History of Kirkby Group logo

The Fallen of Kirkby

Richard Townson

  • Nephew of Mrs M. Springham, 50 Dersingham Avenue, Manor Park. Living at Marshside, Kirkby, with his grandfather, Edward Townson, and working on the Furness Railway as a clerk at Foxfield Station.
  • Private, 9107, 8th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders; transferred to 72183, 44th Company, Machine Gun Corps.
  • Killed in Action, 2nd August 1917, near Ypres, aged 21.
  • Commemorated on Panel 56 of the Menin Gate, Ypres, and on Furness Railway War Memorial in the booking hall of Barrow station.
  • In August 1918 Townson was included in the memorial service in St Cuthbert’s Church for Isaac Knight and John Shepherd.

 Richard was born and resided in Kirkby, but enlisted in Whitehaven. He was transferred to 72183, Private, 44th Company, Machine Gun Corps, (Infantry). Military expert Andy Moss thinks Richard Townson may well have been one of the very first to volunteer from Kirkby.

Transfers mid-war

In the First War it was fairly common for men to be transferred across regimental boundaries, especially as they were just returning from leave. If there had been an attack with heavy losses, attempts were typically made to balance the forces by taking men from a different regiment or company. But the Machine Gun Corps was a little different: it was formed as a corps to provide trained machine gun operators, and it gradually morphed into the Tank Corps, and then the Royal Tank Regiment.

The family

Richard’s mother (née Rigg) was deceased by 1911. Richard’s father, Edward Townson, was recorded as ‘family head’ and ‘a widower’ in the censuses of 1901 and 1911, and he didn’t die until November 1915. Other branches of the family lived at Well House (another William) and Friars’ Ground. “Our” Edward lived at 8 Long Row; another of the same name emigrated to America in 1906 and came back again in 1908.

Almost all male members of the Townson family worked in the quarry in some capacity or other: except for his cousin Henry Townson, who was also a clerk. Richard was very unusual in getting a job on the railway. Most of the female members of the family were in domestic service of some sort.

Another common factor, true of both males and females, is that none of the family members appears to have a gravestone, though many of them are buried in the churchyard.

The Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing stands astride the road from Ypres to Menin, on the east side of town, and is massive: it needed to be, to accommodate the names of more than 54,000 officers and men of the British Army who died in the First World War, and who have no known grave. This number is large enough, but it is even more amazing (and tragic) to remember that there are another three memorials to men who died in the Ypres area.

To show their gratitude, the surviving Belgian citizens commissioned the gate to be built, the names inscribed, and at 8pm every night the Last Post is still played by local brass musicians to honour those who gave their lives in two World Wars. The only break in this tradition was when Belgium was occupied by Germany in the Second World War.

Large numbers of visitors still attend the ceremony every night, and anyone can lay a poppy wreath at the appropriate point in the evening (eight o’clock).

Scroll to Top