A century of words and action
St John’s Church, Newcastle, held a service for the dedication of a new banner for the Newcastle branch of the National Union of Journalists on the 30 September. The branch is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
The colourful new standard, dedicated and blessed by the Revd Dr Nicholas Buxton, Priest-in-Charge at St John’s, was painted by talented Durham coalfield artist Bob Ord, who lives in the former mining community of Thornley and comes from a mining family. The project was co-ordinated by Billy Middleton, a retired colliery blacksmith, also from Thornley. He provided the poles and silk fabric and arranged for the needlework to create the banner.
One side of the Newcastle NUJ centenary banner carries a fine portrait of Joseph Cowen, radical Liberal MP for Newcastle from 1874 to 1886. Cowen championed Irish Home Rule and was a friend of Garibaldi, the architect of Italian reunification. He supported the Northumberland and Durham miners' unions and advocated greater safety measures in the pits.
The other side of the standard bears the painting of a poppy with a white centre, emblem of the Shot at Dawn Pardons Campaign. During the First World War, 306 British, Irish and Commonwealth soldiers were shot a dawn by their own side for alleged battlefield offences such as cowardice and desertion. Such offences might include simply throwing down a rifle, leaving a trench or being absent for a short period. Today, most people would recognise that these men and boys were suffering from shell shock or severe trauma induced by the ordeals of war. Some of those shot were boys only 17 years old.
The Shot at Dawn Pardons Campaign sought pardons for these tragic soldiers so that the injustice of the executions would be officially recognised by the British government. After a long campaign, during which they met with considerable resistance, the pardons were eventually granted in 2006.
Newcastle Branch of the NUJ was a strong supporter of the campaign. Branch members, led by chairman George Macintyre, linked up with John Hipkin, a retired Newcastle school teacher who had started the campaign single handedly because he felt so strongly about the injustice of the executions. Each year, representatives of the branch lay green, white and gold wreaths at the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday in memory of the tragic 306.
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