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Wednesday, 23 May 2018

A Stretcher Bearer in the Field: 52 Ancestors - Wk.21

“Military” is this week's  theme for Amy Johnson Crow’s year-long prompt “52 Ancestors in 52 Week’s”. I have written before on my blog about my great uncle George Danson (1894-1916),  but it is such a poignant tale, that  I make no apologies for featuring  again this post from 2013. 

 "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 my great uncle George Danson, written three weeks before he was killed on the Somme in September 1916.
One of the many embroidered cards sent from Flanders by her sons 
 to my widowed great grandmother, Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe.  
George Danson was the youngest of nine sons, of James Danson and Maria Rawcliffe of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.  Born in 1894, he was followed three years later by the birth of an only daughter Jennie.  The photographs and memorabilia shown here come from my great aunt Jennie's collection.

George (above) was the favourite uncle of my mother and aunt,  and they had fond memories of him, perhaps because he was nearest to them in age and took on the role of the big brother. I can see why in the photograph of him above.  George worked on W.H. Smith bookstalls at different railway stations in Lancashire and West Yorkshire.

George joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1916 and I was lucky enough to trace his service record on www.ancestry.co.uk  as many were destroyed  in the Second World War.  On his enlistment,  George's  medical report stated he was 5'3" tall,  weighed 109 lbs. (under 8 stone), with size  34 1/2 chest and he wore glasses - so a slight figure to be a stretcher bearer in the turmoil of war on the exposed front line.

Also amongst the family papers were two letters written on  headed paper of the British Expeditionary Force.  A letter of 19th March 1916 to his eldest brother Robert sai
"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, the 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."

But "the good time" was not to come.  Three weeks later, and a week after his 22nd birthday,  George was killed on 16th September 1916 at the Battle of the Somme, and buried in the Guards Cemetery, Les Boeufs, near Albert. 


 A photograph of George's grave, sent to his mother, 

The image 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. 


George remembered on Poulton War Memorial 
 along with his brother John who died in 1917.


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 


  1. Such a waste of life! This article brought tears to my eyes. George would have been so happy to return to his old life but it was not to be. When you are descended from a survivor of war it makes you realise how lucky you are to exist at all.

  2. I was glad to hear of George's relationships with family members, the joyful memories they had of him. It is certainly a sad thing for me to read about him and his brother John's deaths...as just an observer...I can't imagine how hard it must have been for the family.

  3. A post certainly worth re-sharing. He was only slightly taller than I am - and weighed quite a bit less, yet he carried out his difficult job for hours on end. I'm sorry he was unable to return to his family.

  4. Thank you,all for your thoughtful comments. It is such powerful story of the waste of a young life and one I find very moving.


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