Doodsons in the Great War 1914-18
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, and to honour the memory of Doodsons who suffered in the cause of freedom, I decided to try to identify all the Doodsons who joined the armed forces and, as far as the available records allow, document what they experienced during their service. It has proved rather more difficult than I expected, but has given some interesting insights into the period. Hopefully readers will find it useful and a way to make the history of their families a little more real.
There are a few key online sources of information about service with the armed forces:
- Army service records - these are from microfilm of all the original documents relating to individual soldiers' time in the army, including the enlistment forms, records of deployment and transfers between regiments, medical checks and eventual discharge. From these you can often glean their birth date, where the soldier lived, who their next of kin were, their occupation, where they were sent, what their state of health was, whether they were well-behaved while in service and whether they were injured. Sadly many of the records from the Great War were destroyed in a fire in 1940 - occasionally one comes across film of records burned at the edges, and many soldiers' records were lost completely. Similar records are not available for the Second World War. Some of these records are categorised as pension records (used to work out how many days men served, to be used in calculating their war pensions.
- Medal records - various lists and record cards were made after the Great War that give very brief details of service men and what medals they won. There's usually very little information on these - often just surname, first name, the regimental number and their regiment name. Usually very little more. Getting much of value from these can be hard, especially if you don't have the service records and the solider has a common name. Of course, most got the Victory medal, the British War Medal and the Star. See the explanation of the medals on the National Archive web site.
- Index to war deaths - a list of men who died in the army during the Great War. It doesn't seem to be complete, and gives very little information - just name, rank, regiment, regimental number and year of death. Some names identified on war graves don't appear in this list for some reason.
- Commonwealth War graves - the names on official war graves from around the Commonwealth have been recorded and put on line. In some cases there are photos of the actual graves of the soldiers whereas in other cases just a photo of the site or memorial. Some of these have useful detail including next of kin. These include graves of men who died in the Second World War.
- Other sources - the big genealogical sites include some or all the above, and include various other records such as "National Roll of the Great War" which gives, for a few of the many (don't know what criteria were used for inclusion of specific men) details of when they enlisted, where they were deployed and when they were discharged. Just four Doodsons are listed. Other records include lists of men who served in the Royal Navy and medal rolls for them.
Sadly most of these records give very little clue as to the actual wartime experience of these men. In some cases one can work out whereabouts the specific battalion the soldier was a member of was during key battles, but you would need to find the diaries kept by the officers to get more insight. Suffice it to say that many of the Doodsons I've identified must have had horrible experiences. I recommend watching as many of the BBC's excellent programmes about the Great War as you can (and read their web site at http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww1), visiting the Imperial War Museum (or reading the material on their web site), and reading one of the many books about the Great War, such as The Great War 1914-18 by Peter Hart or The First World War by Hew Strachan. The true horrors will still seem very remote to most of us but we must not forget the madnesses and sacrifices.
Doodsons who saw service
I've compiled a list of all the Doodson men that I could find records of, and put it into a big table to capture as much of the information as I can. Where possible I've worked out which of the family trees in this web site the men are on. So, if you're trying to find one of your ancestors, first find which family tree they're on and then search the spreadsheet for that tree name.
Unfortunately there were a set of men that I couldn't trace to family trees because there just wasn't enough information to tie them back. Most of these were on medal records but no Service Record was available, so all I had was their name, regiment and regimental number. If I find a way of tracing more about these men I'll update the list in due course. But for now these unsung heroes will have to remain just names on a list.
Note that there are a few men on the list who served in conflicts other than the Great War - one or two in earlier theatres such as the Crimea or China, one or two in the Second World War. I've included them here as there are very few such records so they're unlikely to feature on other lists on this site.
It seems unfair to pick out any of these men, but in a handful of cases there was enough detail in the records to piece together a more human story. Here are a few:
Harry Doodson - Glossop tree 3
Harry first enlisted in his home town of Glossop on 18th March 1915, and went through basic training with the Cheshire Regiment, but when it was discovered that he was under age he was discharged at Oswestry on 27th August 1915. He was born 21st August 1899, so he was only 16 years old when he first enlisted! Not put off by this experience Harry enlisted again (again in Glossop), on 11th October the same year, joining the Royal Scots Regiment and went up to Scotland for training. This time his parents, Sam and Sarah Doodson, wrote to the commanding officer to tell him that Harry was still younger than 17 years old, and they even sent his birth certificate to prove it. The letter said "I claim him as not being old enough for Army services". Harry was thus discharged again, this time in Glencorse in Scotland.
This did not put Harry off, as on the very day of his 18th birthday, on 21st August 1917 he signed up again, this time joining the Border Regiment. He served with them until after the end of the war, being discharged finally on 6th December 1919.
Frederick Allen Doodson - Australia tree
Frederick was born in1895 and was among the first Australians to sign up for service, leaving New South Wales in October 1914. He was known as "Curley" and was well known in Pyrmont, where he worked, and Lidcombe where his parents lived (both are suburbs of Sydney) as a swimmer and boxer. After training exercises in Egypt he was part of the Allied forces that went to the Dardanelles (a narrow straight of water between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, in Turkey). The Gallipoli peninsula is on the European side of the straight, and it was in the fighting at Gallipoli that Frederick was injured, later to die on a hospital ship (Gascon) some time between 25th and 29th April 1915. He was one of some 8,700 Australians to have lost their lives in the Gallipoli campaign. Including both Allies and Turkish forces, more than 100,000 troops died in the long, bloody and ultimately fruitless10 months of fighting up to early 1916 when the Allies withdrew, unsuccessful.
You might have spotted that Frederick's death was immediately after the Allied landings on 25th April 1915, at a cove dubbed "ANZAC cove", because this was where Australian and New Zealand troops attempted their initial thrust. And Australians and New Zealanders will, of course, have spotted that this date, 25th April, is commemorated as ANZAC day.
There's a really interesting and harrowing description of the landings from someone on the hospital ship at http://www.unioncastlestaffregister.co.uk/SHIP_GASCON_(2)_01.html "[...] by dusk we were filled to capacity and over, all wards and available deck space being crammed with wounded."
Frederick's death received coverage in a number of Australian newspapers, including extracts from the last letter he wrote home to his parents from the training camp in Egypt. In May 1915 two parts of a street in Lidcombe were renamed in memory of Frederick - the newspaper article in May 1915 explained that someone had pulled down the street sign for Hanover Street, and it was presumed that this was done by someone with anti-German views. One end of the street was renamed "Frederick Street", the other "Doodson Street". After his death his football team, Pyrmont, commemorated him by donning black armbands - see this fascinating article about it.
Frederick's brother Walter Victor Doodson also went to Egypt for training. Walter was injured and hospitalised in 1915 in Cardiff, Wales, before returning to Australia. He died in 1969.
Another of Frederick's relatives, Charles (Frederick and Walter's half-brother) also joined up and served in France, in the 3rd Light Trench Mortars, attacking the Hindenberg Line near Bullecourt. Sadly he died in 1917 and was buried in Boulogne.
Alfred John Doodson - Liverpool 1911 tree
Alfred joined the Mercantile Marine Reserve, as a ship's cook. The MMR was a reserve of merchant seamen who were effectively co-opted into the Royal Navy at the start of the war. Alfred, whose death is commemorated at the Plymouth Naval Memorial, was killed when the ship he was serving on, the SS Laurentic, was struck by two mines, off the coast of Ireland on 25th January 1917. The ship sank within just an hour and of the 475 men aboard only 121 survived. Many bodies were never recovered. The Laurentic had been used as a troop transport for men from Canada, but was later converted into an armed merchant cruiser (strengthened and with added guns to transport goods and fend off attack from enemy vessels).
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