Three sons of Portsmouth who failed to return from Great War

HMS Invincible sunk at the Battle of Jutland, May 31, 1916. Many Portsmouth  men went down with her.
HMS Invincible sunk at the Battle of Jutland, May 31, 1916. Many Portsmouth men went down with her.
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Today I continue my look at Portsmouth families whose lives were changed forever as a result of the First World War.

One that lost several sons were the Downers who lived at 24, Purbrook Road, Fratton.

Portsmouth troops off to the Western Front await their train at the Harbour Station. I wonder how many returned?

Portsmouth troops off to the Western Front await their train at the Harbour Station. I wonder how many returned?

William and Alice Downer had four sons in the services and two were already in the Royal Navy when war broke out in August 1914.

Stoker William George Downer joined the navy as a boy seaman aged 15 in 1904.

During the war he saw action in the Dardanelles and during the evacuation of the Gallipoli peninsular.

He returned home and joined the destroyer HMS Paragon with the Dover Patrol.

On March 17, 1917, while patrolling alongside HMS Llewelyn, the two ships were attacked by eight German torpedo boats.

Paragon took several hits, blew up and sank.

William was one of the 75 sailors killed that day. He was 26.

The year after William joined the navy his younger brother by a year, Ernest, also joined the boys’ service, in 1905.

At the outbreak of hostilities his ship, HMS Invincible, was engaged on patrol duties.

Ernest took part in the battles of Heligoland Bight, Falkland Islands and Dogger Bank.

After surviving all this he died when Invincible blew up and sank at the Battle of Jutland on May 31, 1916 – 1,026 sailors went down with her including Ernest who was the same age as his brother, 26.

Another son of William and Alice also died.

Alfred Wallace Downer is believed to have raised his age to get into the army and was possibly not even 15.

He volunteered in August 1914 and joined the Hampshire Regiment.

Almost immediately he was sent to India then to Mesopotamia. He fought in the Battle of Kut where he was taken prisoner.

He was held in captivity for a time and then released and sent to hospital in Bombay. He died from meningitis on June 15, 1916, aged 17.

Another son, Frank, enlisted in 1915 serving in the Royal Field Artillery. He was not sent abroad and was still serving in the army in 1920.

Another Downer, but it is not known if he was related, was Petty Officer Ronald Ernest Downer, of 11, Folkestone Road, Copnor. While taking part in the Battle of Dogger Bank he was seriously wounded. Unable to be put ashore he was in the sick bay of the ship when she was sunk at Jutland.

How fate takes a hand: one family has three sons killed while another had three sons returned home.

The Brushwood family of 1, South Road, Buckland, Portsmouth, had three sons engaged in the conflict. Unfortunately the parents’ Christian names are not recorded.

Corporal HE Brushwood served in the RAF from 1915. He was attached to No7 Squadron on the Western Front seeing action at Loos, the Somme and Ypres. He returned home safely and was still serving in 1920.

His brother L/Cpl HTR Brushwood served with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and saw action in Macedonia, The Advance on Palestine and the capture of Jerusalem. He was demobbed in 1919.

Another brother, Officers’ Steward Thomas Brushwood joined the navy aged 18 in 1918 and was engaged in recruiting at HMS Excellent, Whale Island.

He was one of the lucky ones as the fighting was over by the time he had passed out of training. He was also still serving in 1920.

How the family must have rejoiced to see their sons come through safely after so many lost theirs.

How sad then for one family to have all their sons return home – all except one.

This is what happened to the Emis family whose one son, along with his comrades, lies in a cemetery in Belgium. I will tell of him tomorrow.