MAWSON Richard c.1887 – 1917

RICHARD MAWSON c.1887 – 1917

35310 Private Richard Mawson, 12th Battalion, The Northumberland Fusiliers died of wounds 30 March 1917, aged 30.  He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, France[1] and on the Witton Park war memorials.

Family Details

Richard Mawson was born either December 1886 or early January 1887[2] at Canny Hill, Bishop Auckland, the son of William and Sarah Jane Mawson.  There were 11 children:[3]

  • John bc. 1884 at Auckland Park
  • Thomas bc.1885 at South Church
  • Richard bc.1887 at Canny Hill
  • Alfred bc.1889 at Tottenham
  • Emily bc.1894 at Tottenham
  • Elizabeth bc.1895 at Tottenham
  • George bc.1897 at Coundon
  • Lucy bc.1890 at Coundon
  • Annie bc.1902 at Shildon
  • Isabel bc.1906 at Riseburn, Middridge
  • Grace bc.1909 at Witton Park

In 1881, the family lived at Tottenham (now called Leeholme), near Coundon, Bishop Auckland where William worked as a coal miner.[4]  By 1901, the family lived at York Square, Shildon where William was employed as a coal miner (shiftman), 16 years old Thomas worked as a coal miner (stone pitcher), and 14 years old Richard was a coal miner “Pony Driver”.[5]  By 1911, William and Sarah with 6 of their children lived at Thompson Street, Witton Park.  William still worked as a coal miner (hewer).[6] 

By this time Richard had been married to Elizabeth for about 4 years.  In 1907, Richard Mawson married Elizabeth Rowland.[7]  They had 4 children:[8]

  • Margaret Ann born 1906
  • Emily Jane born 1909
  • John born 1911[9]
  • Isabel born November 1916, died September 1917

By 1911, Richard, Elizabeth and their family lived at Garden Street, Witton Park – their 2 children were 5 years old Margaret and 2 years old Emily.  Richard, now 24 years old worked as a coal miner (hewer).[10] At a later date, Elizabeth lived at Carwood Street, Witton Park.[11]

Military Details

The service details of Private Richard Mawson have not been traced.  Richard Mawson enlisted at Bishop Auckland and joined the Durham Light Infantry, being given the service number 28550.[12]  At some later stage, date unknown, he was transferred to the 12th Battalion, the Northumberland Fusiliers and given the new number 35310.  The 12th Bn., Northumberland Fusiliers (12/NF) was formed in Newcastle in September 1914 as part of Kitchener’s New Army, K3 and came under the orders of the 62nd Brigade, 21st Division.[13]  The 62nd Brigade consisted of the following units:[14]

  • 12th Bn., the Northumberland Fusiliers
  • 13th Bn., the Northumberland Fusiliers – in August 1917, the 12th and 13th merged to become known as the 12/13th Battalion.
  • 8th Bn., the East Yorkshire Regiment left November 1915
  • 10th Bn., the Yorkshire Regiment disbanded February 1918
  • 1st Bn., the Lincolnshire Regiment joined November 1915
  • 62nd Machine Gun Company joined March 1916, left to move to 21st MG Battalion February 1918
  • 62nd Trench Mortar Battery joined June 1916
  • 3/4th Bn., the Queens, August 1917 to February 1918
Northumberland Fusiliers cap badge

The 21st Division entered France in September 1915 and saw action at the Battle of Loos.  It served on the Western Front for the remainder of the war.  Private R. Mawson did not enter France until after 31 December 1915 [15] so he did not take part in this battle.  The 21st Division took part in the following significant actions:

1916: various phases of The Battle of the Somme

  • 1 – 13 July: The Battle of Albert
  • 14 – 17 July: The Battle of Bazantin
  • 15 – 22 September: The Battle of Flers-Courcelette
  • 25 – 28 September: The Battle of Morval in which the Division captured Gueudecourt
  • 1 – 18 October: The Battle of Le Transloy

The exact date when Private R. Mawson joined 12/NF is unknown but a party of 200 drafts were received in early September and he may have been one of these men. 12/NF saw action when the Division captured Gird Trench and Gueudecourt later in the month, 26 September.[16]  The 64th Brigade which included 10/DLI, 15/DLI and 9/KOYLI had advanced to a position a little short of the Gueudecourt – Le Transloy road and 62 Brigade with 12/NF was ordered to take over and advance up the road.  12/NF was relieved at 10pm by 10/Green Howards.[17] The War Diary reports the casualties as:

  • 2 Officers killed, 5 wounded
  • 17 other ranks killed, 76 wounded, 15 missing

The battalion strength going into action on the 15th was 800 and on coming out of action 29 September was 694. 

Later research records that between these 2 dates, 12/NF lost 2 Officers and 28 other ranks.[18] 

The battalion was then posted to the north in the Loos area, north of Arras where it spent the Autumn and Winter months in the Hulloch trenches and Quarries sector and a period of training at Poperinghe, Belgium.  By February 1917, the battalion was back in the trenches at the Quarries.

1 March 1917, and 12/NF headed south via Bethune, La Pierriere, Rely, Hestrus, Hericourt to Halloy Camp for training then onto Monchy-au-Bois.  The Division and 12/NF was to be involved with the pursuit of the German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line, details of which follow.

14 March – 5 April 1917: The German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line [19]

The devastating nature of the British offensive of the Battle of the Somme caused a serious re-assessment by the German High Command.  British offensive operations continued through the winter, notably actions on the Ancre.  The German army created a formidable new line some miles to the rear and they executed a withdrawal to it in March 1917.  The German withdrawal was pursued and the British encountered a veritable fortress, known to the Allies as the Hindenburg Line, and to the Germans as the Seigfried Line.  The following passage describes the actions of the retreating German troops: [20]

“The villages we passed through on our way had the look of vast lunatic asylums.  Whole companies were set to knocking down walls or sitting on rooftops uprooting the tiles.  Trees were cut down, windows smashed; wherever you looked, clouds of smoke and dust rose from vast piles of debris.  We saw men dashing about wearing suits and dresses left behind by the inhabitants with top hats on their heads.  With destructive cunning they found the roof-trusses of houses, fixed ropes to them and with concerted shouts, pulled till they all came tumbling down.  Others were swinging pile-driving hammers and went around smashing everything that got in their way, from the flowerpots on the window sills to whole ornate conservatories.

As far back as the Siegfried Line, every village was reduced to rubble, every tree chopped down, every road undermined, every well poisoned, every basement blown up or booby trapped, every rail unscrewed, every telephone wire rolled up, everything burnable burnt; in a word, we were turning the country that our advancing opponents would occupy into a wasteland.

As I say, the scenes were reminiscent of a madhouse, and the effect of them was similar: half funny, half repellent. They were also, we could see right away, bad for the men’s morale and honour. Here, for the first time, I witnessed wanton destruction that I was later in life to see to excess; this is something that is unhealthily bound up with the economic thinking of our age, but it does more harm than good to the destroyer, and dishonours the soldier.

Among the surprises we’d prepared for our successors were some truly malicious inventions. Very fine wires, almost invisible, were stretched across the entrances of buildings and shelters, which set off explosive charges at the faintest touch. In some places, narrow ditches were dug across roads and shells hidden in them. A nail had been driven into the plank, only just above the shell-fuse. The space was measured so that marching troops could pass over the spot safely, but the moment the first lorry or field gun rumbled up, the board would give, and the nail would touch off the shell. Or there were spiteful time bombs that were buried in basements of undamaged buildings. They consisted of two sections, with a metal partition going down the middle. In one part was explosive, in the other acid. After these devil’s eggs had been primed and hidden, the acid slowly, over weeks, eroded the metal partition, and then set off the bomb.

One such device blew up the town hall of Bapaume just as the authorities had assembled to celebrate victory.”

It was within this context of a devastated landscape, booby traps and constant harassing activity by both forces in which the men of 12/NF found themselves.

12/NF War Diary reports the following – 26 March, the battalion marched from Bienvillers to Boiry St. Martin via Monchy-au-Bois, Adinfer and Boiry St. Rictrude.  The route from Monchy-au-Bois was across land just evacuated by the Germans. They reached Boisleux St. Marc and relieved 2/5 London Regiment at 6pm, the next day. 

29 March, Sergeant Martin and 9 men came across a party of Germans (207th R.I.R.) and a skirmish took place.  Another large patrol of Germans was encountered and after a fight, were persuaded to withdraw to the village of Henin.  Second Lieutenant Noble was wounded and 2 prisoners from 99th R.I.R. were taken.  Enemy artillery was active.

30 March, positions were consolidated along the sunken road running SE from Boiry to Becquerelle and through the cemetery running parallel with the Henin to Croisilles road.  One patrol put a party of Germans to flight.

31 March, hard fighting was encountered but the enemy was beaten off.  10 casualties were sustained and another 10 when the village of Boiry Becquerelle was shelled.

It is likely that Private R. Mawson was caught up in the fighting or the shelling of the 29th and died of wounds the following day.      

Later research records that during this phase of the war, between 14 March – 5 April, 12/NF lost 20 other ranks killed in action or died of wounds.  Private R. Mawson died of wounds 30 March 1917 at 65th Field Ambulance.[21] Up to this date, the battalion had only suffered 1 other casualty, 20092 Private George Martin, 21 March.  This was to change 21 March, when 9 other ranks were killed,[22] as the War Diary intimated by the increased number of casualties.

Medals and Awards

Private R. Mawson was awarded the Victory and British War medals.[23]

Medal Roll card index


Private R. Mawson’s wife received his pension[24] and effects.[25]


Although Private R. Mawson is recorded as, “Died of Wounds”, he has no known grave and is commemorated at Bay 2/3 on the Arras Memorial France.  It is assumed that since he died in a Field Ambulance then his body would have been buried in a suitable place but perhaps this battlefield burial was subject to a later act of warfare and was destroyed. The Arras Memorial stands in the Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery in Arras and it commemorates 35,000 servicemen from Britain, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between spring 1916 and August 1918 who have no known grave.  It was unveiled in 1932.[26]

The Arras Memorial


35310 Private Richard Mawson, 12th Battalion, The Northumberland Fusiliers died of wounds 30 March 1917, aged 30.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, France.  Richard Mawson was born at Canny Hill, lived at Coundon before settling at Witton Park.  He was a miner.  He joined the Durham Light Infantry and was transferred to the Northumberland Fusiliers.  Private R. Mawson was involved in fighting as the British pursued the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line in March 1917.  He left a widow and 4 children.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

[2] England, Selected Births and Christenings 1538-1975 film no.1894477.  Richard Mawson was baptised 13 January 1887 at St. Andrews Church, Bishop Auckland.

[3] 1891, 1901 & 1911 census

[4] 1891 census

[5] 1901 census

[6] 1911 census

[7] England & Wales Marriage Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.454 Auckland 1907 Q2

[8] Pension card index

[9] 4452683 Lance Corporal John Mawson, 8th Bn., The Durham Light Infantry died 8 December 1943 and is buried at grave reference III.E.5, Ancona War Cemetery, Italy

[10] 1911 census

[11] Pension card index

[12] Soldiers Died in the Great War (SDGW)



[15] Private R. Mawson did not receive the 1914-15 Star which was awarded to those who had entered France or overseas theatre prior to 31 December 1915.

[16] National Archives reference WO95-2155 12th Bn., Northumberland Fusiliers War Diary September 1916

[17] “The Somme: The Day by Day Account” 1993 Chris McCarthy p.118 & 119

[18] ODGW & SDGW


[20] “In Stahlgewittern” 1920 Ernst Junger: “Storm of Steel” 2003 Translated by Michael Hofmann p127& 128

[21] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901 – 1926 Record No.511723

[22] SDGW No officers were recorded.

[23] Medal Roll card index and Roll dated 8 June 1920

[24] Pension card index

[25] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901 – 1926 Record No.511723

[26] CWGC