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John Arthur ‘Jack’ Wilson MM (1896 – 1992)

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John Arthur ‘Jack’ Wilson MM 

Born 20th August 1896, at his grandmother’s home, Dalston, Cumberland.
Died 3rd December 1992, at home, Gosforth, Newcastle on Tyne.

Christened Dalston, Cumbria
Raised and schooled at Benfieldside, County Durham, England.

Age 14 he left school and joined the Northeastern Brewery (September 1910) as the Office Boy at the company’s head office in the Royal Hotel.

Joined the Durham Light Infantry as one of Kitchener’s volunteers in late 1915 or early 1916
Transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, training on the Vicker’s Machine Gun at Harrowby Camp, Grantham from February to March 1916

13203 104 MGC 35th Division

Served in France at Neuve Chappel, Arras

Based on the Somme in 1916 from June to November.

Moved to the Ypres Salient in 1917 serving next to the French, billeted near Popringe and fighting the over the Ypres Canal towards Langemark, Poelcapelle, Houthulst Forest and then Passchendaele.
Made a Corporal.
Awarded the Military Medal ‘in the field’ by Brigadier Sandilands for keeping the gun in action for a week without relief. This occurred in the pillbox called Colombo House on the edge of Houthulst Forest at the end of October 1917 (20/10/17)

Transferred to the Royal Flying Corps at the end of December 1917. There are photographs of his RAF experiences.
Interview and medical at the Hotel Cecil, Hampstead then training in Hastings, Bristol, Uxbridge and Crail.
Jack flew Avro Trainers and Bristol Fighters.
He saw no action though he qualified before the Armistice, flying over the German fleet when it came north to Scapa Flow.
He stayed on at RAF Crail to help with demobbing.

Jack returned to his job at the Northeastern Brewery in 1919 and bought himself a BSA motorbike with the collection that had been made for him.
He stayed with the Northeastern Brewery until 1931.
Redundancy when Vaux took over the Northeadtern Brewery saw him move to the Scottish & Newcastle where he remained until retirement in the early 1960s

In 1992 Jack Wilson visited the Imperial War Museum and attended Machine Gun Corps and RFC/RAF commemoration events.
He took part in the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Passchendale attending at the Menin Gate and being introduced to the King of Belgium.
He also did a moving battlefield tour guided by the author Lyn Macdonald. He was able to mark the spot were he buried two of his mates from his machine gun company. There are photographs of this.

Three hours of audio interviews conducted when Jack was 96 are available as MP3 files.

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It started for me, Jack’s grandson, with my sitting on his knee after Sunday lunch at my parent’s home in Gosforth, Newcastle-on-Tyne in the mid 1960s.

And so he told and retold stories of his going along to the recruiting office in Consett, the medical and kit, basic training with the Durham Light Infantry, and transfer to the Machine Gun Corps followed by MCG training on a Vicker’s Machine Gun. He knew what the five main stoppages were. He then did two and a half years on the Western Front surviving Arras, the Somme and the worst of them all – Third Ypres and the mud of Passchendeale. At the very end of 1917 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and during 1918 he undertook training with the soon to be renamed Royal Air Force: military training in Hastings, navigation in Bristol, bombing at Uxbridge then flying at RAF Crail in Scotland.

Unprompted his desire to talk always begin with, ‘Have I told you about the time that … ‘

My understanding of his experience will be enhanced as I take a Masters in First World War studies with the University of Birmingham. I can imagine being at his side as I share insights he’d have found fascinating. There are still, in the world, a few people who may remember the conflict. We live still with its consequences.

Can we do justice to the memory of that generation – those who served as well as those who lost their lives. Can an unbiased debate over the causes and outcomes invigorate European and World Institutions to find ways to resolve more conflicts without the deaths and injury of combatants and civilians?

In the meantime I have three hours of interviews I conducted with my grandfather John Arthur Wilson MM between 1989 and 1992 to edit, refresh and put online. These MP3 files will be available in due course both as podcasts and as videos. As well as a verbatim transcript the approach will be to break it into 30 or more themed anecdotes – in chronological order. These will feature his photographs too, though these are essentially of his RAF training only. At this stage the highest resolution images will be put online. In due course these will be put under a computer controlled rostrum camera. By way of illustration I will seek out appropriate maps, archive photographs and appropriate additional contemporary video or stills. I have at some stage visited all the locations of this story, from Crail to Caix, from Fenham Barracks to Poelcapelle, from Hastings to Grantham. Where I can establish the copyright position I will include, reference and link to images and film from national archives. Newspapers from this era often contain many photographs.

I am a filmmaker with a broadcast credit as a director, writer and producer for a short film I made. Where and when I can I hope to recreate moments from his story on the tightest of budgets using actors, shooting in a studio or at night to envisage the claustrophobic horror of a pillbox under fire on the frontline during ‘Third Ypres’ or ‘Passchendaele’.

As my academic credentials kick in I will not only be better able to correctly reference and qualify this story, but I would hope to add further detail and illustration.

This is a labour of love – my memory of my grandfather is kept alive in this way. Where I can contribute to a regional or national story I am happy to do so providing access both to the interviews and photographs. I also welcome enquiries from schools or others, grandchildren or great grandchildren who are interested in tracing and telling a relative’s story.

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After the war: the North Eastern Brewery c1925

Regional Managers, including Jack Wilson (front row far right), with the owner of the North Eastern Brewery, possibly with other directors and possibly at Benfieldside House, Benfieldside, nr Consett.

Around 1925.

The Royal Hotel, Consett. Head Office of the North Eastern Brewery in 1910

The Royal Hotel

1910

The Royal Hotel was a huge stone built building with these five massive windows.

It was built for business; it’s all finished now. There was a station near by and next door the Mart for all the Blackhill farmers round about Lanchester. There was a huge yard. The station took all the deliveries for the Paper Mill and Flour Mill in Shotley Bridge.

There were six in the office above the bar and taproom.

J.G. had a private office across the passageway. I was the office boy. Joe Trones was on the sales ledger, Bill Barron, was the principal ledger clerk (tenants, free trade). Tommy Morland, who came from Medomsley, was the cashier; he held the bank cash book. He was 38 when I stared. Then there was Ernie Caldwell, the estate agent and local brewery area manager. Mr Gardener was General Manager of the branch and stores. Mr Gardener was in his fifties. He’d been with the North Eastern Breweries for 26 years. I got to know his son later on. John Gardener was just a year older than me. His mother lived into her eighties as did John. I must have been the Spa water we were used to drinking!

Bill and I used to do the column.

We’d sneak out of the office and go down the corridor to the billiard room that overlooked the spirit store and bottling factory.
There were two tables. We’d slide in and keep the door from the office locked. We’d sneak back as if we’d come back from the telephone. We got to know Tom Brown who worked for the Consett Iron Works. He used to play billiards when it was open. Tom and Bill were a similar age. Tom was from Wokington. He was nearly 30 when I started at the North Eastern Brewery. He lived at 7 Constance Street, Consett . They were a five of them, there was Bill, Dick, George and his sister Florence. His father, George was from Yorkshire. His mother, Mary was from Durham. Tom was a big strapping lad. Before the war his brother was shot in the leg and he lost it from gangrene.

Bill had a brother called Ridley who was a good footballer.

Just before the War Bill got a message to say his brother had been killed in a fall of stone in the mine at Busty Pit, Medomsley. Ridley had started out as a coal hand puller ‘underground’ at Busty Pit when he was 14. He was killed on 8th October 1912. He was kirning in a longwall gateway in a seam 2 feet 2 inches thick when a large stone fell between slips canting out some props and crushing him.

Bill was broken hearted. In those days all the mines were going: Hunter, Busty and Derwent interlinked with their own railway with iron ore from Spain.

Ernie Caldwell used to count all the coins, it was all gold then.

He had this desk next to a massive iron safe. When the figures didn’t add up he’d put it down to petty cash. When they came to move the safe they found all these coins stuck down the back. Ernie Caldwell came to me one day.

“John, I’ll show you how to work a pub stock out.”

And he put this pub stock sheet in front of me.

One of my jobs was to take all the coins down to the bank.

With it being the brewing trade a lot of them got sticky. I remember once the bank manger got fed up with getting sticky fingers and handed me the bag back.

“Go and wash them; I’m not handling them like that.”

So from then on before I went to the bank I’d take the coins into the lavatory and wash them in the sink.

There were three joiners and two horse keepers for the twelve Cleveland Dray Horses. The pop factory was run by Tommy Blackburn. There were six bottling girls and a bottler we called ‘The Dummy.’ They bottled Bass, Guinness, Wheatley Hops and their own beers.

Crossley Gas Engines ran the machines – there was no electricity. That factory was sold to the Venture Bus Company, now the Northern.

All the letters were hand written with copying ink.

You put an oil sheet in, damped the blotting paper, put your letter in and squeezed it to make a copy – that was before the typewriter.

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