Eyes blue, Hair brown, Complexion dark
Nothing is known of Downie’s war. All that current generations of the family knew was that Downie had been killed at Fromelles.
Downie had enlisted at the age of 32 in November 1915. After training in Sydney with the 4th Battalion, he left for Egypt in March 1916, was transferred to the 56th Battalion and then left for France in June. After the battle at Fromelles on 19-20th July 1916, he was reported as missing.
Initially the family were advised that the Germans had returned his pay book and so it was thought he had been taken prisoner. Some months later they received a copy of the German Death Voucher that had been translated and passed on by the Red Cross, stating that Australian Private Downie Dodd fell in the vicinity of Fromelles. In addition, his identity disk was returned to the family via the Red Cross.
It was not until his name was found on the German Death List that it was confirmed that he had been killed at Fromelles.
The family received two letters from Downie from France. He wrote that he was disappointed that, although he had received six letters from Scotland, none had come through from Australia.
He had a friend Private Jacob Creighton 4759, who cared enough to write to the Army from his hospital bed in Fulham, respectfully asking for any news of Downie Dodd and another private, George McCann 4848. It seems that these three had enlisted at Casula, New South Wales at around the same time and served together in the 56th Battalion. Sadly, both Downie and George were killed on 20 July 1916. Jacob himself was wounded that same day and was eventually returned to Australia and discharged medically unfit in May 1917.
There were many letters from his brother Corporal James Dodd 1899, who was wounded twice in France and returned to Australia in January 1919, and also his cousin in Glasgow, Maggie Craig, seeking information about Downie.
Copies of four of these letters can be seen below.
It is strange that amongst all the killing and turmoil, a soldier from his own Battalion found Downie’s Testament six miles from where they went into battle, and returned it to the family.
THE SEARCH FOR DOWNIE
Early history books of World War 1 hardly mentioned the Battle of Fromelles, making research very difficult. This all changed in 2008 when graves were discovered at Pheasant Wood. These became known as the graves of The Lost Soldiers of Fromelles and we learnt of what the Army called the worst 24 hours of Australian history - one reason why the battle was “forgotten”.
Descendants of Downie’s brothers registered with the Army as soon as the appeal went out for anyone who thought they may be related to the soldiers found in the graves.
There was much excitement when their belief about Downie was confirmed when his name appeared on Lambis Englezos’ list of the Missing Soldiers of Fromelles. And from then on, the Army could not have been more helpful in keeping us informed each step of the way.
Sadly, although Downie was one of five brothers, the family were unable to provide suitable DNA to identify him. There are too many girls in the wrong place in the family tree to pass on the necessary DNA.
Since 2010, a wonderful Scottish lady has assisted the family with extensive research in Scotland and now two distant cousins on Downie’s mother’s side of the family have been traced.
So, we now have part of the DNA puzzle to hand but we are still seeking that final important DNA donor, despite having already gone back many generations.
The Dodd Family
Downie was born in Glasgow in 1883. In about 1912, he came to Australia with his brothers Robert, William, and James; another brother Henry, had previously emigrated to Canada and a sister had died in childhood. After checking out opportunities in Queensland they all settled in New South Wales.
Robert arranged for his wife, Alexandra and three small children along with his mother and father to join them. They arrived on the ship, Ceramic, just one month before the start of World War 1.
The family were builders and bricklayers. Robert & Alexandra built their family home in Five Dock, a suburb of Sydney and then three other houses were built nearby for other family members. There were, of course, gates between each of the houses to make for easy access and visiting.
Downie’s great niece, Sandra, is reconciled to the fact that she has investigated every possible line but to no avail.
Although the family believe Downie is now buried at Pheasant Wood Cemetery, he has no headstone and is still recorded on the panel at V.C. Corner of the Australian Memorial Cemetery – a place where 410 unknown Australian soldiers are buried and 1,299 with no known grave are commemorated. His name is also recorded on the Drummoyne War Memorial, The Berger Memorial (Concord) and the Presbyterian Church Drommoyne’s Roll of Honour.
As Sandra’s son said:
It would be nice to have the icing on the cake, but at least we now have the cake There are so many families who do not know where their soldier lies.
Letters of the Dodd Family, courtest of Sandra Pride and Jim Braid
Letter from Downie Dodd in France to his parents in Australia dated 10th July 1916:
Dear Father and Mother,
We arrived at France about the 1st July after a journey of sixty hours on the train, we disembarked and were billeted in the barns of the various farmhouses round about. We did not touch at Paris, but came through Lyons, Amiens & Boulonge but the only time we got off the train is when we stopped for meals, all rations being carried with us and water boiled for tea at the stopping places, you will understand that the journey was not made at a record pace but it was not tedious as from start to finish the country through which we passed was a very pretty one and mainly agricultural. We were shifted from out farm billets yesterday and after several hours marching, billeted afresh. But I do not think that our stay here will be a long one. It is hard to realise that only several miles fighting is going on, everything seems so peaceful about the town we are in, but the amount of mourning we see if very noticeable. I had six letter two days after settling here, all from Glasgow. One from Hannah, Maggie Gray, Nellie McGinley, Bill Norton, John Craig and Lizzie Shaw. Plus 2 parcels from the Craigs, one of them being only seven days on the road, but I was disappointed at not getting any from Australia, they seem to take a long time sorting them out. When you are writing you might just put, Number, Name, Company & Battalion. AIEF, that is all that is necessary to find me. I am keeping well & fit. Hope you are all in the best of health, with love to you all, from your affectionate son,
Letter from Downie Dodd in France to his parents in Australia. A transcript of the letter is included below as the copy is difficult to decipher in parts dated 16th July 1916:
No 4770 Pt D. Dodd 16th July 1916
Dear Father & Mother
Just a very few lines. We had our first experience of trench warfare. We were in the
front line trenches for three days and were relieved two days ago. Things were a bit quiet, they say, as evidently we were sent into that part to get our schooling. Matters were pretty lively at night with snipers and machine guns going and an occasional big gun. Several shells landed in our part of the trenches but our company came out without suffering any casualties.
There is some big movement in contemplation and we are all being held in readiness. I am keeping very fit. Hope you are all in good health at home. Remember me to Bob, Alexa and the children, with love to you all
Your affectionate son
Letter from Secretary of the Australian Red Cross to Pte J Creighton 4759 56th Battalion in response to his enquiries about the fate of Pte Downie Dodd and Pte George McCann dated 9th September 1916:
No 4759 Pte J Creighton
56th Batallion, AIF
Fulham Military Hospital
Ward 3, Hammersmith
We have received an enquiry dated September 8th about Pte Dodd and Pte McCann. We have not futher information than the Head Barrack Cable dated August 8th 1916.
4770 Pte Dodd 56th Btn and no
4848 Pte George McCann 56th Btn went missing July 20th 1916.
Should we have anything further we shall be glad to let you know
Letter from Margaret Craig in Glasgow enquiring about Private Downie Dodd dated 18th Sept 1916:
45 Finley Drive
18th Sept 1916
I take the liberty of writing to ask if you could give me any information regarding
Private Downie Dodd 4770
B Company, 56th Battalion, 14th Infantry Brigade, AIEF
Who was reported missing about the middle to the end of July, and I can assure you any news, would be greatly esteemed.
Thanking you in anticipation and apologising for troubling you,
Yours, etc, Margaret Craig
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