DOWSON G.

GEORGE DOWSON 1896[1] -1918

27088 Lance Corporal George Dowson, 7/8th battalion the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers was killed in action 21 March 1918 and is buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery, Zonnebeke, Belgium.[2]  He was about 22 years old and is commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood.

Family Details [3]

George Dowson’s mother was Belle Dowson, who is understood to have had 2 children:

  • George
  • Katy

In 1913 Belle Dowson married widower Joseph Nicholson of Evenwood.[4]  Joseph Nicholson’s first wife was Mary Ellen Knaggs who died in 1911.  They had 4 children:

  • Albert bc.1898
  • Thebert bc.1900
  • Elizabeth Ann bc.1903
  • Alfred bc.1907

George Dowson lived at 22 West View, Evenwood [5] with Mr. and Mrs. J. Nicholson, his mother and step-father. [6]

Service Details

George Dowson enlisted at Newcastle-upon-Tyne and joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was given the service number 27088.  The service details of Lance Corporal George Dowson have not been researched.

The 7th and 8th (Service) Battalions were part of the 49th Brigade, 16th (Irish) Division. 23 August 1917, they amalgamated to become the 7/8th Battalion and 22 April 1918 it was reduced to cadre strength.[7]  Others in the 49th Brigade included: [8]

  • 7th (Service) Battalion, the Royal Irish Fusiliers
  • 8th (Service) Battalion, the Royal Irish Fusiliers
  • 7th (Service) Battalion, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
  • 8th (Service) Battalion, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
  • 2nd Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment joined 14 October 1916
  • 7th (South Irish Horse) Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment, joined 14 October 1917
  • 49th Machine Gun Company joined 29 April 1916
  • 49th Trench Mortar Battery formed 16 June 1916

The Division moved to France and served on the Western Front concentrating in the Bethune area then took part in the Battle of the Somme (fourth and fifth phases), 3 to 9 September 1916, the Battle of Messines 7 to 14 June 1917, the Battle of Langemarck 16 to 18 August 1917 and the Battle of St. Quentin (the First Battles of the Somme) 21 to 23 March 1918. [9]

The Regimental History of the Inniskillings has been examined and this has revealed a mystery.  The 7/8th Battalion, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers was involved on the first day of the German Spring Offensive at the Battle of St. Quentin, 21 March 1918 in France.  However Lance Corporal G. Dowson is buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium some 60 miles to the north.  The only credible explanation is that he was undergoing training or was attached to another battalion in Belgium and by co-incidence was killed on the very same day as his comrades in the “Skins” faced the full weight of the German offensive.  The following account will detail the actions of the “Skins” during late March since the circumstances of the death of Lance Corporal George Dowson remain unknown. [10]

The Battle of St. Quentin: 21 – 23 March 1918

 The 16th (Irish) Division formed part of the VII Corps of the Fifth Army defending the front line to the east of Roisel.  The British Official History quotes a total of 177,739 casualties – men killed, wounded and missing.  Of these just under 15,000 died and of the 90,000 missing a very large proportion were taken prisoner as the Germans advanced. A high proportion of those who died have no known grave.  The greatest losses were:

  • 7,310 – the 36th (Ulster) Division
  • 7,149 – the 16th (Irish) Division
  • 7,023 – the 66th (East Lancashire) Division

All 3 formations were effectively destroyed and had to be taken out of the order of battle and rebuilt.  Six other Divisions each lost more than 5,000 men. German casualties for a period up to the 30th April which includes the second phase i.e. the Battle of Lys is estimated as 348,300.

The following details provide snapshots of the action:

  • 21 March 1918: 4.40am heavy German artillery bombardment on the British front held by the First, Third and Fifth Armies.  The main weight of the attack was between Arras and a few miles south of St. Quentin.  Thick fog in the morning.
  • 7.00am and 9.40 am: German infantry began to attack
  • 9.30 am: 10 Divisions of the XIII Reserve Corps and XIII Corps on an 8 mile front facing the 16th (Irish) Division – superiority 3.3:1.  Two companies of 7th Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment were lost to a man as the enemy quickly advanced across the narrow no man’s land and into the forward zone.  Germans began to attack the Battle zone of Ronssoy.[11]
  • Noon: The Germans had captured the Fifth Army’s Forward Zone.  Those troops that had been holding this zone were mostly lost, either killed in the bombardment or by the advance of the enemy infantry.  Those taken prisoner would have been surrounded as the Germans advanced quickly, unseen in the fog.
  • 1.30pm: the 6th Connaught Rangers, part of the 16th (Irish) Division made an unsupported counter attack near Ronssoy facing 10 Divisions of XIII Reserve Corps and XIII Corps on this front!

The following extracts are taken from the Regimental History of the Inniskillings:

“There was one other Battalion of Inniskillings in the Battle of St. Quentin, the 7/8th in the line with the 16th Division in front of Rosnoy. Their experience differed little from that of the Battalions in the 36th Division. The forward positions were overwhelmed by the enemy, and Battalion H.Q. at Rosnoy had their first information of the enemy when he was right upon them. The Battalion fought its way back, the O.C., Lt. Col. Walkley, and practically all the other officers being wounded, killed or captured. The remnants of the Battalion fell back on St. Emilie.

The remnants of the 7/8th Battalion were formed, with other remnants of the 16th Division, into the 49th Brigade Battalion under Major Harrison. All these temporary formations did stout work in the retreat back to the threshold of Amiens which followed.

Seldom has the British Army had to suffer such a period of intense anxiety as that from March 21 to April 5, 1918, more intense in some respects than that interval between Mons and the Marne. The strategic position was only too painfully simple. If the enemy reached Amiens he held the key to the front lateral line of supply of the British Army on the Western Front, and that Army would have to retire hurriedly south of the Somme, and would be fortunate if it were able to get away without grave loss in men and material. Then the enemy would be left in possession of the French side of the English Channel, able to deny us the use of that Channel, to intensify has submarine warfare and, in effect, to besiege the British islands.

The gravity of the position will be best recognised if the precautionary measures which were sanctioned are noted. In case of the German advance continuing to Amiens, the whole of the Pas de Calais province was to be laid waste, the harbours of Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne wrecked, the dykes and locks destroyed and the country generally inundated.

From March 23 to April 5 the remnants of the Fifth Army, and the much-shattered right wing of the Third Army, with some aid from British and French reinforcements pushed up hurriedly into the line, fought a series of rearguard delaying actions. It was “open warfare” with no prepared trench positions to hold and with the British cavalry at last getting some opportunities of effective work.

The line of the 16th Division retreat was along a line a good deal north of that back to Hamel in front of Amiens.

The Battalions of the Inniskillings, except one, were so broken up from March 21-23 that it is not possible to follow every detachment through all the incidents of the fighting retreat, but only to record the more notable events.

The 7/8th Inniskillings had suffered so severely that its remnants on getting back were formed into a composite Battalion which was made up of them and of details of the 2nd and 7th Royal Irish. This force was called the 49th Infantry Brigade. The training staff of the 7/8th Inniskillings went to help the American Army to train. In effect, the Battalion disappeared, but later (on July 18) Lt.-Col. R.A. Irvine resumed command and the Battalion came to life again.”

 Later research records that between 21 and 31 March 1918, 7/8 “Skins” lost XX Officers and XX Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds.[12]

Lance Corporal G. Dowson was killed in action 21 March 1918 and is buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium. Lance Corporal G. Dowson was awarded the British War and Victory medals.[13]

Reports of “Missing”

 The Evenwood Church Magazine reported as follows: [14]

“In regard to military items, I have received the following news from a correspondent at home Lance-Corpl. George Dowson, son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Nicholson of West View, has been missing for more than a year.”

Given the date of his death was 21 March 1918, this does not seem to be an accurate account.  In December 1919, the Magazine reported:[15]

“We sympathise with the parents and relatives of Pte. G. Dowson, who have received official notice that their son, missing since March 21st, must now be presumed dead.” 

An agonising period of uncertainty finally came to an end with an official notice, “presumed dead” but some “closure” was available since George Dowson has a burial place in Tyne Cot Cemetery.  It seems unusual that Lance Corporal G. Dowson is commemorated at Tyne Cot in the Ypres region when the evidence indicates that his battalion saw action in the area around St. Quentin, France. To date a satisfactory explanation has not been reached.

 Burial

Lance Corporal G. Dowson is commemorated at grave reference XXXVI.F.19 Tyne Cot Cemetery, near Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.  Tyne Cot or “Tyne Cottage” is the name given by the Northumberland Fusiliers to a barn which stood near the level crossing on the Passchendaele to Broodseinde road.  The barn which became the centre of several German blockhouses was captured in October 1917 in the advance on Passchendaele.  The cemetery was greatly enlarged after the Armistice when remains were brought in from various battlefields.  The Tyne Cot Memorial forms the north eastern boundary and commemorates nearly 35,000 servicemen from Britain and New Zealand who died in the Ypres Salient after 16 August 1917 and whose graves are not known. [16]

Commemoration

Lance Corporal G. Dowson is commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood.

References:

[1] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.186 Auckland 1896 Q2 Note:  possibly “our” George Dowson.  There is another born 1901 but he would be too young to vote in the 1918 election, not being 21 years old

[2] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[3] Information fron Barbara Nicholson & Julia McDonald

[4] England & Wales Marriage Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.460 Auckland 1913 Q3

[5] 1918 Absent Voters List

[6] Evenwood Parish Magazine September 1918

[7] www.1914-1918.net/skins.htm

[8] http://www.1914-1918.net/16div.htm

[9] www.1914-1918.net/16div.htm  &  www.warpath.orbat.com/battles_ff/1916.htm &1917.htm & 1918.htm

[10] Major (Ret’d.) Jim Dunlop Curator, the Inniskillings Museum, the Castle, Enniskilling, Co. Fermanagh, BT74 7HL, Northern Ireland could not cast any further light on the issue

[11] A Company was about 240 men and 5 officers commanded by a Captain

[12] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[13] Medal Roll

[14] Evenwood Church Magazine September 1918

[15] Evenwood Church Magazine December 1919

[16] CWGC

Photographs:

DOWSON G.  Headstone

DOWSON G.
Headstone