Corporal Arthur Cecil Rawson
Born in Whittlesey in 1888, the son of a local grocer. Arthur grew up at the family home, which was also their shop, on Almshouse Street (now Market Street). His father had been a member of the 3rd Cambs Volunteer Battalion and Arthur followed his lead and in early 1909 joined the newly formed Cambridgeshire Regiment.
Arthur joined the Whittlesey Coy and was given the number 951. He was a keen “Terrier” and attended many of the pre-war annual camps. In early 1914 he was promoted and made Corporal. At the outbreak of war he was mobilised with the rest of his Coy and they travelled to Cambridge. After a short stay in Cambridge the Battalion set off by train and travelled to Romford on Saturday 8th August.
Once the Battalion arrived at Romford it was spread out at various local schools, F Coy were given billets at the Salisbury Road Schools. Arthur, as a Corporal, was given the task of organising a guard. The war was less than a week old and it all must have been very new to men, they had just been issued ammunition and those on guard duty were told to have their rifle magazines loaded.
Rawson oversaw his section in loading their rifles and assisted several of the younger men in doing so. Maybe owing to him being over keen there was a slight misunderstanding and he ordered them to have their rifles loaded with a round in the breech but keep the safety on. This was not what had been ordered, the men were meant to have the magazine loaded but not to have a round in the breech.
Their first guard duty was uneventful and the men returned for a short rest. Arthur was well aware that the following day was to be a long and busy one so was keen for his men to get some sleep. He took it upon himself to personally check and unload some of the men’s rifles when they came off guard.
A young Whittlesey Private named Davis was one of those whose rifle Arthur had unloaded. After Arthur handed him back his rifle he settled down to sleep. His rifle was beside him and was now believed to be unloaded. Tragically though a round had been left loaded in the breech. As Davis moved part of his greatcoat caught in the trigger of his rifle and there was a gunshot.
The shot caused great confusion and panic amongst the men and Davis initially believed it had come from outside. Arthur called out that he had been shot and the men tried their best to stop the bleeding. The wound was very severe; the bullet had hit him in the calf and travelled up his leg and out of his thigh. The Royal Army Medical Corps officer attached to the Cambs was fetched and after he stopped the bleeding he took Arthur to the nearby Cottage Hospital.
Arthur’s leg was so badly damaged that they were left with no other option but to amputate it. Despite this, the loss of blood and shock had been too much and Arthur sadly died an hour after the operation in the early hours of 9th August.
A full inquiry was called and many of the men and officers who had been present were called as witnesses. The jury found it to have been and “Accidental death” and no parties were to blame. During the inquiry one of the witnesses stated he saw Arthur unloading Davis’s rifle, but stated that he had done so by “unloading with the bolt”. This would possibly suggest that Arthur might have miscounted the rounds as he cycled the bolt and ejected the rounds. In doing so he left the last round in the breech and the rifle cocked.
Several days after the terrible accident that claimed his life, Arthur’s body was taken to the nearby railway, under escort by officers and men from F Coy. There it was loaded onto a train and two large wreaths were placed on the coffin, one from the F Coy officers and one from the NCO’s and men of F Coy. After the coffin arrived at Whittlesey it was taken through the town and many locals lined the streets to pay their respects. He was later buried in the local cemetery.
Cpl Rawson was the first man of the Cambs Regiment to be killed in the First World War, he was the unfortunate victim in a terrible accident. His death came as a shock and had a lasting effect on the men especially to those of the Whittlesey Coy. Arthur had been a longstanding member of the Coy and he was a popular NCO and well known around Whittlesey.
Pte Davis went on to be one of the Coy Stretcher Bearers when the Battalion went overseas. He was badly wounded in the leg while trying heroically to recover a wounded comrade in early May 1915. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions, but despite numerous operations the wound to his leg was so severe that it had to be amputated. More info on Alf and how he won his DCM can be found on the Fosse Wood page by clicking here.
Rawson at the 1909 annual camp.
The funeral procession in Whittlesey.
This site went live on the 14th February 2015 to mark 100 years since the 1/1st Cambs went off to war.
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM
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