South Tyneside welcomed a royal visitor today (Thursday 23 October) to mark the rededication of a newly restored war memorial.
His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent visited the Borough where he attended a special ceremony to celebrate the restoration and relocation of the Readhead War Memorial.
The memorial commemorates workers from the former Readhead's shipyard who served during the First World War. Following years of natural deterioration, the plaque has been restored back to its former glory and given pride of place at the new Harton Quays Park on South Shields riverside.
His Royal Highness was accompanied on his visit by Her Majesty's Lord Lieutenant for Tyne and Wear, Sir Nigel Sherlock. The Duke laid a laurel wreath at the foot of the memorial as part of the Service of Rededication, which was also attended by the Mayor and Mayoress of South Tyneside Councillor Fay Cunningham and Stella Matthewson, Councillor Ed Malcolm, Chair of the South Tyneside Armed Forces Forum and South Tyneside Council Chief Executive Martin Swales.
The Duke was then escorted into The Customs House to see an exhibition chronicling the history of the Readhead family displayed in The Port of Tyne Gallery. The free exhibition will remain in place for the public to view until it is moved to Central Library South Shields next month.
Councillor Ed Malcolm, South Tyneside's Armed Forces Champion, said: "It was an honour to welcome His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent to this special service to rededicate the Readhead War Memorial at Harton Quays Park.
"The service gave us an opportunity to reflect and pay tribute to those Readhead Shipyard workers, who sadly did not return home from the war. They fought for their country, as did many people from South Tyneside, and the sacrifices they all made must never be forgotten.
"The memorial is an important piece of our rich shipbuilding and war heritage and we are delighted to have found a fitting new home for it with a direct line of sight to the former Readheads shipyard.
"I would like to thank everyone who has supported our Armed Forces Forum in the restoration and relocation of the plaque, and all those who have contributed to this poignant display in The Customs House. The Duke's visit marks a day to remember for everyone involved."
The Readhead Memorial was originally unveiled in November 1921 by James Readhead in honour of 57 of his employees, who did not return from the Great War. Their names form part of the inscriptions. After the shipyard was taken over by Swan Hunters in 1967, the war memorial was left without maintenance for many years before being salvaged from the former yard in 1999 and placed near the former Readheads entrance on the wall facing Commercial Road.
The rededication event was also attended by members of the South Tyneside Armed Forces community including local military units and veterans' organisations as well as descendants of some of the men recorded on the memorial and the last surviving members of the Readhead family.
Rodney Towers, son of the last Chairman and Managing Director of John Readhead and Sons, said: "The Readhead War Memorial was a personal tribute by my great grandfather and I'm delighted that South Tyneside Council has chosen to honour it in this way.
"It's an honour and a proud day for the family that the Council has restored and relocated this special memorial plaque. The new location is quite excellent. It's a great tribute to the Readheads and the commercial enterprise which they built in South Shields over 103 years.
"The Council has also demonstrated its excellent research abilities in the way it has pulled together some of the personal histories of those men listed on the memorial and which can be seen at the exhibition. Events like this help to keep alive the history of South Shields which is important for future generations. I'm delighted that the rededication has been honoured as a royal event."
Arranged by the South Tyneside Armed Forces Forum, the rededication service included prayers led by Father Chris Fuller of St Hilda's Church and a blessing from Reverend Paul Kennedy of St Michael and All Angels Church. The ceremony also involved the Durham Light Infantry Association buglers and a piper from 101 Northumbrian Regiment, Royal Artillery.
The exhibition was organised by South Tyneside Council in partnership with The Customs House and South Shields Museum & Art Gallery.
The restoration and rededication of the tablet coincides with the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, which claimed the lives of more than 2,000 men from the old Borough of South Shields.