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IN THE 'GREAT WAR' 1914 - 1918.

An  initiative by the Ladies of St Joseph's RC Church Heritage Group.

'Tommy' - a statue of a WW1 soldier on the sea front at  Seaham Harbour, Co Durham UK (25Kb)

The Centenary of the start of the 'Great War' of 1914-1918, is being commemorated from 4th August 2014 by the Parishioners of St Joseph's RC Church, Birtley, to honour the memory of the 47 men of the parish, and the other Birtley men, who died during that campaign and never returned home to their families and loved ones.

Exhibition in the Lady Chapel to honour the dead of WW1 (48Kb)
The town of Birtley
is situated a few miles south of Gateshead in what is now the County of Tyne & Wear (formerly County Durham).  It is a small industrial town that comprised of coal mining and, during both the First World War of 1914-1918 (WW1)and Second World War of 1940 - 1945 (WW2), the manufacture of munitions at the National Projectile Factory which, later, during WW2, became the Royal Ordanance Factory.

Many Irish people and their families came to Birtley, and its surrounding districts, mainly to work in the then thriving coal mining industry.

The spark that set off WW1, according to history, was the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo on 28th June 1914.

Following other political developments in Europe, the situation deterioated, which led to the British Government declaring war with Germany at 11.00 pm, 4th August 1914, as did the Government of Belgium the same day.  Exhibition in the Lady Chapel to honour the dead of WW1 (44Kb)

Soon afterwards Germany over-ran Belgium and occupied the country.  Later many Belgian refugees and their families, fleeing the German occupation of their country, also Belgium soldiers wounded in the 'Great War', came to the United Kingdom and many of them settled in Birtley and found work in the Projectile Factory to contribute to the war effort against Germany.  They came in such numbers that the local authorities generously erected a small village to accommodate them in an area of Birtley near the National Projectile Factory, known as Elisabethville, so called after the Belgium Queen at the time. 

It is estimated that over 6000 Belgians resided in Elisabethville during the war years of 1916 - 1918, some of whom died here and were laid to rest in what is known as the 'Belgian Cemetery' and the graveyard of St Joseph's Catholic Church on Birtley Lane. For more details click on the 'History' link on this website to read the excellent article, entitled 'Birtley Belgians-Memorial Records' by Bill Lawrence.

In additon to the Town's welcome to the Belgians displaced by the Great War, hundreds of Birtley's menfolk volunteered to fight, in repsonse to Field Marshal Kitchener's request for volunteers - the most famous recruitment poster in history depicted Kitchener with finger outstretched: "Your country wants you!" Kitchener got his volunteers and they fought with the Durham Light Infantry, the Northumberland Fusilers and other Regiments. Many of whom were killed in action on the battlefields of the Western Front, Somme, Mons, Ypres and others and never returned home to their loved ones.

According to local records 1,350 Birtley men offered their services to King and Country and sadly 189 did not return. Of the 189 men who fell were 47 men from the parish of St Joseph's RC Church in Birtley, whose names are remembered on the War Memorial Plaque in the Lady Chapel in the Church.

FIRST WORLD WAR CENTENARY:   We wish to honour the memory of those who died in the war at this year's "Heritage Open Day", during 11th - 14th September 2014, with a commemorative exhibition which can now be seen by visitors to the Lady Chapel inside St Joseph's RC Church, Birtley. 

Many thanks to anyone who has given family informartion and memorablia and to the Mens' Choir who sponsored the new wreath and wooden crosses.

The exhibition in the Lady Chapel will continue until Remembrance Day, 11th November 2014, so please take time to re-visit theChurch when it is quiet and peaceful and learn more about the 47 men of the parish who gave their lives for the freedom of others.  Comments can be left in the Visitors' Book, within the exhibition, should you like to give any additional information.

At the 10.00 am Mass on Sunday, 14th September 2014, we honoured the 47 men of our parish who gave their lives for the freedom of others.  The service was attended by parishioners, family & friends of the fallen.  During the service children carrying poppies and small crosses, each engraved with the name of one of the 47 men who fell, processed through the Church and the  poppies and 47 crosses were laid at the foot of the altar.  The names and some family history, of the 47 men, was each read out in remembrance during the Service. 

Subsequent research has ascertained the name of one soldier who fell in WW1, Thomas Smith of Birtley, was for reasons unkonwn not inscribed on the War Memorial Plaque in the Lady Chapel in the Church. It was learned that he was in the Durham Light Infantry, was wounded in action, returned home where he later died and is buried in our church grounds. Thomas Smith's name has been added to the names below, bringing the list of those men of the parish who fell to 48.

The exhibition in the Church was dismantled on Wednesday, 19 November 2014. 

The names of the 48 men of our parish, who fell during the First World War, are listed below:
We will remember them. ()

Henry Barrett
John Bell
Samuel Birchall
Joseph Blythe
Philip Blythe
Michael Bussey
Frank Chapman
Robert Comerford
Edward Connolly
James Corr
Martin Coyle
Robert Donnelly

William Donnelly
Charles Elliott
Ralph Elliott
George Fenton
Denis Grimes
Thomas G. Herron
Joseph Kelly
John Letch
John McAvoy
John McClory
Sol McGinn
John McIntyre

John D. McKay
John E. Martin
Joseph May
Joseph Mulcahy
Michael Neville
Thomas Neville
William Oliver
Andrew O’Neill
Patrick O’Neill
Thomas O’Neill
James Rice
William M. Riley

Thomas Ross
William Sables
Edward Small
Frank Smith
Thomas Smith
Alexander Stobbard
Hugh Thompson
Frank Toner
Joseph Toner
James W. Ward
Thomas N. Watson
John Whalen

Exhibition in the Lady Chapel to honour the dead of WW1 (51Kb)
Exhibition in the Lady Chapel to honour the dead of WW1 (51Kb)
Exhibition in the Lady Chapel to honour the dead of WW1 (51Kb)
Exhibition in the Lady Chapel to honour the dead of WW1 (51Kb)

Names & some family details of those who fell during WW1 (45Kb)

One of the Great War's best known Poets, Laurence Binyon, sums up to some extent what life and death was like for these young men between 1914 - 1918, in his poem 'For The Fallen' written in 1914:-

For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

To read more of these desperate battles visit: http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/wf.htm
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