Remembering great-granddad’s WW1 service, 100 years after he enlisted

This week has seen many events commemorating the 100th anniversary of Britain joining World War One. My great-granddad John Dodds served during the war, as did my husband’s great-granddad Edwin Dawe. I thought I’d blog about John’s army service 100 years almost to the day after he enlisted.

This is just one man’s story, obviously of interest to his descendants, but it may not seem important in the wider scale of things. But I think it’s important that we remember what happened to people like John, including those who made it back from the war alive. Those who returned were fortunate, yes, but they would be forever changed, though often unable to speak, bottling it up inside.

John was born at Abbey Gate in Melrose in 1877, the son of a brewery worker who was also colour-sergeant in the local volunteer detachment. So there was a strong army tradition in his family. John married Margaret Hall in 1905, and soon the couple had three young sons, including my grandfather. The family moved around a little, but by 1914 were settled at St Cuthberts Cottage down near the Abbey, and John worked as a plumber. He was also church officer, or beadle, for Melrose parish church.

Photo of John Dodds and Margaret HallBritain declared war against Germany on 4th August. John enlisted just four days later, long before universal conscription. Like many people he probably hoped the war would be over soon. He enlisted at Galashiels on 8th August 1914, joining the 4th Battalion of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. His regimental number was 23314 and he was just under 36 years old. His enlistment papers reveal that he, like his father, had been active in the Volunteer Border Rifles. And it records his physical description: 5 feet 7 inches tall, weight 166 lbs, chest girth 38 inches fully expanded, of fair complexion, with blue eyes, and dark hair. He also had to give details on enlisting of his wife, including when and where they married, and the names and birth dates of his children.

Military histories of the 4th Battalion KOSB reveal that they sailed for Gallipoli in May 1915. On 12th July 1915 they sustained their heaviest losses, with over 500 casualties, over half their original number, and over half of the 500 casualties killed. For more about the scale of the losses, and the action leading to them, see W. Sorley Brown’s War Record of 4th Bn. King’s Own Scottish Borderers and Lothians and Border Horse which was published in 1920 and contains a vivid account of the KOSB experiences. I’ve been told that John Dodds had a commemorative plaque in his house in Melrose remembering the KOSB losses on this day. I don’t know if it is still in the family anywhere.

KOSB survivors would be redeployed in later years on the Western Front, where more of them would die. John was lucky to avoid this, being invalided back to the UK because of severe dysentery – a common condition for soldiers to pick up in Gallipoli. In December 1916 he was transferred to the 7th Royal Scots at Chelmsford, and then transferred again on 17th February 1918 to the Royal Army Medical Corps at Blackpool. He was granted leave to return home to Melrose twice, in summer 1917, the second time just after his mother had died. He would never return to active fighting duty.

As an invalided soldier John ran the risk of being perceived as a man avoiding fighting. So he was awarded the Silver War Badge, given to invalided soldiers to wear to show what had happened to them. He was also awarded the 1914-15 Star Medal, the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal. I don’t know if anyone in the family still has these.

Sadly John’s return was marked with sadness. His mother had died in summer 1917, and in November 1919 his wife died too, just seven months after John was finally discharged from the army, leaving three young children, who John’s sister May helped to raise. John only saw active service for a relatively short term, but he saw his fellow soldiers from the Borders be massacred in vast numbers. It must have traumatised him for life.

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About vivdunstan

Academic historian, genealogist, former computer scientist, and Doctor Who fan.
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3 Responses to Remembering great-granddad’s WW1 service, 100 years after he enlisted

  1. Alistair McEwen says:

    Dear Viv,

    I am the Project Coordinator of the Scotland Project, details of which are below. We are in the process of uploading material. One of the sections within the Project is ‘Borders’ War’.

    I would like to include the text describing John Dodds and would be grateful for your permission to do so. We can be emailed at scotwar.ed.ac.uk

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Alistair

    Since 2008, the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for the Study of Modern Conflict has been working with Edinburgh, Leith and the Lothians’ libraries, schools and community groups to ensure that the story of Scotland’s contribution to the Great War is not forgotten. Furthermore, the partnership was strengthened when The Scottish Military Research Group became a partner in 2010, History Fest in 2011, and the National Library of Scotland in 2013. Scotland’s War was launched on 28 June 2013. On 7 July 2013, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) joined as a partner. A number of other organisations have made initial contact indicating a wish to work with us and The Scotsman has recently become a partner. From our joint efforts over the past few years, it has become all too obvious that the history of this nation at war remains largely untold, particularly the civilian efforts on the Home Front.

    From the earliest days of the project, public engagement has been central to its success. We now have a very active programme working with libraries, carrying out WW1 archival and document searches, and the public and institutions have submitted family or institutional papers for inclusion in the WW1 public engagement initiative. Many of them can now be found on the new website (www.edinburghs-war.ed.ac.uk). We have strict guidelines and an ethical policy on the submission and use of documents, photographs, artefacts and memorabilia.

    In October 2012, in collaboration with our partners, Edinburgh City Libraries, we launched The WW1 History Hub which is supporting people to tell family stories about their contribution to the Great War. The WW1 History Hub initiative is a first in the UK and is a product of years of work between Edinburgh City Libraries and the University of Edinburgh.

    We have a unique opportunity to allow the present generation of Scots to trace the footsteps of their ancestors in order to tell the whole story of Scotland’s people, their service, and their sacrifice in the Great War and to reflect on the consequences of a conflict that arguably changed our nation forever.

    At the moment Edinburgh’s War can be found at http://www.edinburghs-war.ed.ac.uk. Scotland’s war will evolve using the same template.

  2. treeklimber says:

    I enjoyed reading your grandfather’s story and the commentary in genealogy bloggers about your background. I look forward to exploring more of your writing and various blogs. I am still a beginner at blogging and found your suggestions helpful and encouraging.
    Kendra Schmidt

  3. Meg says:

    Hi there,

    I’m writing from The Wolfsonian, an art and design museum located in Miami Beach. I came across your website’s post about your great-grandfather John Dodds and thought it might be a good fit for our Tumblr of personal histories related to the war, #GreatWarStories (you can check it out at greatwarstories.tumblr.com). I wanted to reach out to gauge your interest in participating in this social media project, either through granting us permission to to re-purpose some of the content you’ve already developed, or working with us to write a post or series of posts based on your experience gathering and reporting content for Vivsancestry.com.

    Below, I’ve included a little bit more about #GreatWarStories, to give you a better sense of the site’s focus and goals. I hope you will peruse the Tumblr and let me know your thoughts.

    Looking forward to hearing from you,
    Meg

    Inspired by our current exhibition Myth and Machine: The First World War in Visual Culture and the war’s recent centennial, #GreatWarStories is an experiment in storytelling, sharing, and curating that we hope will feature diverse voices ranging from historians, students, and museum professionals to writers, designers, and the general public. While Myth and Machine focuses on artist responses to WWI, #GreatWarStories expands this scope to the everyman—perhaps your grandparents or great-grandparents, who may have been directly involved or impacted by the war. Featuring family stories, WWI memorabilia, and genealogy research tips, #GreatWarStories is a platform for anyone who is curious to connect directly with our team of historical sleuths to unearth the forgotten impact of the “Great War” by posting family facts, anecdotes, documents, and photographs. It is our vision that #GreatWarStories will continue to evolve and take on a life of its own, beyond the run of Myth and Machine and our programming.

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