Private Arthur Downing, 205103, 1/7th Battalion,(Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment)
Arthur Downing was born in Gipton, Leeds in the Spring of 1891, the son of farm labourer George Laister Downing, born Adwick-Le-Street in 1859 and his wife Selina (nee Spink) who was born in Hook, Goole in 1855. The couple married on the 26th September 1880 at Brayton Parish Church, Selby. Selina Spink had already got two children: Ada Spink b. 1873 and Elizabeth T. Spink b. 1874, both in Haddlesey. Their first child was Harriet Downing b. 1881 in Knottingley; George Henry b. 1883 in Leeds; Annie b. 1885 in Leeds; Jane b. 1888 in Leeds and Arthur Downing b. 1892 in Gipton, Leeds. Sadly, Arthur's mother Selina died in early 1892 at the age of 38 years.
By 1891, the Downing family are living on Harehills Lane, Chapeltown in Leeds and George is working as a farm servant at Walker's Farm, Gipton. With them are Harriet, George, Annie and Jane Downing. After Selina Downing died on the 10th February 1892 and was buried in a "Guinea Grave" with multiple names. Her daughter Elizabeth Talford Spink, born in 1874 in Haddlesey, had taken the surname Downing of her step father. She was working as a servant in 1891 for a wealthy Leeds oil merchant and then went to live with her step-father George Downing, ostensibly to look after newly born Arthur and the other Downing children.
Elizabeth Spink married her stepfather George Downing in the Spring of 1900 in the Dewsbury Registration District soon after they moved from Leeds to Ossett. They had a large family: William b. 1895 in Gipton, Leeds; Hilda b. 1897 in Gipton, Leeds; Wilfred b. January 1899 in Gipton Leeds; Beatrice b. 1903 in Ossett; Harry and Dorothy (twins) b. 1905 in Ossett; Ada b. 1906 in Ossett and Elizabeth b. 1908 in Ossett.
In 1901 the Downing family were living in Headlands Road, Ossett and George Downing is working as a farm manager with children Jane and Arthur Downing from his marriage with Selina and William, Hilda and Wilfred born to Elizabeth Spink while they were living in Leeds. By 1911, the Downing family have moved to 80, High Street, Gawthorpe, Ossett and the family has grown with seven living children at home. George is now working as a farm labourer and Arthur Downing has left home to live in Otley where he worked as a carter.
George Laister Downing died on the 20th February 1938 while living at Spring Villa, 24 Springstone Avenue, Ossett. Elizabeth Downing pre-deceased him and died on the 10th April 1928 whilst at the same address.
On the 19th June 1915, 24-year-old Arthur Downing married 26-year-old Jean Waters Skelton at the Parish Church, Millington, near Pocklington where her father Christopher worked as a blacksmith. Jean was born in Cockpen, Midlothian in 1888 and by 1911 was working as a kitchen maid at Farnley Hall, Otley. 2 The couple had two children: John Arthur born 9th September 1915 and Marjorie Annie born 13th October 1917, both in Otley. Sadly Arthur Downing's widow Jean died in 1920, leaving two orphan children. Marjorie Downing was adopted by a Mrs Spinks who lived in Edinburgh, Scotland.
It is not known when Arthur Downing enlisted in the British Army and his service record has not survived. His marriage certificate suggests he enlisted after June 1915 and possibly as late as 1917.
The 1st/7th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment) was formed at Milnsbridge, Huddersfield in August 1914 as part of 2nd West Riding Brigade, West Riding Division. The battalion moved on mobilisation to coastal defences near Hull and Grimsby and then on the 5th November 1914 to billets in Doncaster. On the 17th April 1915, they landed at Boulogne and they concentrated in the area around Estaires. On the 15th May 1915, the formation became 147th Brigade in 49th (West Riding) Division .
Private Arthur Downing, aged 27 years, was killed in action on the 11th October 1918 during the Pursuit to the Selle, near Naves when a powerful enemy counter-attack supported by tanks pushed back the attacking brigades of the 49th Division. The tanks were turned back by Lewis Gun fire, but not before very heavy casualties were sustained, including Private Arthur Downing.
Above: German A7V tank with crew first introduced in 1918 by the German Army. They inspired a new kind of terror on the battlefield and German soldiers called it 'Panzerschreck': Tank Terror.
The War Diary for the 1st/7th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's Regiment records the action where Private Downing lost his life:
SAILLY AREA 10.10.18 - Battalion put under two hours notice to move forward on receipt of orders. Moved up by march route to ESCADOUEVRES area, arriving by about 11pm. Packs, blankets etc. were dumped at SAILLY. Battalion remained in open awaiting order to move.
11.10.18 - Operation orders received for attack. Battalion moved forward at 2am to assembly positions EAST of NAVES. Right battalion on right of Brigade on 2 Brigade front. Zero hour 9am. An advance of 1000 yards was made, the battalion passing through the Canadians who were holding the line. Towards noon the enemy counter-attacked with tanks and we withdrew 500 yards to SUNKEN ROAD where the enemy were held to the right. The battalion then battalion reserve.
12.10.18 - During the night 11th-12th the enemy withdrew and the Brigade (1/7 Bn in reserve) moved forward to line remaining approximately SW to NW. 4 and 6 battalions in front line pushed forward and took up positions W of SAULZOIR. This battalion taking up position just E of VILLERS-EN-CAUCHIES. The enemy apparently held a line along the railway E of SAULZOIR.
SAULZOIR AREA - 13.10.18 - The Brigade reinforced by the 19th Lancashire Fusiliers. This battalion remaining in close support to the left attacking battalion. A line was established just E of LA SELLE RIVER.
CASUALTIES 11th - 13th October. Killed 2/Lt A Booth, DCM; 2/Lt H. Price; 2/LT W. Swift. Other Ranks killed 56, Wounded 237, Missing Wounded 1; Missing 7 and Missing believed killed 1.
Private Arthur Downing of Cross Green, Otley, husband of Jean Downing is buried at position 1. E. 8. in the Wellington Cemetery, Rieux-En-Cambresis, France.
Rieux-en-Canbresis is a village 9 kilometres north-east of Cambrai. Wellington Cemetery is 800 metres north of the village, 50 metres from the traffic lights on the D118, Cauchy-Iwuy-Rieux-en-Canbresis road. The village was captured in October 1918, in the Pursuit to the Selle, and the cemetery was made by battalions of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment immediately after. It was then increased by the concentration of graves from a wide area, mainly South of Rieux.
Private Arthur Downing is one of more 190 Otley WW1 casualties who are honoured on the WW1 Cross now located in the WW2 Memorial Garden, Crossgates, Otley. There are no names on the memorial cross, but an inscription: "TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND IN MEMORY OF THOSE FROM/ OTLEY WHO FELL IN THE WAR 1914 - 1918"
Arthur Downing's name was quietly added to the Ossett War Memorial with little or no notice in October 2023.
1. Ancestry Family Trees for Arthur Downing.
3. War Diary of the 1/7th Battalion, (Duke of Wellington's), West Riding Regiment