Every Name A Story Content

Dowson, W., Pte., 1916

Illustrated Chronicle 27/9/1915

In Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery is the Commonwealth War Grave of 17536 Private William Dowson serving with the Durham Light Infantry who died 04/05/1916.

Brian Harrison has submitted the following

In Search of my Great Grandfather

As part of the Consett and District Heritage Initiative my wife and I help people with their family research, either helping people to start or helping with those brick walls that sometimes block further research. My own personal brick wall came in the search for my maternal Great Grandfather, Thomas Dowson.

The only information I had for Thomas came from his marriage certificate. He married my great grandmother Nellie in 1916, his father's name also being Thomas and he was a member of the KOSB's. Both Thomas and Nellie gave their address at time of marriage as 19 Thirlemere Street, Milkwellburn. The acronym KOSB initially meant nothing to me at first, not having previously done any military research, but soon found out that it stood for the King's Own Scottish Borderers.

I had searched for 10 years for Thomas but, as you can imagine, trying to find a Thomas Dowson, son of Thomas Dowson with no idea of place of birth, etc. was a bit of a nightmare. The 1911 Census had not yet been released so I frantically searched the 1901 census as well as the birth & death records and managed to find well over 40 possible Thomases. I then journeyed to the National Archive at Kew hoping against hope that his records had survived the bombing of WW2 and were part of the surviving burnt records, but no luck. I had hit a major brick wall.

In 2009 came the early release of the 1911 Census and I thought sure this would bring the breakthrough I had been looking for, but once again no luck. I found even more possible Thomases! However, there was one last hope, the release of the overseas forces records. Bingo - there he was in RANIKHET INDIA, Military base of the1st Batt. King's Own Scottish Borderers. Unfortunately, I now had him but no link to his family. I now had to systematically kill off, dismiss and find every Thomas I had previously found. For 2 months I continued to find them, marry them off, find their deaths or find a way to disprove their connection to me. After a punishing few months of hard research I had it down to 3 possible men, all of which were living in and around Durham.

I had no idea which it was. I tried contacting people with them on their trees but no one knew what had happened to at least 2 of them and the third didn't exist on any tree. When you can't get through a wall the only way is to go around. I turned my attention to the other siblings and immediately struck lucky. One of the families on the 1901 Census was only small, a father and two boys, Thomas b.1865, William b.1888 and finally Thomas b.1890 the right age for mine. I started to search for them. I tracked them all on the 1911 Census and they were all living apart. Thomas the father was in Binchester working as a Farm Labourer, William was in South Moor, Stanley and - if he was the right person - Thomas was off course in India.

Everything seemed right but how could I now prove that this was the right one? I decided to concentrate on finding as much as I could about them, starting with William. I knew Thomas was in the army so I hedged my bets that William would be too, after all he was 26 at the outbreak of the war. The following is what I managed to find out:

William Dowson b 1888 Hebburn. He married Lizzie Ann Nicholson on 23 Sept 1908 at St George, South Moor, Stanley, Durham. They lived at the Smith Arms, Old South Moor, West Stanley before moving to Rose Avenue, South Moor, South Stanley. William and Lizzie unfortunately had no children. William was working as a miner when he took up the call to arms on 31st Aug 1914. After 9 months' training he was posted to France on 26 May 1915 with the 2nd Batt. DLI. On 16 August 1915 he took a gunshot wound to his left leg and after 1 month in hospital was discharged and sent home.

However, after he had recuperated he re-joined the 2nd Batt DLI Expedition Force and on 1 Apr 1916 once again entered France. Once in the field he was posted into the 8th Ent Battalion digging trenches for the next 3 weeks after which he re-joined the 2nd Batt DLI on the 1 May 1916. A big push was made on the 3rd May but unfortunately for William it was to be his last. At 2.45 in the afternoon an enemy shell exploded in the trench not far from where he was positioned and he took shrapnel to the head. He was rushed to the field hospital but unfortunately died the following day from wounds.

As I began to study the war records I came across an affidavit signed by Lizzie, William's wife, after his death. It stated known relatives: Thomas Dowson (Full Blood Brother) of 19 Thirlemere Street, Milkwelburn. There it was, after 10 years of searching, the proof I had been looking for. William, my 2x great Uncle had not only paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country but almost 100 years later had led me to my family and helped me prove my lineage back through Thomas and on.

William was the only brother of my great grandfather Thomas Dowson and the only reason I was able to continue my family research. Thomas himself had been an apprentice drummer boy with The King's Own Scottish Borderers. He joined at the tender age of 14 in 1904. His father and mother had separated prior to 1901 for reasons unknown. There are 2 Medal Cards for a Thomas Dowson in the King's Own Scottish Borderers and after a long discussion with curator of the KOSB Museum in Berwick he believes them to both be for the same man.

It looks likely that Thomas was signed up as a regular in the 1st Batt. in1909, after he turned 18 and his apprenticeship was complete. He attained the position of Drum Major, although as a regular he was still classed as a private. Sometime in 1916, while fighting in Gallipoli, Thomas was wounded and laid up for a few months. By the time he was fit enough to re-join the fight he had joined up with the 4th or 5th Batt. Thomas survived the rest of the war virtually unscathed, although from family lore he suffered with trench foot from which his feet were said to resemble lumps of raw meat, as well as suffering from the after effects of poison gas inhalation for the remained of his life.

Part of my research brought me into contact with a distant relative who sent me a postcard of my great grandmother Nellie. On the back in one corner states “Nellie with love to Tom” and on the other side in a different hand states “If Killed, Please return to Miss Nellie Lauderdale, 45 Milkwell Burn, Westwood, Co Durham, England”. A love token carried by my great Grandfather throughout the war and now a cherished family heirloom.

A big regret for me is that I only have two photo of my great grandfather Thomas and none at all of William who has done so much for me. But I have recently found a photo in the Illustrated Chronicle 27/9/1915 which is shown here.

William Dowson is remembered at South Moor on S129.01, S129.02, S129.03, at Stanley on S135.04 and in the DLI Book of Remembrance page 108

William Dowson is recorded by CWGC as William Dawson.

The CWGC entry for Private Dowson

If you know more about this person, please send the details to janet@newmp.org.uk