Joseph died a Somme hero after fighting for Hartlepool Bombardment victims

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WHEN Private Joseph Dixon served his country in the First World War, he was part of a family already in grief.

Numerous members of the family had been killed during the German shelling of Hartlepool in December 1914.

But Joseph, from William Street on the Headland, was determined to fight back.

He signed up with the West Yorkshire Regiment as a private and saw service on the front line in France.

Joseph had a very personal reason to fight. He was the brother of George Edward Dixon - the man whose three children were killed in the Bombardment and whose wife Margaret Ellen had her leg blown off.

George was discharged from the Army when news emerged that his family had been so badly affected by tragedy.

The grave of Joseph Dixon

The grave of Joseph Dixon

But Joseph fought on and saw service in the trenches of the Somme.

“He was fighting back,” said Myra Docherty, 77, of Jesmond Gardens, who is a keen family historian and has all of Joseph’s war medals.

She knows little of Joseph’s direct background, other than he was not married and was 29 when tragedy struck on July 5, 1916.

His family back home were told the dreadful news, first in a letter from a Margaret S. Liddell, the matron of the hospital to which the stricken soldier had been taken.

A letter to the family of Joseph Dixon informing them of his death

A letter to the family of Joseph Dixon informing them of his death

The letter to Joseph’s mother, Jane Dixon, read: “I much regret having to inform your that your son is in the hospital and is very critically ill. His leg has had to be amputated and the doctors are very anxious as to his condition as the wound is infected with gangrene.”

It was dated July 7. Within days, an official notification was sent from the Army saying that Private Dixon had died from his wounds and the Army wanted to express its “sympathy and regret of the Army Council at your loss”.

Joseph won three medals for his service - the Great War medal for civilisation (also known as the Victory Medal,) the British War medal and the 1914 Star.

And when the Dixon family realised that Myra had a fascination with history, there was only ever going to be one person they were passed to.

The medal record of Joseph Dixon

The medal record of Joseph Dixon

“I got my first book on the Bombardment when I was 12,” said Myra, a former Headland resident herself who went to Baltic Street School and Henry Smiths.

Myra, a mum-of-two and grandmother-of-three, whose husband Frank died aged 63 in 1997, used to love hearing stories of the Bombardment from her dad.

She would go round to her grandmother Margaret Ellen’s house in Rokeby Street, and said: “She had an oval picture on the wall.”

It was the photographs of the children that Margaret Ellen lost on that dreadful day in December 1914.

Myra added: “She did talk about the Bombardment yet she wasn’t bitter. I suppose it was because this was 40 years on.

“Even as early as when I was four, I used to be fascinated with history.”

Myra Docherty

Myra Docherty

Myra, whose maiden name was Dixon, had a thirst for knowledge which was such that she visited Private Joseph Dixon’s grave to find out more about him. She visited the St Sever Cemetery at Rouen in France in 2002 and still keeps the photographs along with Joseph’s medals as a constant reminder of her ancestors who were so touched by war.

“It’s important to remember them,” she said.

l The Mail is marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War throughout 2014.

Coverage will be continuing until the centenary of the Bombardment of Hartlepool in December.

If you have Great War memorabilia or a story about a local relative who served in the conflict then please contact our newsdesk on (01429) 239380.