Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Donaldsons of South Leith - My Scottish Connections

As it is St. Andrew's Day here in Scotland, it seemed an appropriate time to mention  research into my husband's family - the Donaldsons of South Leith, near Edinburgh.

My father-in-law John Robert Donaldson came from South Shields, County Durham  and was proud of his Scottish roots, but vague on the detail, believing his ancestors came from around Edinburgh.

Research began by tracing the family back from South Shields, using birth, marriage and death certificates and census information.  I was delighted to establish the Scottish connection in the 1851 census where Robert Donaldson, mariner was listed as being born c.1801 in Leith - this was a great bonus as often English census returns just say born Scotland without specifying a parish. Another  one of those typical family history coincidences - Leith was the place where Robert's  great great granddaughter Gillian was then working.

There was only one obvious next step for research - the excellent - the genealogical website of the General Register Office of Scotland.  Searching the pre-1855 Old Parish Records enabled me to trace the Donaldson line back to Samuel Donaldson, merchant who married in Leith in 1759.  

Research of the Register of Sasines for Edinburghshire in the National Archives of Scotland  brought to light property transactions of Samuel Donaldson of Leith, 1770-1785.  [An instrument of sasine is a Scottish legal document recording the transfer of ownership of a piece of land or property]

Samuel's descendants included his youngest son Robert, grandson Robert who went from South Leith to South Shields, and his son another Robert who moved to Portsmouth - the linking factor the sea, with family occupations as a merchant, master mariner, seaman, roper, ship's carpenter, caulker and river policeman.

A story of mariners and miners was revealed in sidelines of the family:

The White family of mariner origins with the name Matthew Iley White recurring down the generations.

The Hibbert family of coal miners from Derbyshire, Yorkshire and South Shields.

The Hawkyard family with a lodging house in Alnwick, Northumberland.

Watch this space for further insight  into the Donaldson Family research.  

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Remembrance - A World War Two Family Tribute

This weekend I have watched the ceremonies on the television of the Festival of Remembrance from the Royal Albert Hall in London and the Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph and could not but be moved by the stories of courage, tragedy and loss. My blogs this month have focused on my First World War ancestors  but the emotions of today have prompted me not to exclude the later generation who played their part in World War Two.  This is a tribute to my father, uncles and aunt, who thankfully survived the war.

My father, John P. Weston
My father (left)  John Weston of Blackpool, Lancashire often talked about his war experiences and I am afraid it did provoke the reaction at times of “Not the war again, Dad”. It was only later that we came to realise what a life-defining period it was, and I persuaded him to write an account for his granddaughter, Gillian.  I was also  proud to add my father's accounts to the BBC World War Two People's Story online.

Dad served in the RAF Codes & Ciphers Branch  and was seconded to General Bradley’s US 12th Army Group HQ. He landed at Omaha beach after D-Day and advanced via St. Mere Eglise, Avranches, Versailles, Paris, Verdun and Luxembourg through to Wiesbaden in Germany. Immediately after VE Day he was posted to Burma where he was for VJ Day.

The following story of Charles Weston, my uncle, (right)  is told in the poignant  words of my father.  "Uncle Charles was a POW on the Bridge of the River Kwai — at least it was a bridge when the hundreds of POWs had finished it. Conditions were dreadful, 100s died through lack of food, mostly slops, no solids. Charles had beri-beri, dysentery, ulcers and malaria.  After the atomic bomb fell on Japan the POWs on the bridge were taken to Singapore and stayed in Changhai jail until shipped home. My Mum and Dad never expected to see him again. In 1942 they got a card through the Red Cross — from the War Minister which read “Regret to inform you that your son has been posted missing”. Dad packed up work and the news broke him — he was never the same again. It was at Christmas 1943 that Mum got a card from the Red Cross with a few words “I am safe and well” — “Safe” yes…..”Well” certainly Not.  I was so sorry for Charles, as he arrived in Liverpool with no-one able to meet him. I was in Burma and Mum could not leave my Dad".

Harry Rawcliffe Danson (left)  was my uncle on my mother's side of the family from Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire. In this photograph I think there is an Errol Flynn look about him! 

He was one of the many saved by the small ships at Dunkirk, arriving back home many days later in the uniform in which he entered the sea to be rescued.  Unlike my father, he never talked about his wartime experiences, but seeing commemoration services or documentaries on TV could bring tears to his eyes, so the memories remained very strong. He later served in North Africa. 

Harry's younger brother was Billy, (right)  named after his father William Danson.  Apart from knowing he joined the navy, I know little about his life. 

Peggy Danson, my aunt,  was born after the First World War - the much younger sister of Harry and Billy.   She served in the WAAFs (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) and shortly after the war married and emigrated to Australia. 


 Copyright © 2010 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

William Danson - A Lancashire "Scot" in Flanders?

This photograph (left)  of my grandfather William Danson of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire  was in the family shoebox collection of memorabilia, and intrigued me when I first saw it as a child.  There was no Scottish connection that I knew of on my mother's side, so why was Grandad wearing a kilt?

The story was that in the camaraderie of war, he became friendly with some Scottish soldiers, and as a laugh he had dressed up in one of their kilts and had his photograph taken to send home.  

In his regular uniform, he is the soldier arrowed on the right,  a member of the  King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.  He won the Military Medal at the Battle of Paschendaele.


Copyright © 2011 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved


Saturday, 6 November 2010

William Danson - Postcards from Flanders

My grandparents
William Danson
& Alice English

Postcards from Flanders, sent by my grandfather William Danson to his family back home, are the most prized items in my collection of family memorabilia.  They  were kept in a shoebox in the cupboard by the fire in my grandfather's house and it was a treat as a child to be allowed to look through them.  They are made more poignant by the pencilled messages from William to his wife Alice and children Edith, Kathleen, Harry and baby Billy.

Alice with Edith, Kathleen,
Harry & baby Billy c.1916

Grandad was a labourer, he never spoke about the war and would never have put into words the sentiments expressed (in French) in the cards he sent to his wife Alice.

  Dear Alice, Just a line to let you know I am in the pink and hope all at home are the same. 
There is nothing that I want.  
I will write again shortly.   Your loving Billy


Dear Edith  I hope you like this card.
.  I am in the pink,  Look after mother and baby.
From your Dad.

William had joined the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment and was awarded the Military Medal for "conspicuous gallantry and determined devotion to duty in action at Givency on 9th April 1918" during the Battle of Passchendaele.

Copyright © 2011 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Danson Family at War - Remembrance

John and George Danson named on Poulton War Memorial

Few families in the country  must have escaped the impact of the First World War and the Danson family of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire  were no exception, with my great-grandmother Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe a widow in 1914  with 7 surviving sons - John, Robert,  Albert, William (my grandfather), Tom, Frank and George.  
Poulton War Memorial and St. Chad;s Church

John Danson (right) had already encountered tragedy in his life when his wife Sarah Haydon Lounds died at the young age of 21 , leaving behind  infant daughter Annie Maria.  Family recollections told how John had become engaged to Dorothy Chisholm (photograph right) , but before they were married John a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery died 17th May 1917, buried in Moorland Cemetery, Poulton.  Something of a mystery surrounded his death, with a story that "Granny had to fight to get his name on the Poulton War Memorial in the Square" and he was not listed  on the memorial in St. Chad's Church.    It was only through his niece that I learnt that John,  a prisoner of war,  had committed suicide, leaving Annie orphaned at the age of 12.  So far I have not been able to verify this.    John's fiancee Dorothy never married and the Danson family continued to maintain a close link with her.  Like many women of her generation she remained alone, living in a bedsitter and I had memories as a child  of visiting her with my mother and aunt.

Tom Danson (left) worked as a clerk at Poulton Station, but I know little else about him.

Frank Danson (right)  served in Malta during the war and afterwords worked  as a painter in Poulton.

Tom (left) with his brother George
Willian Danson my grandfather  (below) won the Military Medal at Passechendaele and sent home to his wife  Alice and children the beautifully embroidered cards from Flanders - look out for a  future posting to find out more. 

George Danson (right ) was the favourite uncle of my mother and aunt, perhaps because he was nearest to them in age and took on the role of the big brother.  He worked on W.H. Smith bookstalls at different railway stations, joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was killed 16th September 1916 at  the Battle of the Somme. 

Two letters remain with the family,  written on headed paper of  the British Expeditionary Force. A letter of 19th March 1916 to his oldest brother Robert  said "I will tell you one thing it is no easy job the army life today and I am of the opinion as most of the chaps are here they won't be sorry when it is all over."

The second letter of 23rd August 1916 was to Frank, his brother nearest to him in age.    "At present we are abut 8 miles behind the firing line.  I had to assist the wounded at a dressing station and stuck to it for about 40 hours.  It's blooming hard work being a stretcher bearer in the  field. On Friday I was in a big bombardment and will say it was like a continual thunder and lightening going off.  As I write there are blooming big guns going off abut 50 yards away every few minutes. Don't I wish that all of us could get home.  Wouldn't that be great, lad,  there's a good time coming and I hope we shall all be there to join in."

Three weeks later George was dead, buried in Les Boeufs Cemetery, near Albert.

George Danson's Grave in the  Guards Cemetery, Les Boeufs, near Albert.

Copyright © 2010 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved