Our Remembrance Stories: Denise Saunders
The stories are still flooding in for our ‘Meet the Singers’ series! Our next story comes from Denise Saunders who gives us two stories in one connected to our show, ‘Lest We Forget’, and her mother. Our performance on Sunday 10th November, at the Whitley Bay Playhouse, is going to be very special for all of us.
“This is a story about two men who were both war heroes in the Great War 1914 -19. Each of these men have an amazing story and a link to my own mother.”
“Firstly let me tell you about Arthur Jacques, who served in the York and Lancaster Regiment. While stationed in the north-east, Arthur met and married a young lass called Cilla. They were to go on to have a son also called Arthur.
Arthur Sr unfortunately came home from the war with severe lung damage from being gassed in the trenches of France. Despite this, he took a job at the local pit in order to support his wife and son. He hadn’t been a pitman prior to the war, having come from Yorkshire and joining the army at a young age, but times were hard.
One sunny day that summer, his young son Arthur and cousin Cissy, were out playing near the riverbank at Penshaw where they lived. Hearing a commotion, Arthur Sr left his house running towards the riverbank, where two young children were in trouble in the water. Cissy, wearing petticoats, was kept afloat whilst young Arthur was pulled under by the current for the third time, according to bystanders. Without being actually aware that it was his own son in the water, Arthur Sr jumped in and dragged the boy to the riverbank, where the water was pumped out of him and his life saved.
Sadly, just 3 months or so later, poor Arthur Sr succumbed to his injuries. He died at just 25 years of age, leaving a widow and a young son behind. He was buried in Penshaw churchyard in a military grave and has since been commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, shown in the certificate below.”
“Meanwhile, another lad with a fine head of ginger curls, lived in the same street as Cilla’s family. Ralph Ridley Thompson was known as Scotty due to his Scots/Irish father having the same nickname. Scotty signed up underage with his brother to serve in Durham Light Infantry (DLI). He also found himself wounded in France, aged 19. As he staggered through the mud and clay, he repeatedly put his hand to his head and called for his mother. He was found with a severe head wound and convalesced for 2 years after surgery. His surgeon used part of the “ball of his leg” to patch up where he had been shot in the brow. The clay had created a temporary patch, thus saving his life!
The American pioneering plastic surgeon did not expect Scotty to live, but after five years of writing to him was quoted as saying, “if you’ve lived this long, you’ll likely outlive me!” And he did. Scotty worked for a total of 50 years down the pit, “80% disabled” according to his war medical records.
So, what about the link to my mother?
Well, Cilla went on to marry Scotty Thompson, and they brought up young Arthur together. However, they were never blessed with a child of their own. Cilla was well known for helping out family and friends with their young ones, even fostering some. Around the time that young Arthur was 21 and himself serving in the army during WWII, Cilla and Scotty adopted baby Jean, my Mam. She was born in January 1940, and was brought up in a loving and lively home.
Cilla died not long before I was born. Although I never met her, I’m very grateful that Cilla was a great storyteller and shared these and many more stories with my Mam; and that she can share them with me, and now I can share them with you. Grandad Scotty, I do remember with great affection, as he featured strongly in my childhood until I was around 7 years old.
We can barely begin to appreciate the horrors these young men experienced or the hardships they faced with their families on return.
We will remember them.”