Private Ernest Dawson

FH 5 LincBdge
Ernest Dawson 12651
1st Battalion
Lincolnshire Regiment
Killed-in-Action   29 October 1917   Polygon Wood, Ypres

Dawson port

 On 22 December 1917 the Grantham Journal contained the following report

“It is with great regret that we have to report the death of another Corby Soldier – Private Ernest Dawson, formally known as “Prock”, son of Mr and Mrs J T Dawson, Corby. He was killed in action on Oct 29th, place unknown. Only a fortnight ago he was home on leave, looking very well and cheerful. He had been at the front for some length of time, in France, and seen some heavy fighting. He was very much liked by many friends and was captain of the local football team. A few years ago previous to joining up he worked for Mr H Adcock. He was 23 years of age.”

Family History

The CWGC Grave Registration Report for the Tyne Cot Memorial records that Ernest was 25 and his parents J T and Emma Dawson lived at Pridmore’s Yard, Corby. When Ernest was killed the Army calculated any money due to him and also his war gratuity. The calculated amount would for a single man be paid to one of his parents. The Register of Soldiers’ Effects records that for Ernest Dawson 12651, 1st Battalion Lincolns, the sum of £43 16s 9p was paid to his mother Emma. An “In Memoriam” entry in the Grantham Journal, October 1918, by the family refers to his father as John Thomas and that he had a brother and some sisters one of whom was married.

From the 4 documents it’s evident that Ernest’s parents were John Thomas and Emma Dawson and Ernest was born either 1892 or 1894. Unfortunately it has not been possible to establish anything more about the family. There is a John Thomas Dawson age 36 who married Emma Randall at Boston at the end of 1896 but the date is too late and there are too many brothers.

There is also an ‘Earnest’ Dawson at Honington, near Ancaster on the 1911 census born Corby about 1895, however there is no birth record (Bourne) to substantiate this entry nor can he be found in 1901. This is intriguing as there was a regular soldier Frederick William Dawson born Corby 1889 who was serving in the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment and entered France in November 1914. There is no record of his birth or his family, could they be the brothers?

‘B’ Company, 7th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment

Although Ernest’s background remains a mystery for the moment his service number indicates that he joined with a group of Corby men in September/October 1914. The 8 man group served in B Company of the 7th (S) Battalion of the Lincolns that was formed in the Grantham area. Ernest entered France in July 1915 with the Battalion and their first active spell was in the Ypres Salient in July. ‘B’ Coy entered the trenches for the first time on 27th July and the following day John Taylor was killed, the first of the 8 men to become a casualty. Another of the group, Leonard Codd wrote the following letter home that was published in the Grantham Journal on 11 Sep 1915.

 Letter from Pte. L Codd, “B” Company, The Lincolns, British Expeditionary Force

“I will try and give you a little news of the Corby Lads who are out here. We have been twice in the trenches; the first time we stayed in five days and the second for twelve days in all. We caught it pretty hot the first time; as a matter of fact, they shelled us badly going in, so one or two poor fellows never reached the trenches at all. When we did reach the firing line we soon began to receive ‘iron rations from Fritz’ as the boys call them. What with trench mortars, ‘whizz-bangs,’ ‘coal boxes,’ and ‘aerial torpedoes’ we were kept pretty lively, I can tell you.

 What our fellows most resent is seeing brave fellows blown to pieces or maimed for life without being able to catch a glimpse of a German in order to retaliate. The folks at home seem to have the wrong ideas altogether as regards trench warfare; in fact, it is impossible to realise what things are like out here without actually seeing something of what is going on. The sights one sometimes sees are dreadful and the noise of the guns something terrible, besides when one happens to know the beggars are sapping for all they are worth, and a mine may go up at any minute almost, it tries one’s nerves a bit, and one is some time before one can settle down.

Thank heaven we have not experienced gas as yet, and we hope they will not try it on, although we of course, are equipped to combat the same, should it come. We have seen their new trickery, ‘liquid fire,’ from a short distance, but it was close enough for our liking. Of course, in order that we should not get downhearted, which we are not, we have a bit of sport, and it is surprising how the lads contrive to make the best of everything, for we are all confident that victory will crown the efforts of the Allies. At the same I think every man who is able to join should do so, as I consider the fellows who have been out here so long need a rest, and well deserve one. If anyone in the old village feels disposed to send papers, &c., they will be gratefully accepted by the Corby boys, as we don’t get much news out here”

About the time of writing, their casualties 132 up to 25 September 1915, were minimal and they were yet to take part in a major battle. That came soon enough when on 2 July 1916 they entered the battle of the Somme. They attacked the village of Fricourt, an objective of the 1st Battalion the previous day. The Battalion was relieved on the night of 4 July; the attack had been successful by Somme standards, the Brigade had taken its objectives and nearly 1000 prisoners, 2 Field Guns and 2 MGs.

The cost to the Battalion was 4 officers and 35 men killed, 4 officers and 153 men wounded and 18 missing. Leonard Codd 12622 was in an Ambulance Train nursing a ‘blighty’ that had just ended his war. A ‘blighty’ was slang for a wound bad enough to get a soldier shipped back home, in Leonard’s case a bullet wound in the right knee; he was discharged on 15 April 1917. In the same action Edward Dawson 11803, son of Edward and Zilla Dawson, was also badly wounded in the right hand and on his way to hospital in Bath; he was discharged from the army on 14 February 1917. His brother William Dawson 12650 was also on his way home via No 22 Casualty Clearing Station with shrapnel wounds to his leg; he did not recover to ‘A1’ front line fitness and spent the rest of the war in the Labour Corps.

That left Cyril Palmer 12620, Ernest Dawson 12651, Thomas Townsend 12652, and Joseph Porter 13754. Thomas was killed at Arras in April 1917. Cyril was wounded at some stage and when he recovered posted to the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and was killed in 1918. Ernest himself was wounded, spent time recovering with 279 Coy, RE and then he joined the 1st Battalion. Joseph Porter, the last of the 8 men, was still with the 7th Battalion when he was killed on 12 October 1917 in the Battle of Poelcappelle (covered in previous post). Out of the 8 men the 3 most seriously wounded were the only ones to come home! Its easy to understand why a wounded man with a ‘blighty’ was looked on with envy by those left unhurt around him.

1st Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment – 29 October 1917 Polygon Wood

 Oct 29 (1)

On 26 October the Canadian Corps started its advance towards Passchendaele. The 1st Lincolns moved into the front line 1400m east of the Butte in Polygon Wood at 3:00pm. The Battalion HQ was in the old German bunkers deep in the Butte. The Butte was part of a firing range constructed before the war by the Belgian Army. As the Lincolns moved up the Germans were mounting counter-attacks against the Canadians and the flanks were receiving their share of a heavy German barrage. It took 4hrs to complete the relief and get into position at the cost 10 casualties. The trenches were knee deep in water and there was no shelter for the men. 2 Companies were in the front line and the other 2 between there and the Butte in support positions (the shaded area on the map). They spent 5 days in unimaginable conditions, shelled and gassed nightly; the companies were rotated to try and get the men dry but the support positions were almost as bad as the trenches.

When they came out of the line 9 men were dead, 32 wounded and 59 sick to hospital with “trench feet”. Ernest Dawson was amongst the dead, he has no known grave and his name is inscribed on the Tyne Cot memorial in the entrance to the northern rotunda. The east “T” portion of the wood was not replanted and the photograph below was taken in the centre of the Lincoln’s position about 700m east of the Butte. The area in the foreground was a mass of uprooted and shattered trees with only shell holes for shelter.

Below: Polygon Wood viewed from the east about the centre of the area occupied by the Lincolns
PG Wood

B9 PGW-Butte copyThe Australian 5th Division Memorial with graves in the foreground (AWM)

The 5th Australian Division captured the Butte during the battle of Polygon Wood on 26 September 1917 and after the war they chose the Butte for their Division memorial. Field Ambulance Units also used the Butte and started a small cemetery. Today the cemetery, shown below, Butte’s New British Cemetery, Polygon Wood is much larger and contains 2109 graves of which 1676 are of unknown soldiers including a number of Lincolns. The area occupied by the 1st Lincolns on 29 October 1917 can be viewed to the east from the top of the Butte.

B11 PGW1Butte’s New British Cemetery from the top of the Butte (C Wesley)

Grantham Journal
7th Bn Lincolnshire Regt War Diary
1st Bn Lincolnshire Regt War Diary
The History of the Lincolnshire Regt 1914-18,  Maj-Gen C R Simpson, CB.

Privates William Parker Palmer and Joseph Porter

 GG Cp BadgeGuardsman William Parker Palmer 25797
1st Battalion Grenadier Guards
3rd Guards Brigade, Guards Division
Killed-in-Action    12 October 1917    Langemark, Ypres

WP Palmer 25797William Palmer (Photo Allan Palmer)

Family History

The Parker family lived in Great Ponton where George Palmer b. 1787 was a Wheelright and later a Publican in Far Lane. His son Parker Palmer born about 1823 was a Journeyman Blacksmith who settled in Burton-le-Coggles around 1863 where his son George Palmer was born. George Palmer became a Blacksmith like his father before him and in 1891 is recorded visiting his parents in Burton-le-Coggles in company with Sarah Jane Pick of Witham-on-the-Hill. George duly married Sarah and they settled at the Smithy, Church Street, Corby where they lived for over 30 years. Cyril George was born in 1892 followed by Arthur Wilfrid 1895, William Parker 1898 and Doris Marguerite 1899.

William enlisted age 19 on 25 April 1916 at Buckingham Gate, London. The period of service was set at 3 years or the duration of the war whichever was longer. He gave his profession as a Blacksmith’s assistant and address as Church Street, Corby. However the Grantham Journal obituary reports that at the time of his enlistment he was living at the house of Captain Harbord, South Kensington, London. This might well explain why he enlisted in London and his choice of Guards was probably influenced by the fact that his older brother Wilfrid was serving with the Coldstream Guards.

William trained with the 5th Battalion until 9 June 1917 when he sailed from Folkestone to France. After completing final training he spent 3 weeks with an entrenching Battalion until he joined the 1st Grenadiers in Belgium on 8 August 1917. On 12 October 1917 the 1st Grenadiers were about to go into action just north of the Ypres-Staden railway near the Houthulst Forest. On the other side of the railway barely 500m away another man with family in Corby was also waiting for Zero Hour.

FH 5 LincBdgePrivate Joseph Porter 13754
7th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment
51st Brigade,  17th Division
Missing-in-Action    12 October 1917    Poelcappelle, Ypres

PorterJoseph Porter (Grantham Journal)

Family History

The Porter family were from Aslackby where Joseph Porter b.1828 was an agricultural labourer and groom. He and Naomi had 7 sons of which Daniel b.1858 was the eldest. Daniel married Mindy Reedman b.1879 at Nassington and in 1891 they were living in Bulby. Mindy was a name that is frequently miss-spelt on registers, e.g. Mindey, Minday, Minnie. Daniel was an agricultural labourer and moved frequently; in 1901 they lived at Quarry Cottages, Irnham. A son Joseph was born in 1897 and 2 daughters Ethel b.1898 and Sarah Ann b.1900 followed. In 1911 the family less Joseph were living in Bitchfield Road, Ingoldsby.

Joseph had stayed at Irnham and in 1911 was employed as servant to Mr Wm. Harrison of Marwood House. Joseph enlisted in Newark about October 1914 and joined the 7th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment; at the time he was employed by Mr Joseph Hutchinson of Westborough Lodge, Newark.   He went out to France on 11 August 1915. His obituary in the Grantham Journal gave his parents address as Corby Heath. Joseph had survived Loos, the Somme and Arras; on 12 October the Battalion was part of 51 Brigade, 17 Division on the right of the Guards.

12 October 1917 Houthulst Forest

The battle of Broodseinde Ridge on 4 October had been another success, the third in a row. The German had planned their own attack that day starting 30mins after the British. The British bombardment had caught them in the open and crept through them with devastating results. All looked set fair to continue on 9 October in the Battle of Poelcappelle. Unfortunately the weather did not set fair, heavy rain started on 7 October and lasted for 2 days. The area in front of Passchendaele was pock marked with shell holes and the drainage of the area had been destroyed creating a quagmire. Not enough artillery was brought up and what did arrive sank quickly into the ground unless it could be mounted on wooden platforms. The tracks became unusable and wooden duckboards became the only method of crossing this wasteland and any man who lost his footing was in serious risk of drowning. Troops took up to 12 hours to reach their start lines and some failed to make it losing contact with the feeble barrage that proceeded them.

12 Oct Ypres (1)

Only in the north where fighting had been less intense was the ground capable of withstanding the preparation for the attack. With sufficient guns moved up to protect the infantry the French on the left and British Fifth Army made an advance of up to 2.5km. This advance is shown by the 12/10 red dashed line on the map above, elsewhere the gains were insignificant and are not shown. Miss-information on the success of the battle led to the decision to follow up the attack on 12 October.

The conditions in the Passchendaele valley were now appalling and the attack troops had a new problem to deal with, the New Zealanders found that their positions were crammed with wounded from the 9th October and had to commit their reserves to clear the battlefield. In the north of the Battlefield the French were to hold their ground whilst the Guards Division on their right advanced to the edge of the Forest. On their right 17 Division would advance astride the Ypres-Staden railway and 4 Division would capture Poelcappelle.

The map below shows the line up of the Battalions astride the railway. The Grenadiers HQ was in a captured pillbox codenamed Egypt House. The Poelcappelle-Houthulst road was their frontline with the King’s Company on the right and 2 Company to the left. King’s (Queen’s Company today) is the No 1 Company of the Grenadier Guards and provide the pallbearers at the Monarch’s funeral. Nos 3 and 4 Company were lined up behind and would make the advance.

The 8th South Staffordshire and 7th Lincolns shared their HQ in another strongpoint on the railway west of the road. The South Staffs were lined up on the road left of the railway and the Lincolns to the right.

GGds & Lincs
7th Lincolns

At 5:25 the barrage opened and after 8mins started to move forward. B & C Companies led the way to the first objective. At 6:50m reports came through that the first objective had been taken but that casualties were fairly heavy. A & D companies passed through to attack the second and final objectives. At 7:00 Major Peddie moved forward to establish the Battalion advance HQ at Taube Farm (code name). At 8:00 am it was reported that the companies were in possession of the final objective and in contact with the 8/South Staffs on the left and 10/Sherwood Foresters on the right.

When Major Peddie, Captain King and 2 orderlies arrived at Taube Farm it was found that the enemy were still in possession even through the advance companies had passed through. The timely arrival of the supporting A Coy of 7/Border Regt ensured that the garrison of about 100 including 9 officers, a heavy MG and trench mortar surrendered to Major Peddie. At another shelter 60 more prisoners were taken later in the morning. Many of the enemy had been killed in the attack by the artillery barrage and rifle fire. The positions were consolidated during the afternoon under shellfire and persistent sniping. Later several counter-attacks at Turenne Crossing were repulsed by A Coy under Capt McCarroll who had been wounded early during the day but remained at his post.

The Battalion was relieved on the morning of 14 October. Casualties were 2 officers killed, 8 wounded, 28 ORs killed, 170 wounded and 43 missing. Joseph was amongst the missing.

8th South Staffs

On the other side of the railway it did not go so well. The South Staffs followed the barrage with A Coy on the left and B Coy on the right. By the time they reached the first objective all the officers in A Coy had become casualties. At this stage the Germans could be seen retreating to the east towards the railway and the leaderless men now lost direction pursuing the enemy and crossing the path of B Coy. This was seen by their CO, Lt-Col Barker DSO and he started to correct the movement by sending a platoon of C Coy to fill the gap but before this could become effective he was seriously wounded.

By the time the platoon moved, A Coy had already passed Aden House and there was now a large gap on the left and no contact with the Grenadiers. OC D Coy had also sent one of his platoons to assist but by now MG fire from Aden house forced A Coy and the 2 platoons to dig-in along the road. At 12:30 am the Battalion had suffered 200 casualties and there was only 1 wounded officer left with all 4 Companies plus the Adjutant and Signals Officer at the HQ. Once it was daylight communications between the HQ and the Companies was not possible. 15 runners were sent out but all were hit by snipers.

Aden HouseThe Site of Aden House from Turenne Crossing (Eddy Lambrecht)

The South Staffordshire dug in on the left of the road in the photograph, the railway is further to the left. Angle Point was at the end of the line of Poplars, the Grenadiers were out to the right, 4 Coy in line to the photographer. The ground is rising to the right towards Houthulst Forest. The snipers in the forest would have a clear view all the way to the railway. The railway is now a cycle way that can be ridden from Ypres.


Prior to Zero hour 2 platoons of Scots Guards arrived at Egypt House to assist if required to maintain contact with 17 Division. The attacking companies were required to make a left ‘wheel’ as they went forward extending their line to the right as they moved.   A complicated attack manoeuvre under fire and the addition of the Scots Guardsman was a good tactic. Nos 4 & 3 Companies set of at Zero hour and 4 reached its objective on time keeping touch with the left of 3 Company. The left of 3 Company reached its objective but the right lost touch with the South Staffs. The Company was forced to “refuse its flank”, this term describes how a unit without friendly troops to its side/flank will angle back its formation to defend against the enemy coming around behind ie outflanking. At this stage an officer had to be detached to bring up the Scots Guards platoons as their officer had been killed; OC 3 Company was also killed. The Scots Guards platoons came under heavy MG fire from Aden House and were forced to dig in short of Angle Point.

The Battalion was relieved on 13 October, casualties were 2 officers killed, 1 wounded, 36 ORs killed or died of wounds, 200 ORs wounded or missing.

William Parker was buried at Cement House cemetery Langemark about 4.5km back from the fighting. The cemetery took its name from the code name for a fortified farm alongside its location that was used by Field Ambulance units as a Dressing Station. In recent years the cemetery had been regularly used for the reburial of remains still being discovered in the Salient. There are 3 men from the 1st Battalion buried on 12 October 1917 that were probably brought to the Dressing Station where they died of wounds. William’s grave can be found in block XIV, row E, grave 8.

William’s parents George and Sarah would have received a telegram normally within a week. At the same time Daniel and Mindey Porter at Corby Heath would have their telegram informing them that Joseph was missing. For them it was a long and anxious wait only to have any hope dashed in October 1918 when they heard officially that Joseph was presumed to have died. They may not have been at the Heath for any length of time as they chose to have Joseph remembered on the memorial in Ingoldsby Church

Porter Ings Mem (1)WW1 Memorial Ingoldsby Church (C Wesley)

Note: Regrettably the date on the memorial is incorrect

Grantham Journal
1st Grenadier Guards War Diary
7th Lincolns War Diary
8th South Staffs War Diary
The History of the Lincolnshire Regt 1914-18,  Maj-Gen C R Simpson, CB.