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Monday, 27 October 2014

A Great War Memorial at Northumbria University

James McConnel

Although Northumbria did not exist as an institution during the Great War, the University has a number of interesting connections with the period 1914–1918. The official history of Northumbria (by Joan Allen) records that one of the University’s predecessor institutions, Rutherford Technical College (established in 1880), was indirectly affected by the conflict: the College’s enrolments fell away in 1914, while the institution’s curriculum suffered as a result of various staff members joining (or in some cases re-joining) the colours. New students, however, subsequently enrolled at the college for the purposes of training in Newcastle’s munitions’ factories, while another aspect of the College’s curriculum which underwent change due to wartime circumstances was the training of women to replace the depleted male workforce. Towards the end of the war Rutherford College was also involved in the training of disabled soldiers in preparation for peacetime.
Northumbria University's Trinity Building on the left

But perhaps one of the most tangible links which Northumbria has to the Great War is the stained glass window dedicated to a soldier of the Great War housed in the Trinity Building on Northumberland Road. Formerly part of Trinity Presbyterian Church, the surviving stained glass windows include one, situated on the north aisle of what was the nave, which features the dedication: ‘In loving memory of Liet. J.A.G. Brewis, 4th D[urham] L[ight] I[nfantry], attached RFC, killed whilst flying, April 29 1917. Age 22 years.’

John Arthur Gardner Brewis was born in Sheffield in 1896. His father was, according to the 1901 census, a ‘Foreign Produce Importer’, and the family had moved to Gosforth in Newcastle by 1901. The only son of five children, at the time of the war’s outbreak Brewis had just completed his first year as a medical student at Newcastle Medical College (then part of the University of Durham). Having previously served as a cadet in the Officers’ Training Corps, he ‘was given a commission in the DLI immediately on the outbreak of war’. Following nine months of training, he was sent to Flanders in May 1915 as a second lieutenant with the 2nd Battalion DLI. After sixteen months at the front (during which time he was promoted to lieutenant), he joined the Royal Flying Corps, and acted as an observing officer for six months with 40 Squadron. Wounded twice, on returning from his second period of convalescence he qualified as a flying officer in February 1917.
John Arthur Gardner Brewis memorial
Trinity Building, Northumbria University

His career as a pilot was, however, to be short-lived (lasting just two weeks). His short flying career included being one of several British pilots who, on 24 April 1917, attacked an enemy aircraft, forcing it to land, with the resulting capture of two prisoners. Five days later Brewis was shot down by enemy ground fire while flying a morning patrol. RFC headquarters initially believed that he was unhurt and had probably been taken prisoner, but five months later in September 1917 he was reported as having been killed in action.

In the immediate aftermath of the news, Brewis’ parents received many expressions of sympathy, which later found tangible form in a number of memorials. In addition to the stained glass window in Trinity building on Northumbria’s campus, his name features on the Flying Service Memorial at Arras, on a plaque in Newcastle’s medical school, on a memorial in St Nicholas’ Church, Gosforth, on a plaque in Gosforth Memorial Welfare Centre, and on a plaque in Alnmouth golf club to its members who fell in the conflict.

James McConnel is a Reader in History at Northumbria University.  He studied at the universities of Sheffield and Durham. He joined Northumbria University in November 2008. He specialises in Irish and British History.  He is the author of The Irish Parliamentary Party and the Third Home Rule Crisis (Four Courts Press: Dublin, 2013).

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