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Monday, 2 February 2015

The Newcastle YMCA First World War Memorial at Northumbria University

James McConnel

The Newcastle YMCA war memorial.
In late 2014, the Estates Office at Northumbria University contacted me about an interesting discovery they had made in a storage area in the University’s Wynne Jones building. Following my research into the war-related features of Trinity Building (formerly Trinity Presbyterian church), they knew I was interested in information about any war memorials on campus. It turned out that staff from Estates had discovered in Wynne Jones a hitherto unknown First World War memorial. The memorial was accompanied by a brass plaque commemorating the opening of the Newcastle YMCA building on Blackett Street in 1900. This building was knocked down in the 1970s to make way for the Eldon Square shopping centre. Various architectural features of the Victorian building were salvaged when it was demolished. These included stone carvings and door surrounds, which were mounted onto one of the exterior walls on Prudhoe Chare in 1976 (the alley by the side of Marks and Spenercs). But it appears that the YMCA’s war memorial was also rescued from the old building, which was then transferred to the Association’s new premises on Ellison Place. The University acquired this building twenty years later in the 1990s and – seemingly without realising it – also inherited the YMCA’s war memorial.

The memorial is made of wood and includes the names of about 100 men who ‘Gave Their All’ in the First World War. Three Northumbria history students are now researching the names of the men as part of a work placement module all students undertake in their second year. With the help of a
Masters student who is undertaking a project on war memorials in Newcastle schools, they have been introduced to the use of digitised local newspapers, the 1911 census, CWGC records, and military archives, in order to research the lives of those named on the memorial. We have also made contact with the modern-day YMCA in Newcastle and it is interested in collaborating with Northumbria on this project, with some of the young people from the Association helping with elements of the research . Ultimately, the hope is that the biographical information collected will contribute to a permanent online resource about Newcastle YMCA’s role in the First World War.

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