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Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Military Memories 22: A Stretcher Bearer's Death

Military Memories: 31 Writing Prompts to Celebrate Your Military Ancestors
Members of GeneaBloggers are invited to commemorate their military ancestors during  May 2014 by participating in  Military Memories: 31 writing prompts,  created by author Jennifer Holik. 

Today's theme:  Death in Service 

My great uncle George Danson (1894-1916) has featured a number of times on my blog  and a full profile of him as a soldier can be read at "A Stretcher Bearer in the Field" written for the Sepia Saturday prompt series.   

Do take a look,  as it is a poignant example of how many fine young men died in the First World War. I was fortunate to inherit from his sister Jennie (my great aunt) a collection of photographs and memorabilia which add so much to the story of his short life. 

George was a stretcher bearer in the Royal Army Medical Corps and died at the Somme  a week after his 22nd birthday  on September 16th 1916.

Left - A photograph, sent to his mother,  of George's grave.  It conveys in a stark way the reality of war amid the mud and blood that George must have experienced - and contrasts with the pristine white of the more lasting memorials that we recognise today.

In this post,  I have tried here to take a different approach on George's story by looking at the different roles he played as son, brother, uncle, friend, employee and finally soldier.

George is remembered as:

  • A  SON -  the youngest  of eight surviving sons of James (deceased) and Maria Danson of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.

George on the left with his teacher Mr  Lord and fellow pupils.
  • A BROTHER  - to  Harry, John, Robert, Albert, William. Tom, Frank  and only sister Jennie.
George on the  right with his brother Tom 
Taken by W. J. Gregson & Co, Photographers, 92 Talbot Road, Blackpool

  • AN UNCLE  to my aunt Edith and mother Kathleen Danson (right).  As the youngest of their Danson uncles,   George was nearest to them in age, their obvious favourite  and he took on the role of big brother.  They spoke fondly of him and recall the distress of their Granny  on the news of his death, 
  • A CHURCH MEMBER - George sang in the choir at St. Chad's Church in Poulton-le-Fylde - as referred to in his obituary in the local paper "Fleetwood Chronicle". 
A photograph taken by George's nephew (my uncle) Harry Rawcliffe Danson
  • A FRIEND  -  George had enlisted  January 1916 at Halifax,  West Yorkshire.  His service record (traced on Ancestry.co.uk)  gave his   address at the time as  17 Harker Street, Harley Bank,  Todmorden, with occupation station bookstall manager. 

    I turned to the 1911 census online  and found the Dodd family at  17 Harker Street, Harley Bank,  Todmorden, with head of household Elizabeth Dodd (occupation choring) and three daughters Amy aged 15 (a cotton weaver), Edna 12 (a fustian sewer)  and Lavinia  aged 9.  This photograph was found amongst the collection of George's sister Jennie, who wrote the inscription on the back.

  • AN EMPLOYEE -  in the 1911 census 16 year old George was described as a "bookstall newsboy". He later  worked on W.H. Smith station bookstalls in Poulton,  Manchester and Todmorden.
George in front of his station bookstall.
Two letters written by George in 1916 are with the family. The first written from army training camp on Salisbury Plain in March   was to his brother Robert with the words:
"I will tell you one thing it is no easy job the army life today & I am of the opinion as most of the chaps here that is that they won’t be sorry when it is all over.  However I will say there are times when I enjoy it immensely & other times I feel rather off it, being such a long way from home & all my friends, but we must all make the best of it."

The second written from France on  August 20th 1916 was to Frank - the brother neared to him in age.

"At present we are about 8 miles behind the firing line and getting along fairly well, but a day or two ago, I fully expected having to go right into the front line trenches but luckily escaped that, and had to assist with  wounded out 4 miles behind at a dressing station, and stuck to it for about 40 hours ad when finished I had a good rest.  We should not have worked so long only there has been a  (?) on & I’m  glad to say, we captured everything our chaps went out for, although it made us rather busy.  ...................

it’s blooming hard  work in a stretcher bearer on the field. On Friday afternoon I was in a big bombardment & will say it was like a continual thunder & lightening going off & as I write there  (?) blooming big guns about 50 yards away going every few minutes so you will see it's not great. ...... 

Don’t I wish that both yourself, Tom and myself and all of us could get home again for about a week.  Wouldn’t that be grand (?) lad, there’s a good time coming & I hope we shall all be there to join in."

It was not to be as three weeks later 
George was killed on the Somme.

Captain MacLeod in writing to George's wiopwed mother said:    "He was one of my stretcher bearers and was gallantly doing his duty over open and dangerous ground which suddenly became subjected to severe shell fire.  He continued steadily bearing his burden and was only stopped by the shell that took his life. We mourn his loss and are very proud of him". 


 The death announcement in the local paper read

The bugle may sound, the war drum may rattle
But no more they arouse their young hero to battle
For his King and his Country his life he nobly gave
And now he lies sleeping in a soldier's grave.

From:  Mother, Brothers, Sister, 2 Bull Street, Poulton-le-Fylde.

Guard's Cemetery, Les Boeufs, near Albert  - George's final resting place.

Copyright © 2014 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

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