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Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Military Monday: Great Uncles Killed in Action

Few families could have escaped the tragedies of the First World War. - and mine was no exception.

In this month of Remembrance, here is the second  of three articles on the men in my extended family who died serving their country. 
Part 1 paid tribute to my mother's uncles John and George Danson.  

Today I give a profile of my husband's great uncle Frederick Donaldson and  my father's uncle Arthur William Matthews
Frederick Donaldson (1894-1916)  was the  youngest of four sons born to John  Robert Donaldson and Jane Elizabeth Rushton of South Shields, County Durham.     

At 22 years old and single,Frederick was quick to enlist on 11th September 1914  – just five weeks after the outbreak of war.   He joined the 15th battalion of the Durham Light Infantry, Regimental No. 14803,  as a signaller.
In his service record Frederick was described as 5’ 6¾” tall and 123lbs (8 stone, 11 pounds) in weight.  His chest measurement was 37 inches, his complexion fresh, eyes blue and hair brown.  He had three vaccination marks and a “slight defect (pleurisies), but not sufficient to cause rejection”.  His occupation was given as miner.  His next of kin was Jane Donaldson, mother of 32 Dale Street, South Shields.  

Frederick was killed  16th September 1916 - the same day as my  own great uncle George Danson - and at the same young age of 22.  

Among the bureaucratic paperwork of his service record was a “detailed statement of all the relatives of the above named deceased soldier”.  It was difficult to make out the names of his brothers, aged 40 and 30, but these are presumed to be John and Henry.    Father and grandparents were noted as deceased.
A very formal, but poignant letter from the authorities to his mother dated 26th January 1917 notes “I forward the effects of the late Lance Corporal F. Donaldson…….the only articles of personal property that have so far been recovered”.

Frederick was listed (in the second column)  among the 116 names on the war memorial plaque in St. Aidan’s Church,  South Shields.    Sadly the church has been demolished and the whereabouts of the plaque, made of marble,  framed in oak, is now unknown. 

Frederick is also remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, the largest British battle memorial in the world.  On Portland stone piers are engraved the names of over 72,000 men who who have no known grave and  who were lost in the Somme battles between July 1916 and March 1918Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens,  the memorial was unveiled by Edward, Prince of Wales in 1932. 

Thiepval Memorial to the missing.jpg
Photograph - Wikipedia

Still in the family possession is the "Next of Kin Memorial Plaque", awarded after the war to the family of service men and women killed in the conflict.    The plaque depicted the figure of Britannia standing beside a lion.  Individual names were inscribed on the plaque with the phrase  "He Died for Freedom and Honour"
The bronze plaques were often cynically referred to as the "Death Penny",  because of the similarity in appearance to the smaller penny coin

Arthur William Matthews (1880-1915) was eldest son of John and Matilda Matthews of Lanesfield, Wolverhampton, and brother to Mary (my grandmo0ther), Fanny, Anne, Samuel, Harry and James.  In the 1911 census, Arthur was a sheet mill furnace man, married and living at Connor's Quay, Flintshire with his wife Emily,  and children Alice Matilda, aged 5 and Sidney Gordon 1.  A baby girl Florence May had died in 1909.

Arthur was serving in the Gallipoli Campaign with the  Royal Welsh Fusiliers when he was killed  on 1th August 1915 at the age of 34, remembered on the Helles Memorial in Turkey.    

The eight month campaign in Gallipoli was fought by Commonwealth and French forces in an attempt to force Turkey out of the war, to relieve the deadlock of the Western Front in France and Belgium, and to open a supply route to Russia through the Dardanelles and the Black Sea.  However, the difficult terrain and stiff Turkish resistance soon led to the stalemate of trench warfar. By the end of the year, allied forces had withdrawn  from Gallipoli.

The Helles Memorial serves the dual function of being a  battle memorial for the whole Gallipoli Campaign   and a place of commemoration for 20,885 Commonwealth servicemen who died there and have no known grave. The 30 metre high memorial takes the form of an obelisk that can be seen by ships passing through the Dardabnell


Military Monday is one of many daily blog prompts from www.geneabloggers.com
to encourage writers to record their family  history.

1 comment:

  1. The war memorial plaque is now in St Aidans and St Stephens church (formerly St Stephens) on Mile End Road in South Shields.
    Frederick is my Great Great Uncle (I am descended from Henry his brother)


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