Landmark Hartlepool address was named in honour of First World War heroes

Paddy Horsley with a photograph of her Granddad Tommy Blumer
Paddy Horsley with a photograph of her Granddad Tommy Blumer

IT is one of Hartlepool’s most notable addresses and tens of thousands of motorists drive past it every day.

But did you know that Sappers Corner was named in honour of First World War veterans?

GAVIN LEDWITH uncovers the story behind its identity in our latest Hartlepool at War tribute to the town’s military heroes.

TOMMY Blumer was not your stereotypical world war volunteer.

While the most common image may be that of a fresh-faced teenager, the woodcutting machinist joined the First World War effort in 1915 at the comparatively late age of 36.

What’s more is that he distinguished himself twice in action alongside his mainly younger colleagues.

Colleagues who he paid tribute to when he returned home to Hartlepool and started a pioneering bus company in 1920.

Tommy’s business, Blumer’s Bus Service, was based on the junction of High Street, Greatham, and what is now the main A689 Stockton Road.

Granddaughter Paddy Horsley takes up the story: “Tommy was in the Royal Engineers, which were known as the Sappers, and he decided to name the site in honour of the people he served with.”

Nearly a century later, long after the successful business was sold, and the name Sappers Corner remains.

But what inspired the father-of-four, with a secure job after marrying his boss’s daughter, to join the Army in the first place almost a year after hostilities started?

Paddy, a retired hairdresser and travel agent, who lives in Hutton Avenue, Hartlepool, believes Tommy may have responded to one of the conflict’s most infamous tragedies.

Nearly 1,200 passengers and crew died on May 7, 1915, when the Lusitania ocean liner was torpedoed off the Irish coast by a German u-boat.

The death of so many civilians, including 128 Americans, was treated as a breach of international law and influenced the United States’ later entrance into the war.

Paddy continued: “I cannot be sure but I think it might have been the turning point for my grandfather.

“A lot of people joined up because they were angry that so many civilians were killed when the ship was destroyed by the Germans.

“It was only a month later that he enlisted in Hartlepool.”

West Hartlepool-born Tommy became a corporal within a year on his posting to France and by 1917 was a sergeant.

As well as witnessing the deaths of colleagues around him, one of his children, Clem, died back home in Greatham of measles while Tommy was fighting for his country.

The Sappers’ duties included building a vast network of tunnels to ferry troops safely to the trenches in preparation for the Battle of Arras.

While Paddy knows that her grandfather was wounded three times in France, details of why he was honoured for his bravery are sketchy.

Like many survivors of the conflict, Tommy did not speak openly about his exploits or the horrors that he witnessed.

What is known is that he was mentioned in despatches by Field Marshal Douglas Haig, the commander of the British troops on the Western Front, “for gallant and distinguished services in the field” on April 9, 1917.

Six months later, on October 16, he was awarded the Military Medal “for acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire or for individual or associated acts of bravery”.

His mystery deeds were certainly enough to be honoured annually by Tommy’s immediate commanding officer even after the conflict ended.

Paddy said: “Every year on the same date the commanding officer would come and visit Tommy with a bottle of whisky.

“We don’t know why he did it and can only guess that it was something to do with what my grandfather did to earn the Military Medal.”

Paddy, 72, who is mother of Steven Horsley, 47, and Jane Goult, 43, intends to contact the Ministry of Defence in the hope that Tommy’s full service record can be traced.

She added: “Even then there is a chance that you pay your money and they cannot find anything extra above what you already know.”

While the exact story behind Tommy’s heroics remains a secret for now, there is still one more potential twist to his time on the Western Front.

Tommy’s father, Captain Charles Blumer, was a sailor born in Heligoland, in the North Sea, in the mid-19th Century before settling in Hartlepool and raising his large family.

By the time the First World War broke out, the British had relinquished ownership of the tiny islands to Germany in exchange for the Zanzibar archipelago, off the East Coast of Africa.

Paddy said: “Some of Tommy’s dad’s family stayed in Heligoland and I often wonder if Tommy ended up fighting his cousins.”