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.