GORDON DUNBAR FERGUSON
This post was written by Victoria Doran.
This is the tale of the only man in the Book of Remembrance who is recorded as having died of shell shock. It is made especially poignant by the family’s history of many decades of service as warrant officers in the regular army throughout the Victorian era.
Book of Remembrance entry
Gordon Dunbar Ferguson was born on 10 May 1885 in Liverpool, one of 3 children of Adam Ferguson (1851-1933) and Fanny Amelia Dunbar (1856-1926) to survive childhood. He had a younger brother Malcolm Stuart (1888-1967). Older sister Mary Eugenie (1879-1888) died at the age of 8, but younger sister Agnes Lilian (1883-1954) survived to old age.
Adam Ferguson, born in Salford, was unusual in the extended family as he worked in offices all his life, initially in Manchester warehouses and later in various clerical roles for a Liverpool ship broker.
Not unexpectedly, the Fergusons originated in Scotland. Adam’s father, John Ferguson (1823-1891) was born in Scotland, probably in Lochmaben, Dumfries-shire. He was a regular soldier, probably in the 95th Foot Regiment. By 1871 the family were living in Salford and John was a pensioner i.e. an out pensioner of the Chelsea Hospital, which is how army pensions were awarded at that time. Adam’s mother, Mary (1821-???) was from Tipperary, Ireland. Probably John spent some of his army service in Ireland. Whilst in the army he served as a tailor. In Victorian times army uniforms were delivered to regiments essentially as cut out kits, and some serving soldiers in each regiment were trained tailors who sewed them up and ensured every soldier had a well fitting uniform. Such tailors were also fighting members of their regiments whenever necessary. By 1881 John Ferguson had joined the 6th Lancashire Militia and the family were living in the Military Barracks in Ashton under Lyne, Lancashire, where John was employed as a Sergeant Master Tailor.
Adam’s brother John Ferguson (1854-1930) started as a tailor before serving in the 36th Foot Regiment, where he specialised in engineering and rose to the rank of Sergeant Major. After retiring in his 40s he became clerk to a solicitor specialising in engineering. All his sons were skilled artisans, all but one involved with engineering in some form.
In 1871 another Chelsea Pensioner, Alexander Dunbar (1819-???) was also a resident of Salford. Alexander had joined the 6th Lancashire Militia by 1861 and held the rank of Sergeant Major. He was from Girthon parish, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland. The main town in the parish is Gatehouse of Fleet. It was doubtless from this military connection that Adam met Fanny Amelia who was one of the 7 children of Alexander Dunbar and his wife Mary Ann (1822-???). Mary Ann was born in Chatham, Kent a likely place for Alexander to have served at some stage. Their children were born in places ranging from Ireland to Ceylon as well as England, so they were a well travelled family.
Adam and Fanny were married on 16 October 1875 at Stowell Memorial Church, Salford. By 1881 they had moved to Liverpool.
John Ferguson senior died on 29 March 1891 in Ashton under Lyne. For the census the following week the whole family were scattered. Fanny was in Ashton under Lyne supporting her mother in law, whilst Gordon was sent to his oldest maternal aunt Matilda (Dunbar) MacMahon (1841-???) who, with her husband Thomas, managed the Public Baths in Balliol Road, Bootle. This was doubtless very exciting for 6 year old Gordon.
When Gordon left school he initially became a mercantile clerk, like his father, but his childhood must have been filled with military reminiscences. At some stage he joined the ‘Denbighshire Regiment’ and served for 5 years. This was probably the Denbighshire Hussars, a Militia Regiment.
This also explains how he met his wife Eunice Mary Owen (1886-1947) as she originally came from Henllan a short distance from Denbigh. Her father William Henry Owen (1859-1898) worked as a cashier for a solicitor, but Eunice was only 11 years old when he died, and her mother, Miriam (1850-1904) took her two daughters to live with their grandfather, Richard Fox (1819-1911). Richard had been a grocer and a poor rate collector. After Miriam’s death, Richard moved to Hoylake with his spinster daughter Phoebe Harriet (1851-1926) and son John Herbert (1863-???), doubtless so John could work in Liverpool as a cotton broker. Probably Eunice moved with them as she married Gordon on 2 September 1908 at St Hildeburgh, Hoylake.
By this time Gordon was an engineer. It is known that later he worked on marine engines. Gordon has not been found on the 1911 census, so possibly he went to sea at times.
Their son Ronald Bruce Dunbar Ferguson (1910-1991) was born on 29 January 1910, followed by twin daughters Adela (1912-??) and Eunice (1912-2003) born on 7 December 1912.
On 29 July 1915 Gordon travelled to Woolwich, London and enlisted in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. He was immediately promoted to Staff Sergeant, so he must have been a sergeant when he left the Denbighshires.
Royal Army Ordnance Corps cap badge
He then was trained at the Ordnance College at Woolwich for several months.
This certificate showed him to be a fully competent Armaments Artificer able to maintain and repair the 303 Maxim and 303 Vickers machine guns.
13 days later on 24 November 1915 he landed in France. He would have been a member of a field unit in close support to operations.
It is not known whereabouts he actually served, but on 18 September 1916 he arrived back in England incapacitated by his experiences.
On 17 March 1917 he was discharged from the army at Lord Derby Hospital, Warrington as he was no longer fit for service due to ‘general paralysis of the insane’. Quite what this meant is unclear, as he was actually able to sign his own discharge form. Modern medicine suggests paralysis must actually have some nerve damage cause rather than being a completely psychological disorder.
He was immediately transferred to Upton Asylum at Upton by Chester.
Although Eunice and the children remained throughout at 17 Proctor Road, Hoylake, at some stage Gordon was moved to Crichton Royal Institution just outside Dumfries. This was a very large, very high standard Mental Hospital established in 1838, occupying over 1000 acres. Gordon’s parents moved to Glencaple, Caerlaverock a few miles away, apparently to be near him.
He died on Christmas Eve 1920 after suffering general paralysis for 3 and a half years. His mother bought a grave plot in Caerlaverock churchyard, and his father stipulated that his war grave marker should have the words ”Out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise” on it. This is from the hymn ‘Nearer my God to Thee’. His is one of 5 WW1 Commonwealth War graves in the churchyard, all from late on or after the war, so probably the others were also patients at Crichton Royal Institution and suffered shell shock.
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He is also commemorated on Grange Hill War Memorial
His parents were still living at Glen Caple in 1924, but had returned to Liverpool by Fanny Amelia’s death in 1926.
His son Ronald died in Wales but his ashes were also buried at Caerlaverock. There appears to be a cemetery immediately adjacent to the church yard.
His uncle John Ferguson, aged 60, was recruited by the Manchester Regiment on 3 October 1914 as a Sergeant Major to act as instructor. He served until 18 December 1916 when his services were no longer required. He never went abroad, so received no medals for this service.
Birth: 10 May 1885 in Liverpool
Death: 24 Dec 1920 at Crichton Royal Institution, Dumfries; shell shock – general paralysis
Addresses: Public Baths, Balliol Road, Bootle (91); 20 Malta Road, Bootle (01); 17 Proctor Road, Hoyake (15)
Occupations: mercantile clerk; soldier; marine engineer
Unit: Royal Army Ordnance Corps
Number and Rank: 1026, Staff Sergeant
Medals: 15 Star, Victory & British War
Buries & Commemorated: Caerlaverock Churchyard, Dumfries-shire, Scotland; Grange Hill War Memorial, West Kirby
Sources: MC, SR, Census: 91, 01, BR, PR, probate, Chelsea Hospital Pensioner Discharge & Admission records