House of Commons, Westminster 26 June 2014
Speech given by Phil Wilson (Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons); Sedgefield, Labour).
I congratulate Robert Jenrick on his maiden speech, which I thought was excellent. I, too, welcome him to the House.
The first world war affected virtually every town and village in Britain. In every community there stands a memorial to those who lost their lives fighting for their country. In my constituency of Sedgefield, it is no different. From Hurworth on the river Tees in the south to the former colliery village of Thornley in the north, those who served and died are honoured and remembered.
At least 1,500 men from the constituency were killed in the war to end all wars. In the town of Ferryhill, more than 130 gave their lives; in the village of Chilton, more than 100; in the village of Thornley, 134; in Wingate, 147; and in Wheatley Hill, 96. All those communities had something in common, which was that they were all colliery villages, and many men volunteered for the armed forces rather than go down the pit. In the Army, they were sure to be fed and clothed, and they would be able to stand up straight. They of course believed that the war would be over in a few weeks.
I want to mention at this point two specific members of the armed forces from my constituency who fought in that war. The first is 2nd Lieutenant Jack Youll, a miner from Thornley who won the VC on June 15 1918 but was killed on 27 October at the battle of Vittorio Veneto in Italy. He did not survive the war. Thomas Kenny, a private in the 13th battalion of the Durham Light Infantry from Wheatley Hill received his VC from the King and went on to survive the war, spending the rest of his life working down the pits of Wheatley hill and Wingate.
I believe that the number of soldiers around the constituency commemorated on memorials to be an underestimate in many cases. The war dead of the Trimdons prove the case. In 1914 over 2,000 miners worked down the local pits, and the memorial on the wall of St Albans church in Trimdon Grange tells us that 450 from the Trimdons served in the war. The memorial also lists the names of 94 who did not return. There is also a memorial in Trimdon colliery that shares some of the same names.
Research by Adam Luke, an Oxford university student from Trimdon village, has revealed that 199 men from the Trimdons were killed, the equivalent of 45% of all those who served. This is a staggeringly tragic statistic. The research details the regiment in which the men served and when they were killed. During the war years, there were just under 1,000 households in the Trimdons. Every household would have been affected in some way by the catastrophe of the European battlefield.
At the battle of the Somme, 11 sons from the Trimdons were killed on that first day of July. By the end of the Somme campaign, 39 families had lost a son, husband, brother or father, half of them with no known graves. For example, on 1 July, Private Martin Durkin served with the 26th Tyneside Irish Battalion, the Northumberland Fusiliers. His battalion set off across no man's land, marching, according to a war diary:
“as if on parade under heavy machine gun and shell fire”.
Private Durkin did not return to Trimdon Grange, has no known grave and was one of his battalion's 489 casualties that day. Private Barnes, of the 1st Battalion, the Border Regiment, was from Lower Hogg street, Trimdon Grange. Private Barnes was one of the many, as the regiment's war diary records, who was:
“wiped out by machine gun fire in our own wires.”
The battalion suffered 619 casualties, and Private Barnes rests at Mailly Wood cemetery in France. On the same day, Private Frederick Hunter of the Royal Fusiliers was one of his battalion's 227 casualties who were involved in fierce hand to hand combat. Mr and Mrs Hunter of Trimdon lost a son that day.
The horror of the Somme went on until mid-November. Private Fred Shorthouse was killed at the Somme on 8 November 1916, just days before the end of the campaign. Fred was the second son of Mr and Mrs Shorthouse of 7 Pringle street in Trimdon Colliery to be killed in the space of six months. His brother had been wounded at Gallipoli and died earlier that year on 29 May.
Private Fred Shorthouse was also married. He lived with his wife Mary at Lawson street, Trimdon Colliery. Their son Arthur, was born on 4 April, 1914. Fred joined the 1st Battalion DLI in 1915. Shortly after, he wrote home to his mam and dad. He wrote:
“I was out to tea and supper on Saturday and was at a concert at the Chapel...and last night again at a lecture so you see mother I am not wasting my time... the battalion is going foreign in a week or two...but it is not to fight we are for garrison duty abroad...we have not to fight so you see everything works together for good...The only thing that will trouble me will be leaving the old homestead and the faces I love because you have been a good mother to me. I will never forget you but we just have to hope for better days to come”.
Private Fred Shorthouse has no known grave.
Many of the streets and terraces of the first world war Trimdons are no longer there, but it can still be recorded that Front street, Trimdon Grange, lost four men to the war. Railway row, Deaf Hill lost three. Cross street, Trimdon Foundry, lost three. Kelloe Winning lost four. Coffee Pot row, Trimdon Colliery, lost four. The Plantations, Trimdon Grange, lost five. The list goes on.
The research undertaken by Adam Luke will be placed in a roll of honour and will detail not just those from Trimdon who were killed during the First World War, but those killed in all the wars since. The Trimdons have given up 269 of their own in conflicts since 1914. I want to commend the work Adam has done to ensure that all those who have lost their lives from the Trimdons will be remembered.
At 10.30pm on Monday 4 August, in St Mary Magdalene's Church in Trimdon Village—like in many other places of worship up and down the land—a candlelit vigil will take place to remember the 199 Trimdon men killed during the war to end all wars. The Trimdons’ loss was not unique, but it serves as a sobering reminder of the suffering our communities embraced between 1914 and 1918.
The horizons of the men from the Trimdons during those years were limited to going down the pit or going to war. All that lay on the horizon for the women of the Trimdons during those years was inevitably to live in a pit village and marry a pitman. In 2014, all the pits have closed and there is no world war. The horizon for the young people of Trimdon is broad and, for many, is lit with optimism.
Adam Luke is the grandson of a bus driver and is now at Oxford university, something that could never have been dreamed of during Fred Shorthouse’s short life. The aspirations of our young people in the second decade of the 21st century are many and varied. It is down to us to ensure those aspirations are fulfilled in a world where neither death by coalfield disasters or world wars will ever happen again.
I want to end my speech by returning to Private Fred Shorthouse and some words by his wife Mary. She could not afford a sturdy memorial to sustain his memory over the decades. Mary had instead a Remembrance card printed. It read:
“In loving memory of Private F Shorthouse,
Beloved husband of Mary Shorthouse of Trimdon Colliery, Who fell in action, November 8th, 1916 aged 27 years.
Deeply mourned by his loving wife and child.
Gone, but not forgotten.
I hope someday my eyes shall see,
The face I loved so well,
I hope someday my hands shall clasp.
And never say farewell.”
We must ensure that our nation never says farewell to those who served and died for their country. We must never forget. That is why this debate and the commemorations to come are so important.
Stephen Walmsley a great nephew and district court judge in Sydney, N.S.W. Australia wrote about this speech:
Thank you very much for sending me that moving speech. I had known grandfather (Arthur) had brothers but although he spoke of them I don't remember him speaking of their deaths. I am so pleased the memory of his brothers still lives.