Life of an Engineer - the early days

Jack - Aged 14 years

Born in Adwick on Dearne on the 17th January 1903, Jack was the youngest of three sons to John Thomas Mawson and Ellen Maria, nee Reeve. The Mawsons were from farmers and sadlers around the Leeds area and the Reeves were from agricultural labourers from Suffolk who came to Yorkshire looking for work during the Industrial Revolution.


​The family lived and worked in a mining community Jack's dad, John Thomas, was a colliery blacksmith. There was a few collieries in the area and it is not know where John Thomas worked, but it was most likely to have been the big pit at Denaby Main as it was at this pit that the 13 year old Jack started work in 1916. No doubt John Thomas used his position as the colliery smith to get his lad a start, and Jack was duly set on as a rope splicer.


Jack undertook a variety of jobs within the pit before in 1926 he joined the old Sheffield Coal Company as a mechanic at Beighton Colliery


Before I proceed with Jack's career story, I need to mention the events of 1917

In1917, the family was to get a shock. Jack's eldest brother Hedley Thomas was killed on the French battlefields. Hedley was a Sapper with the Royal Engineers. He was serving somewhere around the city of Arras, the scene of some much forgotten fierce fighting around April 1917, there doesn't appear to be any major conflicts at the time Hedley died on the 28th July 1917. Hedley is buried in the at Duisans British cemetery at Etrun, pas de Calais.


Hedley originally joined up with the West Riding Division of the Royal Engineers in Sheffield, November 1915. The  WRDRE however was soon incorporated into the 526th company of the Durham Royal Engineers (1st Durham)

At this time, the Sappers, privates in the Engineers, were engaged in a variety of operations. Tunnels would be dug reaching below the German trenches and filled with explosives in order to wreak havoc with the German lines, general repairs and upgrades to the trenches, the wiring of communications and the building of observation posts (OP's). It is believed that Hedley and his squad were tasked with building an OP in Roeux Wood to the east of Blangy, a task that would take them a few days. On the 27th as the squad was finishing the OP, they were hit by shell fire from the German trenches.
Two Sappers were killed outright and Hedley and another were wounded. Hedley was taken to the 19th Casualty Clearing Station at Duisans, Etrun, to the north west of Arras, where the next day he succumbed to his injuries.
Hedley is buried at the Duisans British Cemetery in grave V.A.38. He is also remembered on the Denaby Main War Memorial Cenotaph.
I know very little else about Hedley. We have a cigarette case that was with him when he died.
A few years ago, whilst doing a bit of genealogy research, I was contacted by a Dave Leaning whose granddad was Len Mawson, my granddad's brother.
He knew nothing of the family and was intrigued that I had his granddad in my family tree. It transpired that he too lived in Chesterfield just a few hundred yards from my sister's house and being blissfully unaware of his greater family, I was able to fill him in on how I remembered my Uncle Len and Aunty Alice (his grandparents) but I never new that they had a daughter, Brenda, his mum. My uncle Len even worked with my granddad, Jack Mawson, at the NCB Bolsover Area HQ where Jack was the Area Chief Mechanisation Engineer.
Dave then produced a bronze wall plaque from a box. It was the 'Death Penny' of Hedley Thomas Mawson. Dave had no idea who he was but this had been with his mums effects when she passed.


Jack always looked up to and was admiring of his older brother and it was his wish throughout his adult life to visit the place of Hedley's burial.  Unfortunately this pre dated the computerisation of burial sites by the war graves commission so he had no way of knowing which cemetery Hedley was buried in.


In the early 2000's we managed to trace Hedley's grave and Jack's daughter and two of her own daughters, travelled to Duissans to visit it. This was done for and in the memory of Jack, who was never able to.