Evidence is all around of communities' wartime role

In many ways, November is the most sombre of months '“ the nights draw in, the days are shorter and colder, also the month is heralded by Halloween.

Sunday, 20th November 2016, 11:49 am
The parish church of St Michael and All Angels in Alnham.

Before ‘trick or treat’ crossed the Atlantic to add some macabre fun, October 31 was simply All Hallows’ Eve, presaging All Saints’ Day (or All Hallows’ Day) on November 1.

Close on its heels, on the second day of the month, comes All Souls. On that day it’s often been the tradition to honour those who have died in the past year.

Lowick War Memorial

The following Sunday is kept as Remembrance Sunday, and now, by popular demand, November 11 is kept again with the two-minute silence at 11am – for it was on the 11th day of the 11th month that the Armistice was proclaimed in 1918, which formally concluded the Great War.

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So November is sombre indeed.

The towns and villages of North Northumberland will almost all have their own commemorations. In tiny villages it may be a silence at the Sunday morning service; in larger villages and towns it may include marches by the Royal British Legion and the uniformed organisations, with a wreath of poppies being laid at the memorial.

Hardly a village would be found without its war memorial.

Lowick War Memorial

Travel up Coquetdale to the tiny remote hamlet of Alnham and there, on the wall of the parish church, is a list of seven souls lost in the First World War.

In the churchyard at Kirknewton in Glendale, just to the left of the church path as you enter the gate, is a group of those familiar headstones placed there by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who also remodelled Holy Island Castle. The headstones stand over the graves of Commonwealth airmen lost from nearby Milfield airfield.

At East Learmouth, the war dead of Carham parish are remembered at a cross on the roadside outside Cornhill House.

War memorials are one of those focuses that touch the entire community. In Lowick, however, it is rather more complicated.

General Sitwell, a scion of that talented literary family, paid for a massive cairn, carved simply with the figures 1914-1918, which he set on the village green.

The people of Lowick knew better – they commissioned a ‘real’ war memorial with a cross mounted on a pedestal carrying the names of those who had died.

General Sitwell’s cairn was displaced and relocated outside his residence, Barmoor Castle. Their new memorial now adorns the village green.

War memorials, then, and evidence of the two world wars carry a heavy freight, to use a contemporary parlance. Since most families lost someone, still 100 years on, great emotion is carried by these memorials of those who died.

The centenary observations of the Battle of the Somme at Thiepvaal in Flanders indicated this most movingly.

In our part of England, however, it is not war memorials alone that remind us of a troubled and bloody century.

At Milfield we can still clearly see the shadow of the former RAF station. Indeed, gliders and light aircraft still take off from there.

Or, at Brunton, just next to Tughall Hall and nearby to Fallodon, the runways still survive, with a satellite to Boulmer’s radar station hidden in one corner. Boulmer itself was a flying station, and indeed up until recently was the base for RAF Air/Sea rescue helicopters. These helicopters had previously been stabled in hangars at Acklington aerodrome, near Warkworth, now the site of an HM prison at Acklington.

But the beginnings of military warfare can be traced further back to 1917 and the Great War.

Just off the southern shore of Holy Island, there were marked out the beginnings of a Seaplane School. Then in the woodlands next to nearby Chathill, airships were concealed. Again, it was a satellite installation linked into Cramlington Airship Station, and indeed its twin airship station at East Fortune, to the south east of Edinburgh.

On the coast are numerous tank traps and inland associated pillboxes.

Even a fairly cursory trip around North Northumberland will reveal countless pieces of evidence of the two world wars.

At Kimmer Lough, next to Eglingham, there are buried the remains of a fighter plane which crashed just before landing.

Moving on then, to a less sombre note, the great houses of the county – Cragside, Bamburgh Castle and Alnwick Castle – were the venues for concert parties to cheer servicemen, who were far from home, on their way.

So, the stories behind the myriad war memorials, the industrial and military archaeology which reveals army and air force bases across North Northumberland, and the memories of dance bands and singers touring the border countryside – all of these amount to an extraordinarily rich community contribution in times of conflict and tribulation.

They are just one indicator of the key role played by communities uniting for the common good. It’s a salutary prompt to us all in every generation.