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Swan, J.W., Dvr., 1921

Photo: © Jean Atkinson

Shield Daily News Tuesday 24/05/1921

Shield Daily News Tuesday 24/05/1921

John Wilson Swan was born on the 23rd January 1878 at 14 Walker Place, Tynemouth, son of Thomas and Jane Bell (nee Storey). Thomas was born in Newcastle in 1849 and Jane was born in North Shields in 1851. The couple married in 1872.

In 1881 Thomas and Jane were living at Northumberland Street in Tynemouth with their family and Thomas was employed as a whitesmith and bell-hanger. (A whitesmith is also known as a tinsmith, and is someone who makes or repairs items from metal, especially tin. They are also a finisher or polisher of metal goods such as iron, but are not to be confused with someone who forges it).

Ten years later Thomas and Jane were residing at Broken Bank, North Shields. From the Census returns there are eight children identified for the couple who were;Ellen Gordon born 1872, George Ferguson born 1874, Emma Ferguson born 1876, John Wilson born 1878, Margaret Isabella born 1880, Lucy Dixon born 1884, Thomas Joseph born 1887 and James Edward born 1890.

Thomas died in 1906, his wife Jane in 1917.

John Wilson Swan married Sarah Ellen Chater on the 19th September 1904 at St Augustine’s Parish Church, North Shields. John Wilson gave his occupation as a labourer and the couple both gave their residence at the time of marriage as Hudson Street.

In 1911 the family are living at 6, Brown’s Buildings, Hudson Street in North Shields and they have three children, Jennie born 1905, John Wilson born 1907 and Irene born 1911. The Census states that the couple have had four children but sadly one infant did not survive. John Wilson was working as a cart man in the fishing industry. The couple went on to have another three children, Mary Ann Wilson born 1912, Hilda born 1914, and James E. born 1921 and died 1921.

Unfortunately John Wilson’s army papers are no longer available. However, John enlisted into the Army Service Corps, service number T4/061326, where his rank is Driver. His medal card shows he entered a theatre of war on the 27th April 1915, which was Egypt.

With regard to the T4 prefix, the T was the Horse Transport Section of the ASC, and T4 were men who had enlisted into the fourth New Army, or Kitchener’s Army (K4) as it was often referred to, initially composed entirely of volunteers.[T4 was also used for men affected by the compulsory transfer in 1916 of men who were serving in ASC units of the Territorial Force on to regular army terms].

In Egypt the British were also defending the Suez Canal against capture or damage, as it was a vitally important supply route not only for the Australian, New Zealand and Indian troops but also for provisions for the British and her allies. It was the quickest naval route between Britain and her colonies and by January 1915 there were 70,000 British troops in Egypt, many in units of the Indian Army.

Following the largest attack in January 1915, which was defeated, smaller raids, followed but they were equally ineffective. Forces were increased at the canal in late 1915, and in early 1916 as Gallipoli was evacuated there were 14 complete British Divisions of infantry and some Yeomanry Brigades in the area, although for some soldiers their stay was brief before they were deployed elsewhere. The canal garrison numbers reduced over the next few months as the need for troops elsewhere in Mesopotamia and the Western Front grew.

The ASC was the same as the RASC, it received the Royal prefix in 1918, and at its peak numbered 10,547 officers and 315,334 men and the largest element of the ASC was the Horse Transport Section. The British Army relied on horsepower for the essential transportation of supplies, guns, ammunition and men and the ASC Horse Transport comprised of a number of Companies who fulfilled various duties or roles and these were; Depot Companies, Companies in Divisional Trains, Companies under command of higher formations, Reserve Park Companies, Small Arms Ammunition Park Companies, Local Auxiliary Transport Companies, Army Auxiliary Transport Companies and Donkey Companies.

During the conflict the British Army deployed in excess of a million horses and mules, and they had four main roles; 1. Supply horses and mules were used to move ammunition, supplies and ambulances. 2. Riding horses, used by soldiers. 3. Teams of gun horses to pull artillery. 4. Cavalry horses.

New Zealand gunner Bert Stokes later recalled a conversation in 1917 when he was told 'to lose a horse was worse than losing a man... because men were replaceable' which gives some indication of the importance of their role in the Great War.

Driver John Wilson Swan was awarded the 1914-15 Star, The British War Medal and The Victory Medal for his services in the Great War, and had been discharged to class Z Reserve on the 12th June 1919. This consisted of previously enlisted soldiers, now discharged, and was abolished in March 1920 when the fears that there could be problems with the Armistice with Germany did not materialise.

Tragically John Wilson Swan tried to take his own life, and died from his injuries on the 23rd May 1921 and his brother stated that he had suffered mentally after his discharge from the army. Many soldiers suffered physically and psychologically after they returned home and struggled to cope following the horrors they had witnessed and the terrible conditions they had endured in the war. There was often a lack of understanding and sympathy over their acts of despair; their symptoms would now be attributed to what is known as post-traumatic stress disorder.

It was considered a crime prior to 1961 to commit suicide, and anyone who attempted and failed could be prosecuted and imprisoned. Additionally the families of those who had succeeded could also potentially be prosecuted, which reflected the religious and moral objections of the time.

The Shields Daily News Tuesday 24/05/1921 reports

'SWAN – On the 23rd inst. John Wilson, the dearly beloved husband of Sarah Swan. To be interred at Preston Cemetery on Wednesday, cortege to leave residence, Hudson Street, at 2pm. Service in St. Cuthbert’s at 2.30pm. Friends please accept this the only intimation. - R.I.P.

The Shields Daily News Tuesday, 24/05/1921 reported

'EX-ARMY MAN’S SUICIDE Suffered Mentally Since His Discharge'

An enquiry was held, last night, in the Tynemouth Union Institute by the Coroner, Mr. P. M. Dodds, concerning the death of John Wilson Swan, which occurred in the Institution. Joseph Swan gave evidence of identification, stating that deceased was his brother, of 6 Brown’s Buildings, Hudson Street, North Shields. Witness last saw deceased on the 14th inst. He was suffering mentally since he was discharged from the army. He had neither financial or domestic troubles. Deceased had for the last few months been unaccountable for his actions.

William Brown, 2 Double Row, Bates Cottages, said that he last saw deceased about 6.30 p.m. on the 14th, behind one of the musketry butts at Whitley Bay. Deceased had a razor, and was hacking at his throat. Witness then went towards him, and told him to put the razor down. He then seized deceased by the arm and he dropped the razor. Deceased was bleeding heavily and was very excited. Witness pinned him to the ground and bandaged his throat. Information was given to the police and deceased was taken to the Infirmary.

Dr. J. B. Williamson, Institution Medical Officer, gave medical evidence, and the verdict was that death was caused by septic pneumonia from a wound self-inflicted with a razor, whilst of an unsound state of mind.

Research: Jean Atkinson/James Pasby

John Wilson Swan is not remembered on a local War Memorial, nor does the Commonwealth War Graves Commission acknowledge him.

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