Parish Notes

2104 Commemoration
Felton and the Great War
This is the text of a short talk delivered by Eleanor George on Monday 4th August 2014, at a special ‘Churches Together in Felton’ Service to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of WW1, held in Felton United Reformed Church, West Thirston, Northumberland.

In 1914 the parish of Felton comprised the villages of Felton and West Thirston, the hamlets of Acton, Bockenfield, East Thirston, Eshott, Old Felton and Swarland and a large number of farms.
On 5th August 1914 most people in the parish discovered that war had been declared when they saw the headlines in the newspapers or when they found that the North-Eastern Bank on Main Street was closed to prevent panic withdrawal of money. They may have, like people all over the country, began panic buying of foodstuffs as food shortages were predicted although this did not actually happen until much later in the war.
On the same day men who were reservists in the regular army received telegrams ordering them to report immediately to their Regimental Depots. Only a few families in the parish were affected by this measure so the impact would have been minimal. The rest of the population were confident that the war would not affect them greatly – wars were fought abroad by professional soldiers – and anyway it was thought it would be over by Christmas.
On 5th August Lord Kitchener had taken up the position of Secretary of State for War and outlined his plans for a greatly enlarged army – 500,000 men.
And over the next few days the newspapers were full of propaganda – propaganda designed to encourage young men to enlist. They told many stories of atrocities perpetrated by German soldiers on innocent civilians in the countries they had invaded. Young men were challenged:
- What if the Germans invaded Great Britain?
- The innocent civilians could be their mothers, sisters, wives and girlfriends!
- Were they going to stand by and let this happen?
When recruiting began in Alnwick, Morpeth and Amble on Thursday 7th August, the offices were inundated with young men volunteering to attest their willingness to serve, if needed, in the Territorial Battalions – battalions to be used for home defence only and to remain on British soil. The 4th, 5th 6th and 7th Battalions of the Northumberland Fusiliers were such battalions.
Those young men who passed the medical inspection were signed up, and without uniforms or weapons, began weekend training. In Felton men trained, and were billeted in tents, in the grounds of Felton Park.
Otherwise life continued as normal in the parish. The school was on holiday but when it reopened, at the end of August, the schoolmaster made no note of the outbreak of war in the School Log Book. The greatest cause for grievance in the villages of Felton and West Thirston was probably the restriction on licencing hours introduced on 31st August.
However despite the positive reports in the newspapers on the course of the war, it was actually going badly and many regular soldiers were killed or seriously injured in the first few months. Happily none came from Felton parish largely because very few were in the regular army. But many more men were needed in France and those who had enlisted in the Territorial Battalions were asked to volunteer for service abroad – almost all did. Their training became full time in temporary camps all over the northeast. Christmas was spent away from home.
But the full implications of their enlistment only came in the spring of 1915 when they were catapulted straight into the fighting at the second battle of Ypres. Between 23rd April and 4th May two thirds of the men of the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Northumberland Fusilier Battalions were killed. These included the first men of Felton parish to lose their lives. Thereafter, throughout the war, barely a week went by without the news of a ‘Felton’ man killed, wounded or missing.
And men from the parish continued to enlist.
At first they did so voluntarily often after recruiting meetings such as that held in the open near the bridge in Felton in August 1915 chaired by the vicar and supported by the Catholic priest.
The vicar said that the number of recruits from Felton had by then reached eighty but more were needed. Corporal Lennox of the 7th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers praised the men from his battalion half of whom, he said, had been killed in the preceding April in a ‘great fight’ and he asked if the young men from Felton were going to fill up the gap.
Lieutenant Harbottle, also of the 7th Battalion, said that ‘a man physically fit who refuses to fight for his country in such a crisis as this can only be regarded as a traitor’. Three sergeants remained in Felton for some time after the meeting ‘for the purpose of securing recruits’.
After January 1916 recruitment was largely through conscription. By October 1916 a hundred and seven men had enlisted from Felton parish and eleven of them had died. Memorial Services for the dead took place in the churches of the parish – St Michael’s & All Angels, Felton Presbyterian Church, Felton & Eshott Wesleyan Methodist Churches and St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. There were also several funerals of local men who had died of wounds in hospitals in this country. All the services were heavily attended.
Meanwhile the women of the parish were busy – keeping family businesses going, running the shops, pubs and farms as well as caring for their families - and knitting. In fact women knitted so many socks that the army authorities asked them to stop!
Miss Lord, the daughter of Sir Riley Lord living at Felton Park, organised War Working Parties for the ‘comfort and welfare of our brave and gallant sailors and soldiers’ and Mrs Sanderson, a member of the Bainbridge family at Eshott, helped found the Felton Women’s Institute and presided over the first meeting in the Church Room of St Michael & All Angels in July 1918.
By 11th November 1918 forty men from Felton parish had lost their lives. These are listed on Felton War Memorial and are remembered in a service every year on Remembrance Day when their names are read out.
Many more men were wounded or shell-shocked - some so severely that they were never able to live full lives.
It is not known how many men of Felton parish in total served in the First World War. Eighty-seven have been identified and are named on the back of this evening’s order of service. is a plaque in this church recording the names of some who were members of the Presbyterian congregation. There was, and still may be, a plaque in what was the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Eshott which listed those who attended services there. If there were similar plaques in St Mary’s Roman Catholic Chapel and Felton Wesleyan Methodist Chapel they have long since disappeared - probably removed when they closed as places of worship.
There is no list in Felton’s Parish Church. It was probably not thought necessary as it was intended that a special memorial list of all those men from the parish who served, would be placed on the outside wall of the Felton Memorial Institute which was planned in June 1919. Sadly it was never built. A scaled down version was built instead, with seating for about 100 instead of 400, without the planned reading room and billiard room, and without the plaque commemorating the service of the men of the parish. This is of course Felton Village Hall.
The hall has been much used over the years and remains an extremely useful amenity as well as a very fitting tribute to all those men from Felton parish who served their country – not just those who died but also those who served and returned.

Order of Service 4th August 2014