Edward Dermot Ledlie Gonner was a public school educated man from a well off middle class family who enlisted 4 days after Britain entered the war, died in service as an officer in 1918 but was never awarded a medal.
We know he was actually known as Dermot as, amongst other evidence, that is how he signed his attestation on 8 August 1914 when he enlisted in the 10th (Liverpool Scottish) Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment as Private 3182.
King’s Liverpool Regiment cap badge
Dermot Gonner was born on 9 March 1893 in Sefton Park, Liverpool. He was the eldest child, and only son, of Edward Carter Kersey Gonner (1862-1922) and Annie Ledlie (1865-1952). He was followed by 3 sisters.
The Gonner surname appears to originate in Germany, but Dermot’s great grandfather, John Sebborn Gonner (1788-1858) was born in Colchester, Essex, and there is reason to believe the family had been in England well before that date. John Sebborn Gonner was a farmer in Suffolk and the family were well off, though John did not leave any money. He had separated from his wife, Elizabeth (1776-1861) several decades before his death and it is probable that her family was the original source of wealth. Dermot’s grandfather, Peter Kersey Gonner (1814-1887) was a silk mercer in London and married Elizabeth Carter (1819-1896) in 1856 in London. Elizabeth was the daughter of a Yorkshireman, Jeremiah Carter (1783-1854) who became a wool merchant in London. Up to this time most of the family were Independents by religious persuasion, Jeremiah having been brought up in the Fulneck Hall Moravian Settlement in Pudsey, however Peter and Elizabeth were married in the Church of England.
Peter and Elizabeth had only 3 children, Eric Peter Gonner (1858-1930), Ellen Elizabeth Gonner (1860-1915) and Dermot’s father Edward. Up until this generation, all sides of Dermot’s family had either been merchants of some description or farmed. His mother Ann Ledlie was the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Cork, James Crawford Ledlie (1824-1891), though it is probable that he had Scottish origins. Her mother was Jane Budd (1825-1916) from a family from Kill, Co. Waterford, Ireland.
Ellen Gonner never married and lived either near or with her brother Edward all her life. Eric and Edward moved into the professions. Edward became a Church of England clergyman, whilst Edward went to Oxford University, studied history, and then became Professor of Economic Science at Liverpool University.
Dermot attended the Leas School, Meols Drive, Hoylake in preparation for entrance to Oundle School, Northamptonshire. After leaving school he studied in the School of Architecture at Liverpool University. In 1914 he was working as a surveyor for the company of Mills & Milne.
He had been in the Officer Training Corps at Oundle and might have expected to rapidly become an officer. As he played rugby for Birkenhead Park and had represented Cheshire at the sport in 1913, he doubtless assumed that he was fit. However, once in the army, he was discovered to have varicose veins. In an effort to overcome this problem, he elected to undergo surgery, a very brave decision in view of the state of medicine at the time. However he suffered from phlebitis as a result of the operation, and on 3 April 1915 he was invalided out of the army. It was stated that one leg was now shorter than the other.
In early 1916 he had recovered sufficiently to marry Winifred Olive Twigge (1893-???) the daughter of a wealthy corn miller. They moved to The Gables, Willaston. They did not have any children.
On 23 April 1917 Dermot’s cousin, Edward Maurice Gonner was killed at Arras. He was a Temporary Captain in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and was awarded a posthumous Military Cross in the following King’s Birthday Honours List.
It was probably following this that Dermot applied to join the army again. He was now the only remaining male Gonner of his immediate family of fighting age. On 19 August 1917 he was gazetted a Lieutenant in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
Royal Warwickshire Regiment cap badge
It seems likely that he was not considered fit enough for battle and was used to train others. He contracted Spanish Flu and died at Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland on 2 July 1918 aged 25. As he had never served overseas he was not awarded any medals. He left almost £5,000 to his wife, a substantial sum at the time.
He was buried in the graveyard at Christ Church, Willaston and commemorated on the Willaston War Memorial.
Willaston War Memorial, Willaston, Wirral, Cheshire
He was one of 228 old boys of Oundle School who died in the War (out of 960 who served) and is remembered on the Oundle School Roll of Honour in the School Memorial Chapel.
He is also commemorated on the Leas School Roll of Honour (now at St Hildeburgh, Hoylake), Grange Hill War Memorial and St Andrew & St Bridget churches, all in West Kirby.
18 months after his death Winifred Olive Gonner was remarried to Norman Stewart Smith a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers.
Dermot’s father, Edward took an active role during the war on several committees and was awarded a CBE in 1918. This was followed by a KBE in 1921 when he and his wife became Sir Edward and Dame Annie Gonner.
However further tragedy had already hit the couple. On 20 December 1919 their middle daughter, Elizabeth Kathleen Gonner, died aged just 16. On 14 March 1920 their oldest daughter, Eileen Nancy Gonner, died aged 23.
Worse was to come for Annie as Sir Edward died of Spanish Flu on 24 February 1922. Their youngest daughter, Sheila Gonner, married and had 4 children, but she, too, died before her mother aged 40.
Birth: 9 Mar 1893 at Sefton Park, Liverpool, Lancashire
Death: 2 Jul 1918 at Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne; influenza
Addresses: Grocersylet, Wynnstay Road, Colwyn Bay, Denbighshire, Wales (visitor) (01); School House, New Street, Oundle (11); ‘Undercliffe’, Cholmondeley Road, West Kirby (14); ‘The Gables’, Willaston, Cheshire (18)
Units: 10th (Liverpool Scottish) Battalion, Kings Liverpool Regiment; 5th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment
Number and Ranks: 3182 Private; 2nd Lieutenant
Commemorated and Buried: Christ Church, Willaston, Cheshire (churchyard & war memorial); Grange Hill War Memorial, West Kirby; St Bridget & St Andrew churches, West Kirby, Leas School Roll of Honour; Oundle School Memorial Chapel
Sources: CWGC, SR, Census: 01, 11, PR, BR, probate; www.findagrave.com, Irish Civil Registration indices; Times Obituary; Oxford Men & their Colleges (1880-1892), UK Poll Books, Oundle School Roll of Honour