Monday, 8 September 2014

The Day George Died, 16th September 1916

This date  of 16th September 1916  is  significant to me as my great uncle George Danson, a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps. was killed on the Somme, a week after his 22nd birthday, buried at the Guards' Cemetery, Les Boeufs.  Later research discovered that my husband's great uncle Frederick Donaldson died on the  same day - remembered on the Thiepval Memorial.  

I was interested to see how a serious national newspaper reflected the war and life on the home front, but also discovered another personal dimension to one of the reports, 

First impressions -  tightly packed pages with small print, no photographs, lots of classified adverts  and only a few pictorial ads - so visually not very appealing to today's general reader.

Content wise, there was no question that the war dominated the coverage from the front page announcements of men  "Killed in Action".  Two pages listed naval honours and recommendations for  promotion awarded after the Battle of Jutland.  Also featured were a Roll of Honour, reports of war on all fronts, including an excellent map showing "The Great Advance in the Albert Plateau" , plus lists of war charities.  and sad Personal Adverts requesting  any information on soldiers reported missing.

Headlines such as "Great British Advance", "Successes on a Wide Front". "Our Troops have Advanced", "Considerable Success Already Obtained - some 2000-3000 yards at various places"  present a positive picture, along, too,  with news of a new type of fighting machine  - the tank, which "proved of considerable utility".  With the benefit of hindsight, one cannot help feel this was giving an optimistic picture  of what we later came to know was the truth.  

The official casualty numbers for the day were tucked away at the end of an article - 212 officers killed and 3543 men

One story which had close personal links  told of  the Victoria Cross awarded to 15 year old John Travers Cornwell  whilst on board HMS Chester during the Battle of Jutland, with headlines - "Brave Boy's Honour After Death", Seaman's Gallant Deeds".  

The Victoria Cross (VC), born in the carnage of the Crimean War is the highest award available to the armed forces for gallantry in action in the face of  the enemy. The medal  was originally made from the bronze cannon captured during the Crimean War (1854-1856).

The citation for John Cornwell read " Mortally wounded early in the action, Boy, First Class, John Travers Cornwell remained standing alone at a most exposed post, continuing to service his gun, until the end of the action, with the gun's crew dead and wounded all round him. His age was under sixteen". 

John was a keen scout in his home town and in his honour the Boy Scout Association instituted  the Cornwell Scout Badge, awarded for outstanding acts of  courage and endurance in the face of adversity.

And the personal angle - my husband received the badge in 1948 following three years illness  in hospital.


What else caught my eye in "The Times" newspaper?

  • The  classified  adverts with households  seeking  lady housekeepers, housekeepers (what was the difference?), cooks, parlourmaids, scullery maids, between maids, laundry maids. 

  • Life was changing, though, with an advert for a "Lady Motor Driver" and a "Lady Clerk - not under 30, must be a first class typist and shorthand writer and experienced in filing and indexing".  
  • Auction Sales notices with  lengthy details of estate and their contents on the market.
  • A long listing of Shipping Adverts for travel to India, Egypt, Hong Kong,  Shanghai, Singapore, Australia, South Africa,  USA and Canada.
  • Article on "The Home Treatment of Alcoholic Excess and the Drug Habit"- with no interference with social, business or other duties". 
  • One of the few pictorial adverts was for Dunlop tyres

      Old newspapers have always fascinated me and this was no exception. For family historians, they offer an invaluable source of background information on events (local, national and international). They also enable us to experience the actual events described in the language and emotions of the time and can throw light on the smaller aspects of our ancestors' lives.  
      My great uncle George Danson received  a tribute in his  local newspaper "The Fleetwood Chronicle".  
      The  report noted that George was a member of St. Chad's Choir, Poulton - this was new to me and lovely to read as both my mother, father  and myself have long been involved in choirs. It also told that  prior to enlisting, George  had been manager of W. H.  Smith station bookstall at Todmorden, West Yorkshire. He joined the army in January and went out to the Front in August  - surviving  less than two months.
      The newspaper concludes "Captain Macleod in writing to his mother who had four other sons serving, said "He was one of my stretcher bearers and was gallantly doing his duty over open and dangerous ground which suddenly became subjected to severe shell fire.  He continued steadily bearing his burden and was only stopped by the shell that took his life. We mourn his loss and are very proud of him".  
George remembered on the War Memorial in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire

Historic Newspapers provides copies from all over the world, with the bulk of their archives from the US and the UK, including many regional titles.


  1. I could while away too many hours trawling through old newspapers. They are, as you have demonstrated, a wonderful resource for family historians.

  2. Thank you, Jill, for your comment. I agree with you. - old newspapers make such fascinating reading, though a bit hard on the eyes at times.


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