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Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Tragedy of John Danson - 52 Ancestors: Week 12

MISFORTUNE is this week's theme for  Amy Johnson Crow's series "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks”. 

My great uncle John Danson (1879-1917) encountered  much misfortune in his lifetime, culminating  in an even  greater tragedy for his family.  

John's Life before 1916

John was born in 1879, the second of eight surviving sons of James Danson and (1852-1906) and Maria Rawcliffe (1859-1919) of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.  An only daughter Jennie completed the family.

In the 1901 census,  John was described as a joiner, like his father.  Three years later he married Sarah Haydon Lounds with the certificate giving his occupation as postman. 

But married happiness was short-lived. for  Sarah died of TB  in 1906 at the young age of 21, a year after the birth of their daughter Annie Maria.  John moved with Annie back to his mother's home.  In the 1911 census he was listed as aged 31, a steward in a working mens'  club.


 Annie with her grandmother Maria Danson and young aunt Jennie. c.1909

John become a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery, and  according to the entry in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Website (www.cwgc.org), he   died 17th May 1917, aged 38,  buried in Moorland Cemetery, Poulton.  But the entry was bare of any details, apart  from the next of kin being named as his mother Maria Danson.  

Many World War One Service records were destroyed in World War II and  little is known about John's soldier role. Other World War One websites on casualties and service records failed to identify any information.

The Mystery 
Something of a puzzle  surrounded John's  death, with a story that "Granny had to fight to get his name on the Poulton War Memorial in the Square".  Why?  Also John  was not listed  on the war memorial in St. Chad's Church  below the name of his youngest brother George Danson.  Why not? 

I have a distinct memory of my mother's cousin, (John's niece) telling me  about 12 years ago that John had committed suicide as a prisoner of war.  If so,why was he buried in Poulton Cemetery which did not seem possible if he died in Germany.  Nor could I trace any records for World War One prisoners of war. 

A local historian researching the names on Poulton War Memorial got in touch with me, and related that John had died at Tidworth Hospital in Hampshire whilst training at army camp,  without serving abroad.   

The local paper  "The Gazette News" of 25th May 1917 reported:
"Gunner John Danson, RFA who has died in Tidworth Hopistal, Hants 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".
Because John had not served abroad, he was not entitled to any medals.

So the "prisoner of war story" proved incorrect.  Had I assumed the POW context from hearing the word "camp" - I will never know. At the time paying over £9 for a death certificate seemed expensive for one small piece of information on a sideline of my family history. 

Finding out the Truth
 I made use of the new service being trialed by the  ***General Register Office of England and Wales  to provide  a pdf file  of certificates, at the much more reasonable rate of £6.

The truth on the circumstances of John's death was found.  In a stark statement, the cause was given as "Cutting his throat whilst temporary insane" - a tragic ending for a man who had already experienced sadness in his life.  

At 38 years old and as a family man, was the trauma of being catapulted from a small rural community  into military life, too much to bear? 

We are so used to thinking it was young men who were called up to fight  in the First World War, but the
Military Service Act of  January 1916 specified that single men aged 18 to 40 years old were liable to be called up for military service. This was rapidly extended in July of that year to include married men.   

*** A second trial of the pdf service is currently available -  but just for birth and death certificates - not marriages. 

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.

John's fiancée Dorothy became one of the thousands of women of her generation  who after the war never married.  But the  Danson family continued to maintain a close link with her. She lived alone in a  bedsitter and I have  memories as a child  of visiting her with my mother and aunt. 



John's Gravestone in Moorland Road Cemetery, Poulton.
 Poulton War Memorial in the Square, with St. Chad's Church in the background

John remembered on Poulton War Memorial 


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

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