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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Families Bereft by War: Sepia Saturday - War & Peace 1.

Few families could have escaped the tragedies of the First World War.- and mine was no exception.  In this month of Remembrance, I pay tribute to the four men in my immediate family who died in the First World War serving their country. 

 FREDERICK DONALDSON (1894-1916)  - My Husband s Great Uncle.

Frederick  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 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 1918. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the memorial was unveiled by Edward, Prince of Wales in 193

Thiepval Memorial to the missing.jpg 
 Thiepval Memorial (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 WESTON (1880-1915) - My Father's Uncle.
Arthur was the 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 listed as 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 warfare. By the end of the year, allied forces had withdrawn from Gallipoli.
The Helles Memorial commemorates the 20,885 Commonwealth servicemen who died at Gallipoli 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 Dardanelles.

Ephesus 06 28 09 0419.jpg
                                            Helles Memorial )Wikipedia)

JOHN DANSON (1879-1817) & GEORGE DANSON (1894-1916) - My Mother's Two Uncles
John Danson was the second of eight  sons of James Danson (1852-1906) and Maria Rawcliffe (1859-1919) of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.  

John's life was marred by tragedy as his wife Sarah Haydon Lounds died in 1906 at the young age of 21, from TB, leaving a baby daughter Annie.  

John died as happiness was beckoning.  For he had become engaged to be married to Dorothy Chisholm (left). In the collection of Jennie Danson (John's sister) was a postcard photograph of John and Dorothy addressed to young Annie with the date May 4th 1917, thirteen days before John died.  Dorothy never married but remained close to the Danson family.  

Something of a mystery surrounds John's  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 war memorial in St. Chad's Church  below the name of his youngest brother George Danson. 

The local paper  "The Gazette News" of 25th May 1917 reported:
"Gunner John Danson, RFA, who has died in Tidworth Hospital, Hampshire, was interred in the Poulton Cemetery on Tuesday afternoon.  The deceased soldier who lived at 2 Bull Street, Poulton has been in H.M. forces  nine months.  He was formerly a postman and steward at the Poulton Institute.  Three of his brothers are still serving with the forces, two in France and one in Malta, and another the youngest was killed eight months ago".
So far I have not gone down the route of obtaining a death certificate which would clarify the cause of death.  Because John had not served abroad, he was not entitled to any medals  

"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." 

These were the words of George Danson (1894-1916), the youngest of the eight Danson brothers, who was killed three weeks after he wrote this letter to his brother Frank. George  joined the Royal Army Medical Corps.  I have written in some  detail  on his short life HERE  in "A Stretcher Bearer in the Field", helped by the discovery of his service record and family memorabilia.  George  died at the Battle of the Somme, on 16th September 1916, just a week after his 22nd birthday, buried at The Guards Cemetery at Les Boeufs.

My cousin Stuart at George's Gravestone
Poulton-le-Fylde War Memorial commemorating John and George Danson 



Click  HERE to see how other Sepia Saturday are commemorating this month's theme War and Peace.



  1. All so young with promising lives ahead of them before a group of radicals decided to take matters into their own hands and assassinate an heir to a throne starting an avalanche of nations, compelled by foregoing agreements, to slide into a terrible war.

  2. So very sad to lose anyone in service to their country. I'm glad we can remember them this month and always.

  3. Very touching posts and very interesting. The card in the post about George is such a beautiful but sad memento. My family also received a photo of the rough cross at my great uncle's burial during WWII, before the he was re-interred and with a proper headstone.

  4. The nations of the world ought to have a common Day of Remembrance. There should be one day shared by people around the world to offer memorials to those lost to war and a pledge for universal peace. Until then we must honor those soldiers and sailors with mementos like this beautiful one you've made.

  5. We forget how many lives were lost in this war...and others. I agree with Mike—an International peace day would be a good thing. Lovely tribute.

  6. How very sad that so many young men died in that terrible conflict. These stories of their lives are poignant.

  7. So very sad. And yet humans keep repeating the same mistakes. Was nice to "meet" all of this gentlemen.

  8. You’ve done a wonderful job of memorialising these men. It’s sad that they died so young, like so many ,and for two of them to have no known graves. A similar story to my own great uncles, one inscribed at Thiepval, and one at the Menin Gate. We should also be proud of those women robbed of their loved ones and in some cases never to marry.

  9. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. It means a lot to me to remember the men in my extended family who died serving their country.


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