Thursday, 5 July 2012

The British Army and Private William Cawson

It is too simple to just state the fact that the men of Goole served in the Royal Navy, Army, Air Force and Mercantile services.
Prior to the outbreak of hostilities there were a number of men from Goole who had or were currently in the Royal Navy or the Army, with those who had seen service being on the ‘Reserve List’. Some of those on the ‘Army Reserve’ had seen action as far away as South Africa and India, with others having been posted to Hong Kong and Singapore.
Once their service was over they were placed on the ‘reserve’ for seven years, during which time they were liable to be recalled to the Colours should the nation be placed in a ‘national emergency’. To keep their skills, marksmanship, field-craft, etc. current they were required to attend the camp to which their former Regiment was based – Strensall (York and Lancaster Regiment); Pontefract (King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry), being two examples.
The men of Goole who were already in the Army were part of what came to be called ‘the contemptible little Army’, a phrase which seems to stem from a quote taken from Kaiser Wilhelm II. The organisation of the British Army at that time, based purely on a voluntary basis, meant that its numbers were small compared to other European armies which used conscription; this was however miss-leading as these armies were based on a service of two or three years, whereas the British soldier could stay for a time as short as three, or as many as twenty-plus years, this being determined in some cases by the rank attained.
The British Army may have been small, but it certainly had ‘teeth’. This was in the form of the Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifle, the SMLE Mk. II being introduced in 1907, later replaced by the Mk. III in 1915 – as it was cheaper to manufacture in larger numbers. When the German Army advanced through Belgium and first came in to contact with this rifle and the men behind it, they thought that they were encountering machine-gun fire such was the amount of ‘fire’ being brought to bear and the number of casualties inflicted.
While the Army suffered heavily in the retreat from Mons to the Marne it slowed the opposing forces to such an extent that it allowed further ‘regular’ Regiments still serving at ‘home’ to be made ready. The Depots of all Regiments were awash with those men undergoing various stages of training and reservists going through the process of getting all their equipment; alongside all of this the Territorial battalions associated to their Regiments were to be fully assembled and equipped; and all had to ultimately be transported across the Channel with the stores, horses, wagons and other equipment that made a 'modern' Army..
Those men who were undergoing training in the few weeks before the War commenced, and the reservists, were to face the challenges of action sooner than most as replacements to the large number of casualties that had been inflicted in the first weeks of the War.
Included within those who were on the reserve list and who were called-up is Private 5257 William Cawson. William enlisted in the Army in October 1898 at the age of 19. He requested to join the Army Medical Corps but was posted to the York & Lancs. He was to see service in South Africa between 1899 and 1902, and was awarded the Queen’s South African Medal, with eight clasps; and the King’s South African Medal, with three clasps.
William married Ethel Beatrice Brooks in November 1903, in Dover, eventually having five children – William, Ethel Beatrice Eliza, Harold Sydney, Leslie Thomas and Robert Leonard.
Upon his discharge in October 1910, William was placed on the Army Reserve; thereafter he attended Strensall Range, in July 1911 and June 1913.
William was issued with a travel warrant on the 4th August, 1914, that allowed him to get to Pontefract. He was to serve at 'home' initially and it wasn't until 30th April, 1915, that William was posted to France. Less than two weeks later on 11th May William was wounded in the right arm and shoulder, seriously enough for him to be brought back to England. He died due to his wounds in hospital at Newcastle four days after being wounded. He was buried on Friday 20th May in Goole Cemetery.

At the time of his ‘call-up’ in August 1914 the family were living at 7, Capstan Street. Sometime between the date of his death and the following November, Ethel had moved with the children back to Dover.


  1. Hi Chris, I am enjoying reading about the Goole men who fought in the First World War. I can add just a little more for you about William Cawson.

    William Cawson was the son of William Cawson originally from Salford and his wife Elizabeth Masters Cawson from London.

    His elder brother Robert Cawson, also known as Bob Masters was killed in a crane accident in 1898.

    Ethel Beatrice Cawson nee Brooks, William's widow, in 1915 lived at 3 Caxton Road, Garlinge.

    She and her children later moved to Margate and, in 1936, ran a shop as a 'Wardrobe Dealer' at 33 King Street, Margate. She had five children, William, Ethel, Lesley, Rob and John.

  2. Hi. Ethel Beatrice Cawson was my Grandmother, my father being her son, John. I would be very interested to find out if there are any family members still living in the Goole area, please?


We welcome any comments about the work being undertaken by this Group. If you feel that you can add anything about any of the 'Street Shrines', or have information relating to the men named on Goole Cenotaph, then do please get in touch.