As the gates to the Readhead shipyard closed in the 1970s, it closed off the memory of 57 brave men to the public. While friends and family never forgot the shipyard workers from South Tyneside, who answered the call of their nation in the First World War and never came home, the plaque dedicated to their memory was forgotten by the outside world.
Left to deteriorate in the closed shipyard, the South Tyneside Council has restored the memorial plaque and relocated it to a place of reverence along the riverside walkway of the Harton Quays Park in South Shields. The Duke of Kent, The Queen’s cousin, was on hand as the guest of honour to re-dedicate the Readhead War Memorial.
The new location is strategic for as the South Tyneside Armed Forces Champion, Councillor Edward Malcolm, stated “Where the memorial is located is a walkway, and we hope that when people see it they will take five minutes to remember the sacrifices made.”
The Duke was accompanied by Sir Nigel Sherlock, Lord Lieutenant for Tyne and War and as they arrived to the memorial, they were greeted by children waving flags from the five borough primary schools, Lord Blyton, Marine Park, Hadrian, St Mary’s RC and Simonside.
The solemn service was arranged by the South Tyneside Armed Forces Forum and included a blessing from the Reverend Paul Kennedy, of St Michael and All Angels Church in South Shields and prayers lead by Father Chris Fuller, of the town’s St Hilda’s Church.
Recognizing the sacrifices the shipyard workers made, Father Chris said:
“Readhead’s shipyard played a vital role in the growth and prosperity of South Shields as well as the defence and security of Great Britain during the First World War. The 57 names recorded on the company’s war memorial are typical of the men who volunteered from the shipyards, factories and coal mines to fight for our country. Today we remember their service with extreme pride and also remember the suffering of the families that they left behind.”
The Duke placed a wreath at the foot of the memorial after the buglers of the Durham Light Infantry played The Last Post. The Last Post was originally played in British Army Camps to signal the end of the day and during battle, it signified the ending of fighting for the day and so the wounded could seek safety and rest. This bugle call is now played at Commonwealth military funerals and ceremonies as a final farewell, symbolizing the fact that the duty of the deceased soldier is over and they can finally rest in peace.
The Duke’s visit to the Readhead Shipyard was reminiscent of the visit his late father, Prince George, made to the area to unveil the first memorial in 1921.
Following the conclusion of the ceremony, the South Tyneside Mayor, Councillor Faye Cunningham, escorted The Duke to a new exhibition on the history of the Readhead’s shipyard that has been erected in the Customs House’s Port of Tyne Gallery.
The original memorial was created by the founder of the shipyard, John Readhead, and was to honour all of his employees who did not return from the “war to end all wars”.
The Customs House exhibition will remain on display at the Mill Dam gallery until early next month, after which it will be transferred to the Central Library in South Shields.
Feature photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office