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Alnwick in the Great War by Craig Armstrong


Book Reviewer
From “Your Towns and Cities in the Great War” series.

This book is from an excellent and growing series from Pen & Sword. Obviously, the standard and scope of each book depends on the skill and interests of the author, as well as the characteristics of the town, city or area described.

The author, Dr Craig Armstrong is born and bred in Northumberland, who currently divides his time between teaching in Department of History, Classics and Archaeology and freelance researching and writing.

The book is well illustrated, with photographs from World War One era, all in black and white. It is particularly moving to see so many portraits of the service personnel mentioned in the text.

Alnwick started 1914 as a market town, seat of county authority and home town of the Dukes of Northumberland. The country home of Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey was Falloden Hall, just south of Alnwick. Albert, 4th Earl Grey, and his family offered their home Howick Hall as a military hospital, and this became 1st Northumberland VAD Hospital. Sybil Grey, daughter of Earl Grey, was among the volunteers.

By the end of 1914, Alnwick became important as one of northern England’s largest training camps. Initially, bell tents were pitched on pastures near Alnwick Castle, seat of Duke of Northumberland. By mid September, train loads of timber were arriving at Alnwick Station, to be used for constructing stilted wooden huts, which were ready for occupation in December 1914. The huts were used by soldiers joining Northumberland Fusiliers and particularly Tyneside Scottish and Tyneside Irish brigades.

Alongside the military aspects of Alnwick during WWI, civilians played important roles in the war effort. As a market town, surrounded by agricultural land, production of meat, wool and crops supplied vital items. Industry was less significant in the area. Hardy Brothers had 88 pre-war employees making fishing rods and tackle. Of those, 57 joined up as volunteers, seven transferred to munitions factories and the remaining eight worked solely on brass components in munitions.

As so often in books of this series, in addition to the big picture, it’s the small comments that matter – such as Girl Guides of 1st Alnwick Company collecting waste paper for recycling. There are many other gems.

The index is very detailed, but in order to find references to individual military units, the reader needs to know to look under the heading “British Army”. As former member of a North East England TA medical unit, I was particularly keen to follow the references to Hospitals, including 1st Northumberland VAD, 8th Northumberland VAD and 31st Northumberland Field Hospital. In some cases, it seems that sports, particularly football cycling and boxing, were more important than patient care. However, sports days also included obstacle races with stretcher carrying and stretcher drills including collecting wounded soldiers. I sincerely hope the “wounded soldiers” were actually dummies or healthy comrades!

In summary, an excellent resource for people interested in residents of Northumberland in World War One, plus the units which passed through.

For completeness, to assist people considering buying this book, I include a list of chapters below (chapters 2 to 5 really are the same apart from year):
1. 1914 Pre-War Alnwick
2. 1915 Agriculture and Industry
3. 1916 Agriculture and Industry
4. 1917 Agriculture and Industry
5. 1918 Agriculture and Industry

4.5 out of 5.
Paperback ISBN 978 1 47382 739 4. Cover price £12.99.
Publisher Pen & Sword. Paperback published 2016.
Had a great uncle from Able who served with the Northumberland Fusiliers in France
He was in France for a whole 5 days before he was killed

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