BURIED in Sedgefield is a Birtley Belgian who died 100 years ago this month. He is Soldaat Pieter Vermote who also died 100 years ago this month. He lies in Sedgefield, where the bright yellow and red on the enamel flag on his headstone shines colourfully on a grey January day.

The Northern Echo:

STANDING PROUD: The headstone of Pieter Vermote in the old Winterton graveyard, Sedgefield. The Belgian soldier died 100 years ago this month

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He was born in 1884 in Lo and joined the army immediately after the Germans invaded. On November 3, 1914 he was injured at Nieuwpoort and moved to one of the London hospitals.

He recovered enough to be ordered to Birtley in 1915, but he also managed to marry his Belgian sweetheart, Marie, in London and have two children: Marcella and Neve.

But a dark shadow hangs over his time in Britain: when not in Birtley or London, he was in the Winterton lunatic asylum at Sedgefield.

Only when he died on January 19, 1918, do we begin to understand why. His death certificate says he succumbed to “General Paralysis of the insane” – in another word, syphilis. This can be passed from father to daughter so it may explain why Neve only lived for two weeks.

Don’t get judgmental. At the time of the First World War, ten per cent of the population carried the syphilis bacteria, and syphilis was the second biggest killer of British soldiers in the trenches after the Germans.

Poor Pieter fought against his infection – and his war wound – for four years until he died in Sedgefield 100 years ago.