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Biography - William Alfred DIXON

Background & Family

William Alfred DIXON was born 19 Mar 1881, probably at Mill Lane, Dover, Kent. His parents were William Alfred DIXON snr. (a bricklayer), and his wife Esther (nee BETTS). They had married 23 October 1880 at the Register Office in Dover, and William Alfred was the first of their thirteen children; [One son died in infancy]. The family lived at Mill Lane, Dover in 1881, at 53 Odo Road, Dover in 1891, and at 5 St Andrews Terrace, Dover in 1901.

Details of William's early life and schooling are not known at this time, but we do know that he was apprenticed to Mr. I.W. BROMLEY of Dover, (a Carpenter), for five years, completing his term in November 1902. (An Army Trade Assessment carried out at Woolwich on 15 June 1906 showed him to be a “good skilled carpenter”).

On 11 September 1903 William married Ellen Mary BURKE at St Paul's Catholic Church, Maison Dieu Road, Dover. She was the daughter of Claude Connell BURKE and his wife Alice Matilda (nee BEAUMONT). Claude was a Paper Mill Worker who had previously served as a Sergeant in the Royal Marine Light Infantry and had completed at least eighteen years service with the corps. Claude and Alice lived at 5 Leslie Cottages, Buckland, Dover.

It seems that William Alfred converted to the Catholic faith in order to marry Ellen Mary, his parents and siblings having all been christened into the Church of England. William Alfred's service records all show his religious denomination as “RC”.

William and Ellen had one child, Agnes DIXON, born 28 February 1905, and baptised 1 Mar 1905 at St Paul's Catholic Church, Dover.

Military Service

William Alfred DIXON enlisted in the Army at Woolwich 21 June 1906 as Private 7350, Suffolk Regiment; (he enlisted for 12 years, being 9 years with the Colours and 3 years Reserve List). He joined his unit (1st Btn. Suffolk Regiment) at Bury St Edmunds 23 June 1906, and was posted to duties at depot.

A list of the dates of his postings and promotions is shown below:

24 June 1906                  Posted to Home Depot

28 September 1906         Posted to Home Duties

29 May 1907                  Appointed Lance Corporal

20 November 1907         Posted to Malta – Lance Corporal 1st Btn.Suffolk Regt.

21 June 1908                  Awarded 1st Good Conduct Badge

22 August 1910              Promoted to Corporal

25 January 1911             Posted to Egypt - Corporal 1st Btn.Suffolk Regt.

1 December 1912           Appointed unpaid Lance Sergeant

11 February 1913           Awarded 1st Class Certificate

20 December 1913         Promoted to Sergeant

28 February 1914           Extended his service to complete 12 years with the Colours

5 August 1914                Posted to UK – Attached 8th Btn.Suffolk Regt.

27 October 1914            Reposted to 1st Btn.Suffolk Regt. - Sergeant

16 January 1915             Posted to France – Active service with France Expeditionary Force

25 March 1915               Promoted to Colour Sergeant

31 March 1915               Appointed acting Company Quarter Master Sergeant

9 June 1915                    Appointed acting Company Sergeant Major

June 1915                       Wounded in Action (gunshot wound in the right shoulder)

25 June 1915                  Posted to UK for recovery from wound

29 July 1915                   Posted to 3rd Btn. Suffolk Regt. - Acting Company Sergeant Major

1 March 1916                 Extended his service to complete 21 years Army Service

8 April 1916                   Received his Commission to be Second Lieutenant 3rd Btn. Suffolk Regt.

25 April 1916                 Joined his Battalion at Salonika, Greece

8 October 1917              Promoted to Lieutenant – (Gazette 7 Feb 1918)

3 June 1918                    Awarded the Military Cross for “distinguished conduct in the field”

8 August 1918                Posted to UK for Leave.

29 October 1918            Joined G.H.Q. Small Arms School as “Student”

21 November 1918         Posted as Lewis Gun Officer to 84th Punjabi Regt. serving in Russia

25 October 1919            Departed from Chanak, Dardenelles aboard HMT “Trent” for return to UK

11 November 1919         Confirmed by Officer I/C Infantry, Constantinople as removed from the active service list.

Ambush & Death

[The following has been pieced together from a variety of sources including British Army Records, and IRA memoirs, and I have tried merely to state the facts as I see them].

At some stage following William Alfred's return to UK he was seconded to 1st Btn. Essex Regiment, and by 20th October 1920 he was stationed at Bandon Garrison, Co. Cork, Ireland, having just returned from 10 days home leave in Dover. His rank at this time was Lieutenant (Acting Captain).

On Friday 22nd October 1920 he was the officer in charge of a detachment of at least fourteen men from the Essex Regiment which left Bandon Garrison at 09.30hrs in two Crossley Army Lorries, bound for Cork. After travelling for about 30 minutes they had reached a place called Toureen (Tureen), halfway between the villages of Innishannon and Ballinhassig, where they were ambushed by men from the West Cork No. 3 Brigade, IRA, (about 40 in number), led by brigade O/C Charlie Hurley, with sections led by Liam Deasy and Tom Barry, who fired on them from both sides of the road. The first lorry seems to have escaped, but the second, (in which Captain Dixon was travelling), was stopped, and he descended from the lorry ordering his men to return the fire. As he did so he was wounded in the right shoulder. The gunfight continued for about twenty minutes during which time William was hit again, this time near the left nostril. This wound was immediately fatal.

The outcome of this ambush varies according to which account one reads, and I do not propose to favour either position in my analysis. [In times of conflict the first casualty is invariably “Truth”]. On Balance it seems that four, (possibly five), of the British Army soldiers, (including Captain Dixon), were dead and another four were wounded. A further six (including a Sergeant), were captured by the IRA but were released unharmed after being warned in no uncertain terms as to their future conduct with regard to their dealings with the Irish population.

The exact details vary, but it seems that the IRA relieved the Army detachment of all their guns and ammunition, including Captain Dixon's revolver. The lorry was then burned using petrol, the dead having first been pulled clear.

After the IRA men had left the scene a British Army relieving party retrieved the bodies of the dead to Bandon, and the wounded were taken by ambulance to Cork.

Military Court of Inquiry (In lieu of Inquest)

The court to establish the circumstances surrounding Captain Dixon's death was assembled 23 October 1920 at Victoria Barracks, Cork, Ireland, at the behest of Brigadier General H.W. Higginson, CB, DSO, Commanding Cork Garrison & 17th Infantry Brigade. The President was Major C.S. Reid, DSO, Royal Engineers, assisted by Lieutenant A.C.O. Greenwood, 2nd South Staffordshire Regiment, and Second Lieutenant C.R.P. Curtis Nuthall, 2nd Hampshire Regiment.

Evidence was given by Private 5998496 Albert James Taylor, and by Private 5998638 Richard Alfred Briggs, both of the 1st Btn. Essex Regiment, both of whom had been involved in the ambush. The two accounts are remarkably similar in structure and content, with no reference being made to the capture and subsequent release of British soldiers, the scale of the arms and ammunition taken, or to the burning of the lorry. My impression is that the record of the evidence given by these two Privates was the bare minimum required to enable the Court to reach its findings.

Evidence was next given by Doctor William Ormerod Welply, Civil Practitioner, Acting Medical Officer I/C Troops, Bandon. He examined Captain Dixon's body at the scene of the ambush and noted two gunshot wounds. The first was in the right shoulder and was considered by him as most likely caused by a rifle. He then says “The other wound was in the left nostril the direction being upwards, evidently penetrating the base of the brain – I should say that the wound had been inflicted by a bullet from a revolver, and in my opinion it was fired at close range. There was no wound of exit. The cause of death was Shock & Hemorrhage”.

The fourth witness was Lieutenant R. Curzon Hope, 1st Essex Regiment, who simply confirmed the personal details of William, his widow and child.

After due deliberation the court gave the following verdict on 28th October 1920: That the deceased, Lieutenant Alfred William Dixon, [sic], MC, Suffolk Regiment, attached 1st Essex Regiment, died at a spot midway between Innishannon and Ballinhassig, at about 1000hrs on Friday 22nd October 1920, as a result of gunshot wounds inflicted at the aforementioned time and place, and that the said deceased met his death whilst in the execution of his duty, at the hands of some person or persons unknown. They further stated that “such person or persons aforesaid are guilty of WILFUL MURDER”. [Their emphasis, not mine].

Funeral – 29 October 1920

William's body was brought back to Dover for burial. His funeral service began at St Paul's Catholic Church, Dover, where he had lain in state the night before. Father Grady officiated, and the coffin, with the Union Flag draped over it, was then carried on a gun carriage to St James Cemetery, Dover. The pall bearers were from the Essex regiment, and it was a funeral with full military honours, with a band from the 2nd battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and a party from the 1st battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment firing three volleys over the grave. The Last Post was sounded. There were many mourners, including his wife and child, his sister, Mrs Hatton, and his brother, Alfred Dixon, who was musical director at the Lord Warden Hotel.


The financial cost of the funeral (£34.15s.0d) was initially met by William's widow, Ellen Mary, with the Army finally reimbursing her in full in November 1921, but only after she had argued that sixteen officers and men killed in Ireland shortly after the date of her husband's death had received a “Public Funeral”. (The gross value of William's entire estate was £104.14s.6d).

No provision was made by the Army or War Office for a gravestone, and the grave is marked with a personal memorial. His widow was buried with him in the same plot in 1965.

William was not originally commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in their Roll of Honour, but has now been recognised following representations to them. (click here)

In 1924 his widow, staying in Folkestone with the family of his brother, Ernest Dixon, himself a fatality in the Great War, requested that William's name should go on the Dover Town Memorial. This request was turned down, because, although Lieutenant Dixon had served through the Great War, and had died in service, his death was not attributable to that War.


We have received notification from the M.O.D. on 27th February 2008 that William Alfred DIXON has been accepted for a belated commemoration by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. He will have a CWGC headstone erected at his final resting place, and has now been included on the CWGC website roll of honour. My sincere thanks to Neil Clark and Kyle Tallett for their efforts in helping to achieve this recognition for him.

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[This page last updated 14 September 2009]