In search of Wesley Dobson
(From the Alston Moor Newsletter No.87, Winter 2013/14)
In the archives of Alston Moor there’s an envelope of photographs marked ‘People in Uniform - Mostly Unidentified’. One of the photos is a studio portrait of soldier from the First World War. Now then, the fact that the photo is here on Alston Moor implies that this man had a connection with the area, but what was it?
Written on the back of the card is “Yours sincerely Wesley Dobson, E Coy 3rd Cant Regt, Sling Camp, Bulford, Wiltshire.” This is where research on the internet is very helpful. Sling Camp, we find, was a training camp for New Zealand troops. Aha! He was a New Zealander, but was he born a New Zealander or was he an Englishman who had emigrated there?
‘Wesley Dobson’ is an unusual name, so if he was English he should be easy to find on the census returns. Sure enough, in the census of 1901 the only Wesley Dobson in the country was 8 years old, living with his family at West Ashgill near Tynehead. His father, Alfred Edwin Dobson, was a 35 year-old lead miner and Wesley was attending Tynehead school. Ten years later, in 1911, the family were living at Hill House, Tynehead. Wesley’s father had become a farmer, and Wesley was 18 and working on the farm along with his younger brother Edwin, while his younger brothers, James Herbert and William Arthur were at school. Their mother Margaret was, of course, a housewife.
The next question is, ‘Is this Wesley the New Zealander Wesley Dobson as in the photo?’ If he is, then did Wesley emigrate some time between 1911 and 1914 by himself, or did the whole family go? Now to look at the passenger lists of people sailing to New Zealand, and there in 1912 is Wesley’s father, Alfred. He left Plymouth without the family to go to Wellington in New Zealand, then in 1913 the rest of the family followed, setting off from London for Wellington, and on to their new home at Cave, Timaru, near Otago in South Island. Quite a change from Tynehead.
The family hardly had time to settle in when the Great War broke out and Wesley enlisted in the New Zealand army. The record of his enlistment shows that he was Private No. 29157, formerly a labourer, next of kin A.E. Dobson (father), Cave, Timaru. Wesley became a member of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, 18th Reinforcements, Canterbury Infantry Battalion, ‘C’ Company, and on 11th October 1916 he set sail from Wellington on the ‘Tofua’, bound for Plymouth. Back in England, as we’ve seen, he was stationed at Sling Camp in Wiltshire for New Zealand troops where the 3rd Battalion Canterbury Regiment was part of the 4th Infantry Brigade, New Zealand Division. From Sling Camp he sent his photo to his relatives or friends on Alston Moor.
Wesley earned three ‘Overseas Service’ stripes, shown on his right forearm and he also has a vertical ‘wound stripe’ on his left forearm. But the burning question is – was he killed in action, like so many of his compatriots, or did he live?
There is a war memorial at Cave where Wesley and his family lived. The name of Wesley Dobson is on it, he’s in the list of those who offered their lives by serving overseas, and that’s the difference, he’s not among those men who gave their lives. In other words, Wesley Dobson survived the war.