Hero died in first skirmish

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IT went down in history as the “gallant Arethusa.” It was a title well deserved.

The light armoured cruiser took on at least four enemy German ships at the Battle of Heligoland Bight.

Able  Seaman George Winwood

Able Seaman George Winwood

Its actions were regarded as triumphant and the German navy was sent packing - but the affair on August 28, 1914, was not without its casualties.

Able Seaman George Winwood, just 23 year old, died in the battle which was the very first naval engagement in the First World War.

His grave is a resplendent marker to his heroics. It stands in Shotton Colliery St Saviour’s Church grounds and was recently restored to its former glory by George’s descendants Raymond and Jimmy.

It was Raymond, a 66-year-old father-of-two from Hesleden who shared the story of a man who died a naval hero.

Heselden man Raymond Winwood has collected many artifacts left by his war hero ancestor George Winwood.

Heselden man Raymond Winwood has collected many artifacts left by his war hero ancestor George Winwood.

Raymond, a former ambulance technician based in Elwick Road, Hartlepool, and who is married to June, 67, said: “We don’t know much about George other than he died in the Battle of Heligoland and he had two brothers and two sisters.”

His family hailed from the Bowburn and Shotton Colliery areas but his life must have seemed quite ordinary until that day in 1914.

Records show the HMS Arethusa played the principal part in the battle. It was the first of 20 to be built by the Admiralty of the day and such was its success that the rest were constructed with instruction that their need was vindicated by the splendid actions of their sister ship.

Arethusa’s role was to cut the German ships from any route they had to home, and then engage them in the open sea.

She did her job proudly and kept the German Navy busy for 35 minutes at a range of 3,000 yards.

She was damaged and suffered casualties in the process - George was one of them. Still, though, she drove off the enemy and badly damaged one of two German cruisers which were attacking her.

Yet that first skirmish was just the start of her action. Later the same morning, she took on two other German ships and sank the cruiser Mainz.

The role of George Winwood was one part of the Winwood famuly history which has been researched back to 1698 - yet in a rather unique manner.

A man called Richard Ivan Winwood, from Oregon, USA, knocked on the door of Raymond’s home and asked if he could research the family history. Richard was in the UK to do church work.

“I was grateful that he did it,” said Raymond.

What emerged was an ancestry which went back more than 300 years and may have a fantastic link, as Raymond explained.

“We are almost sure that Sir Ralph Winwood is part of it.”

Sir Ralph was secretary of state to King James 1, and Privy Councillor from 1614, and a Member of Parliament (MP) for Buckingham..

This was a man whose role in the UK’s history included being leader of the House of Commons and once overseeing the release of Sir Walter Raleigh.

Our thanks go to Raymond for sharing his ancestry and we’re hoping other people will do the same. To do just that, contact Chris Cordner on (01429) 239377 or email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk