John Aubrey Down

Rank Major
Service No Unknown
Date of Death 28/11/1918
Age 32
Regiment/Service Middlesex Regiment 8th Battalion
Cemetery Golders Green Crematorium

 

John was born in East Finchley on 9th March 1887, to Henry Down (b.1852) and his wife, Josephine, nee Phillips, (1856-1902). He had three siblings: Henry Langdon (1879-1961), Loveday Elkington (1883-1954) and John (b.1887).

At the time of the 1891 Census, the family, together with a cook, general domestic and nurse, was living at 24 Hendon Lane, Finchley. John was educated as a day boy at Mill Hill School, being enrolled there from January 1899 to December 1900 and May 1901 to December 1902, during which time he won prizes for arithmetic and cross-country. At the time of the 1901 census, John was a cadet on HMS Worcester, the Thames Nautical Training Ship for officers, at Swanscombe, near Dartford, Kent. His father was a manufacturer and importer. 

On 8th April 1909, whilst employed as a gas lighting engineer, John married Jessie Woodall (b.1884), whose father was a teacher of music, at St Lawrence Jewry in the City of London. The banns of marriage were read in March at St Luke’s Finchley, as Jessie resided in the parish at 14 Mountfield Road. Interestingly, the marriage banns and register record his name as Aubrey John Down – the only instances where this form of his name is used.

On 9th February 1910 John applied for a Commission in the Territorial Army, listing his occupation as an engineer. He had served previously in 20th Middlesex Artists’ Rifle as a corporal. On 1st March 1910 John became a 2nd Lieutenant in the army reserves. In the April 1911 census, John and Jessie are recorded as living in Iver, Buckinghamshire. On 1st November 1911 John was promoted to Lieutenant and eleven months later he became a Captain in the 8th battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. In 1914 John underwent special training with a view to his joining the permanent Territorial Staff. Just prior to, or during the war, John and Jessie returned to Finchley, living at 28 Mountfield Road.

In September 1914, a second reserve battalion of the 8th Middesex Regiment was created and John was chosen to form it. Records indicate that John recruited in Uxbridge, Southall, Ealing, Hanwell and Acton and within four days a battalion was raised. On 1st February 1915 he was sent to Gibraltar and served there until he transferred to the Egyptian Expeditionary Force on 23rd August 1915. He left the Middle East on 7th May 1916 to join the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders, with which he served until 24th September 1916.

From 8th November 1916 he was a staff captain in Edinburgh with the Special Reserve Brigade and on 6th January 1917 he was appointed temporary major. At some stage thereafter he returned to the Western Front. A medical board report of 25th October 1918 states that he "arrived home on 23rd September 1918 on ordinary 14 days leave from France - got influenza on 30th September and not feeling well, went to see a Doctor in Cavendish Square who gave a certificate which the officer sent to the War Office. The certificate is not forthcoming. States that he was feeling very "done" when he came home before the 'flu." The Board concluded, 'disability due to strain of active service. Rather anaemic. Is tired out by active service and the influenza has not improved matters. Requires a rest, requires leave to be spent in this country. 100% disabled at the present time. Re-examination in one month'.

Some time after the medical board, John was admitted to the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital, Millbank, London. This hospital opened in 1905 and was located immediately to the north of where Tate Britain is. During the First World War, it became a general hospital for the army, attending to the war-wounded by munitions and cases of trench fever, frostbite, shellshock and gas gangrene. John died here at 1.30pm on 28th November 1918 of 'pneumonia following wounds received in war', just 17 days after the armistice.

After his death, Jessie, engaged in correspondence with the war office over his pension. The need for financial support may have been because John's estate was only worth £338. By February 1920 Jessie was living at 18 Delware Mansions, Maida Vale, London. There is a note in John's War Office file dated 11th July 1924 saying that 'in all probability this officer would have been appointed to the reconstructed T.A. (Territorial Army) as T.A. Adjutant at £350 a year and a D.A. QMG (Deputy Assistant Quarter Master General) at £400 a year.' This is in response to a request for clarification as regards an estimate of his position and earnings in connection with an application to the Ministry of Pensions for education grants in respect of his children - Elizabeth Loveday Durrant Down (born 17th September 1911) and John Hilary Durrant Down (born 23rd October 1915).

Jessie, lived on her own as a widow at 21 Delaware Mansions, Delaware Road, Maida Vale, London until 1923. She is recorded as living at St Mark’s Court, Abbey Road, St John’s Wood in 1932 (a mile from Delaware Mansions) and in 1937 she was still living there, along with her two children.