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“The Vicker’s Gun was marvellous if you were mechanically minded”.
It was based on an original design by the American Harim Maxim who supplied guns to all the warring sides. He became a naturalised Briton and lived in Kent. His Maxim gun was used by the Germans, the Vickers MK1-IV by the British.
There were generally four stoppages:
- a bullish cartridge,
- a broken firing pin,
- a faulty cartridge
- or a damp belt.
You could tell from the position of the crank shaft what was wrong. A good gunner could correct it more or less straight away. The belt came out of this bean hopper with the ammo; it jammed if it got wet. With a faulty cartridge you could adjust the spring two or three notches.
I got a few day’s leave from Grantham before we left for France and then I didn’t get any leave whatsoever while I was out there through the Somme and Paschendale – about two and a half years of it. It was only when I came back to join the R.F.C. that I got any leave.
Everyone was issued with these red plastic identity discs with your name and number on them.
“I went and found a Jeweller’s and had one made up in silver to hang around my wrist”.
‘J A Wilson 13203
C of E
We set off for France at midnight in March 1916.
- They Called it Paschendaele (machineguncorps.com)
- Weapons of War: Fiat-Revelli M1914 (warhistoryonline.com)
Fig.1. Jack Wilson’s identity tag. He had it made while training in Grantham.
“We were put on parade one Saturday morning in early 1916, which was unusual”.
The next thing I know the Sergeant’s running up and down the line with the Red Cap picking out people’s names. He was a bit of a raw Geordie lad.
Afterwards I asked Quartermaster Sergeant Barwick what it was all about.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“You’re going to the suicide squad on Monday.” He replies.
Then he added.
“You’re off to Grantham.”
“What’s that?” I ask.
“On Monday, you’re off to Grantham. You’ve got to go”.
I had no choice in the matter.
And that’s how I was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, 35th Division, 104th Brigade Machine Gun Company (formed 27th April 1916).
I got a few days leave from Grantham before and then I didn’t get any leave whatsoever while I was out there through the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Passchendaele – about two and a half years. It was only when I came back to join the RFC that I got a week’s leave. Then I went back to Grantham. And of course I finished up on the RFC aerodrome at Crail, Scotland.
Fig.2. Machine Gun Training. I believe these are Canadians. Or could they be American?
“They were picking suitable looking fellows. They were copying the Germans”.
They went around all the infantry companies looking for suitable men. It was a heavy gun. The Vickers weighed over 28 pounds; the tripod 20 pounds and the water to cool the gun another 10 pounds.
They took about twenty from the Durham Light Infantry. The 7th Division was a Geordie regiment.
Billy Wrangham, who was 24, from Urpeth, Anfield Plane. His father was a Colliery Winding Engineerman – he was gassed. It could catch you on the hop. Billy had this gun and they had their masks on all day. He took his off in the afternoon being the corporal.
George Toward lived behind the Royal Hotel; he was a regular billiard player. He was a year younger then me, only got in by a squeak. He was eighteen. He lied about his age. George lived at 19 Consett Rd, Castleside just along the road from us. His father was gas producer at the steelworks. He was the youngest of four. I remember his sisters Elizabeth and Jennie and his big brother Robert a married man of 28.
Sergeant-Major Barwick; he was a funny one.
If he felt happy he’d get up and have a little jig and a sing song. He was from Teams, Gateshead. They had four lovely kiddies. He’d bring them down to watch us parade and we’d carry them on our shoulders. We’d give them pennies and sweats. He was killed on the 6th October 1918 age 28. Son of Joseph and Maria Barwick from Teams, Gateshead. His wife went by the name of Theresa.
Tommy Collinson, was another one.
Tommy was a big strapping lad. He had a brother who was shot in the knee before the war; it got gangrene and was lost. Tommy was killed on the 5th November 1917 at Passchendaele – he was only 18.
And Billy Soulsby all from Askew Road, Gateshead.
He was a storekeeper by trade so they made him the quartermaster.
Those are some of the names I remember.
The rest of the company was made up from North Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumberland, Birmingham and Northumberland.
Grantham was a camp for transport and machine gunners.
“Even to get into your hut you were up to your knees in mud”.
Interviews conducted by his grandson Jonathan F Vernon from 1989-1992. Recorded on digital audio tape and transcribed. Jack then reviewed a manuscript of large font printouts and added further notes, some in his own hand, some added by his grandson.
The 103rd Brigade was formed on 27th April 1916 and joined the 34th Division.
- They Called it Passchendaele (machineguncorps.com)
- Irish Somme (insideview.ie)
- Anniversary 30th/31st July 1916 – III Platoon 17th Manchesters (17thmanchesters.wordpress.com)
- Online archive will reveal the poignant wills and personal letters of 230,000 WWI soldiers (dailymail.co.uk)
The First Cars in County Durham
The first person to have a car in the area was Dr Ralph Renton.
Everyone knew when he was coming because you could hear the engine.
“Chug, chug chug, chug.”
You’d then see him sitting there bolt up right like he was at a desk. Dr Renton lived at Oakfield, Blackhill; he was born in 1878. His mother’s name was Mary Renton; she was born in 1850. She had two sisters who lived with her, Marjory and Agnes. They were still in Benfieldside 1901. Ralph’s father, Dr George Renton had been the GP at Shotley Bridge before his son.
Dr Renton’s car was a chain-driven 8 HP Single Cylinder Rover
This was their first motorcar, designed by Edmund Lewes who had been working for Daimler. Before that they’d made motorbikes and before than they’d made bicycles. There were mostly horse drawn vehicles when I was a boy, private cars were very rare.
They next people after that to have a motor car were C.T. Mailings of Ford Potteries, Greenwood, Shotley Bridge. It was a Lanchester.
It had tiller steering and bicycle wheels
When the cars came on the go JG got a mechanic driver, a man called Geldart, to come up from Middlesborough to teach my father how to drive.
The Murrays bought a 10 HP Coventry Humber from this firm in Middlesborough and later bought a 30/40 Beeston Humber.
Thomas Humber was a blacksmith from Beeston near Nottingham
He started with velocipedes, they had no chains, you just sat on them to make them go by running your feet along the ground. He got into bicycles and then tricycles and by the 1890’s he was building copies of Leon Bollee’s tricar. As well as tricycles, they built motorcycles and voiturettes. They had two speeds those first cars, one forwards, one backwards. They were well built and a more expensive car.
As a boy my father used to take me up to the yard to fiddle on with the engines
When old Dick Murray built Benfieldside House he had two massive stone pillars put up at the bottom of the drive. There was a little wicker gate into the lodge where we lived. J G. used to have a go with the Beeston Humber. One day he missed the gate and ran into the pillar which twisted round its base.
“How he didn’t knock it into our cottage I don’t know”.
These pillars were incorporated into the estate agent’s house which is called ‘Glastonbury’ and is on Benfieldside Road.
A second groom was taken on to look after the horses and my father took on the new role of chauffer. He used to drive J.G. all around the branches of the North Eastern Breweries, to the Moor Street Brewery in Sunderland, the Tower Brewery in Spennymore, the Weir Brewery in Stockton and up to the bottling plant at Blackhill next to the offices where I worked.
I blame cars for the growth in crime. You never heard of burglaries, but once the criminal types could nip in and out by car they’d target these big houses. Put the wind up a lot of people that.
Richard Murray’s Legacy
When Richard Murray died in 1912 he left £60,000 to build the hospital behind the house.
My father told me he gave each of his sons £30,000. Dick was born in 1839 and died 1912, on February 7th. His wife was called Elizabeth. She was born in 1841 and died on 14th February 1920. She is buried next to her husband in Blackhill Cemetery. They had a daughter Maggie who married a Robert Taylor. She died on the 16th November 1902. She was only 33 years of age. Her family put up this lovely marble column and her parents are buried at the same spot in Blackhill Cemetery.
‘J.G’ (John George) Murray left his legal practice at 42 Westgate Road to take over the business.
There was a horse-trough where horses watered on the way up from Newcastle. And I remember a lamp lighter too – he had a stick with a hook on it.