was Belgium. The business employed 61 foreigners, including ten Germans, who lived and worked in Nenthead. Frederick Carl Schmidt was arrested, released and re-arrested as an enemy alien. Men who had been respected members of the community, who had married local girls and whose children knew nothing of Germany, were arrested and sent to internment camp in Lancaster.
Belgium was no longer able to take the zinc and the miners were put on short-time.
On Monday, 14th September, 1914, "the first nine recruits left by the 2 pm train bound for Carlisle to join the Border Regiment and then on to Salisbury for military training".
Mr Charles Bethune speaking at a crowded Alston Town Hall was disappointed that so few joined in in singing Rule Britannia. Collections were being made to support the soldiers and four beds in the cottage hospital were put at the disposal of the County War Committee. The Alston Society for Aid raised £180 and about fifty ladies were working to make clothes for the servicemen of the Moor.
Twenty three Belgium refugees were living at Hillcrest in Alston and a further twenty were to be fond in Nenthead.
Miss Wilhelmina Lee from Randleholm was serving as a nurse in a French military hospital. In a letter back home, she wrote of treating the wounded: "All cases are septic, and no wonder, when wounded lie for twenty-four hours before being attended to." But she also had time to observe: "The French coffee is good, but tea they cannot make."
Private William John Little, serving at the Battle of Loos, where 60,000 were killed, wrote home that "during a withdrawal by the British, the Germans had got all his belongings, including a part of a cake in a box that a bullet had passed through". John Dryden wrote home to his mother of life in the trenches: "You are sometimes up to your knees in mud and water, but you learn to put up wih these inconveniences. . . . We can see the Germans walking about the trenches on the other side and sometimes they yell like pigs."
In 1918, the pupils of Samuel Kings contributed £6 a head - a total of £200 - to a War Savings Association. Corporal John Havelock was killed in action on 16th April, 1918, aged 24. Lieutenant John Storey, who had been the Alston dentist, was wounded in the back on 24th April. Robert Watson, of School Terrace, Alston, was a prisoner of war. Private Thomas Edwin ("Eddy") Spark was killed in action on 28th April. An agricultural merchant, he'd enlisted in 1914, aged 19, been wounded at the Somme, and, after two years recuperation, was killed just a few days after returning to the Front.
327 servicemen and women from Alston served in the Great War. 91 gave their lives. "The hostilities finally ended on 11th November, 1918, and, instead of celebrating, Alston's reaction was muted, perhaps stunned."
Alastair Robertson has drawn on private letters and contemporary newspaper reports to show how the Great War reached deeply into the daily lives of one small community. This is a moving history. It records the ordinary lives of ordinary people as they are caught up in a terrible tragedy.
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