Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War

Many of the service records of men serving in the Great War were lost during WW2 thereby depriving researchers of much valuable information. Just how much was potentially lost is evident in such cases as Dennis Jackson where some 80 documents have survived. They offer unique perspectives on many aspects of his military career, except the location of his unit, and sadly, the circumstances of his death.
Dennis Jackson spent only a few years of his life in Portsmouth but he was certainly there at the census of 1911 which records him living at 36 Silver Street, Southsea with his wife Beatrice and four children. Dennis had been born in Bacup, Lancashire in 1881 but nothing else is known of his early life except that he followed the trade of a (house) painter. He emerges from relative obscurity on 25th April 1901 when he enlisted in the Royal Scots at Glencourse, south of Edinburgh, which suggests that he was then living in the area.
After just two months in the regiment he was transferred to the Army Service Corps where he quickly gained promotion to Lance Corporal (on 1st November 1902). He was temporarily deprived of this rank on 28th July 1903 for being absent without leave for 48 hours. We can only speculate on the reason for his absence but it seems likely he had travelled to Crosby, north of Liverpool, to see his pregnant girlfriend Beatrice Orme Roberts who gave birth to a daughter, Florence, on 3rd February 1904.
His rank was restored a few months later as he was reported to be "hardworking and trustworthy", and later as "likely to become NCO", characteristics which were exemplified when he married Beatrice at Lancaster on 13th September 1905. Army duties may have kept the couple apart for much of the following year but by late 1906 they were together in Portsmouth where their second child George was born on the 3rd November. Two more children followed before the 1911 census found them at Silver Street. They were Norman and Frederick born on 1st March 1908 and 3rd June 1910 respectively.
A second blot on Dennis's record came in July 1911 when he was cautioned for being "drunk in charge of a couple of horses", but again it didn't seem to affect his standing. Nevertheless after ten years service he opted to transfer to the reserve (Section B) and in March 1913 to Section D. He was mobilised at Aldershot on 5th August 1914, the day after the declaration of war, and embarked for France on 17th August. He was posted to the Field Ambulance section of the British Expeditionary Force on the 5th August 1915, then to the Depot at Le Havres on 21st December and lastly by a return to England on Special Duties with the New Armies.
Meanwhile at home Beatrice gave birth to three more children, Lawrence on 23rd November 1912, Gladys on 14th July 1914 and William on 22nd May 1917. At some point she also moved with her seven children to Baker Street, Landport though it's not clear whether Dennis was with her at the time. He certainly missed the birth of his youngest child as he was sent back to France in February 1917 with the 4th Light Railway Operating Company of the Royal Engineers. His rank was Sapper but his job was as a driver which could have referred to the engines used on the railways or the horse drawn supply vehicles. He was killed in action on 12th June 1917.
The loss of Dennis must have been devastating for Beatrice who soon after hearing the news took her children back to her home area of Crosby. She was eventually awarded an army widows pension of 36/3 per week, but not before the army had enquired whether Dennis had been Florence's father or had accepted responsibility for her. By early 1921 Beatrice had returned to Portsmouth where she married James Smith and set up home with him at 19 Burleigh Road, Copnor.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) lists D. Jackson, Sapper (229506), Royal Engineers, died on 12/06/1917, age 35. Buried at the Faubourg D'Amiens Cemetery, Arras, (Grave Ref: V.H.6.). Husband of B. O. Smith (formerly Jackson), of 19, Burleigh Rd., Copnor, Portsmouth.
Dennis Jackson is not commemorated on the Cenotaph in Guildhall Square but he is listed in the 'National Roll of the Great War', Section X, p318.
Tim Backhouse
February 2015