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Gateshead at War

It is thought that 18-20,000 Gateshead men entered one or other of the armed forces during the First World War alone. To mark this Remembrance Day we thought we would take a look back at the massive effort made by the people of Gateshead during the two World Wars.

Gateshead Central Library has a vast collection of photographs, although those taken during times of war are comparatively few. We thought we would share with you those which we have been able to preserve. These photographs are a tribute to those who not only fought and gave their lives in the two world wars, but those who remained on the home front to man vital services and industries.

World War One
The majority of Gateshead men enlisted into the forces during the First World War joined the Durham Light Infantry (D.L.I.), with others enlisting in the Northumberland Fusiliers, the Tyneside Irish and the Tyneside Scottish. Recruiting offices were opened at several drill halls in Gateshead, in the High Street and eventually in the Town Hall. Immense pressure was placed upon men of Gateshead to enlist and ’do their duty.’

The Durham Light Infantry marching through Gateshead High Street, 1919.

Some 1,700 Gateshead men were killed during the course of the First World War. The D.L.I., pictured above, suffered severe losses and the 9th Battalion, known as the ’Gateshead Regiment’, were awarded more individual medals than any other unit in the British Army.

The photograph below shows the D.L.I. at the funeral of Gateshead soldier Richard Dellow in 1919.

Funeral of Richard Dellow
Gateshead High Street, 1919.

Second-Lieutenant Richard Dellow, son of a Gateshead dentist, enlisted in 1914 and fought at the Somme, for which he received a commission for gallantry in 1917. Unfortunately his long spells of service in the trenches eventually caused him to suffer from what was referred to at the time as ’trench fever’. This sadly led to serious heart problems and he died in the summer of 1919.

The same year peace was officially brought to Europe by the Versailles Peace Treaty. Peace celebrations had been held throughout the country since armistice had been declared in 1918 and were especially enjoyed in Gateshead. Here is a selection of photographs of Gateshead Peace parties. Perhaps you’ll recognise a relative!

Birtley Iron Company workers
Peace Tea at Ann Street, Gateshead, 1919.


Birtley Street Party
Birtley Victory Celebrations, 1918.

In addition to those who enlisted to fight in the war, many were required to remain at home, keeping Britain’s industries and services going. The photograph below shows the Gateshead Police and Fire Service marching through Walker Terrace in 1918.

Gateshead Police and Fire Service
Gateshead Police and Fire Service.

The traditional industries of the River Tyne, coal, steel, iron etc., were of course vital to the war effort. Often working in conditions equally dangerous to those of a professional soldiers the contributions of miners and other industrial workers during the world wars has often been over-looked.

This photograph shows a group of iron and steel workers at the Birtley Iron Company during the first world war.

Birtley Iron Company
Birtley Iron Company.

World War Two

Throughout 1939 recruiting marches were held in Gateshead and air raid shelters were built across the town. It was not long before Gateshead Children were being evacuated, many to North Yorkshire. The photograph below shows mothers and children at Gateshead Station waiting to be evacuated to safety.

Gateshead Evacuation
Gateshead Evacuation.

Fortunately Gateshead escaped the worst of the Blitz. Five people were killed in Gateshead as a result of enemy aircraft, the majority of the bombs falling inside Saltwell Park. The picture below shows a Spitfire bought by the town of Gateshead to help defend Britain during the War. Presentation Spitfires were purchased across Britain by individuals, organisations and towns.

Gateshead Spitfire
The Gateshead Spitfire.

At the start of World War Two, thousands of women volunteered for essential work in order to release men to go into the armed forces. By 1940 however it was clear that larger numbers would be needed. In December 1941, the National Service Act (no 2) made the conscription of women legal. At first, only single women aged 20-30 were called up, but by mid-1943, almost 90 per cent of single women and 80 per cent of married women were employed in essential work for the war effort. The photographs below show women at work in Gateshead’s industries.

Women Workers at the Redheugh Gas Works
Women Workers at the Redheugh Gas Works.

Gas and tar were essential during the war and women took over many of the heavy jobs previously done by men. Pictured above right is Mrs Armstrong and behind her is Mrs Isabella McMillan.

Women Workers at the Birtley Iron Company
Women Workers at the Birtley Iron Company.

Some occupations however continued to be done by men. There was a number of reserve occupations that gave an exemption to conscription. In the North East these were mainly coal mining and agriculture. Both industries were essential to the survival of wartime Britain as import routes became increasingly restricted by enemy activities. However despite this, men working in such occupations were rarely given the same credit for their devotion and bravery as those who had served in the armed forces. Below are pictures of men at work in wartime Gateshead.

Greenhall Farm
Wartime farming at Greenhall Farm, now the site of Lyndhurst School.


Stephens Hall Farm
Farming at Stephen’s Hall Farm, Greenside.


Greenside Colliery
Coalminers at Greenside Colliery, 1930s.

Peace was finally declared in 1945. As with the First World War street parties and peace teas where held throughout Gateshead. It is not known whereabouts in Gateshead this photograph was taken - perhaps you can tell us. Click the ’Contact Us’ link to the right if you recognise anyone on this photograph.

Gateshead Street Party
A Gateshead Street Party.



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Coal Mining in Gateshead I
Thomas Hepburn and the battle of Friars Goose

Coal Mining In Gateshead II
Coal Mining In Gateshead II
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Durham County Constabulary
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First Felling Co-Operative Society

Gateshead at War
Gateshead at War
Looking back at Gateshead during Two World Wars

Gateshead Quays
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Regeneration of the South bank of the Tyne

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John Lennon Drama
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Gateshead Central Library
Prince Consort Road, Gateshead, NE8 4LN
Tel: 0191 433 8410

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