535 Sapper Steven Downs WIA
19th Infantry Battalion,
8th Field Company Engineers,
1st Australian Imperial Force
This file last updated 26 September, 2023 15:10
Stephen Downes, circa 1945
[Photograph Clive Mitchell-Taylor]
Details concerning the 19th Battalion taken from The Fighting Nineteenth:History of the 19th Infantry Battalion AIF 1915-1918, Wayne Mathews and David Watson, Australian Military History Publications, 2011.
Mary Ann Dobby's Carr Lodge Farm, 1989
Stephen was the youngest of three sons of William Downs, bootmaker, and his housekeeper Elizabeth Clarkson, born in RIPLEY, YORKSHIRE 16 Mar 1892. While the circumstances are uncertain - his elderly father was allegedly quite brutal - he is recorded on the 1901 Census record aged 11, as living with his widowed aunt, Mary Ann Dobby on her farm at DACRE in the WEST RIDING, about a mile and a half from the Housemans at PADSIDE GREEN and a mere 200 or so yards from another farm owned by the Houseman family.
Rosa Houseman's home at Padside Green,
1989 (Now unfortunately demolished)
There is some uncertainty about the family name - whether it was spelt Downs or Downes. William's census records over the years has both versions. This may be due to the vagaries of the various census takers, but when Stephen took passage to Australia aboard the SS OTRANTO from LONDON it was as Stephen Downs. From the time he disembarked in SYDNEY on 16 Mar 1911 he was known as Downes and he maintained this spelling during his enlistment and for the rest of his life. His death certificate (see below) gives his birth name and the name of his father as William Downes.
He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 3 Mar 1915 and was allotted to the 19th Infantry Battalion. After recovering from dysentery on LEMNOS, the AUSTRALIAN command headquarters and hospital location, he joined the unit on GALLIPOLI on 30 Aug 1915 and withdrew from there on or about 21 Dec 1915.
On withdrawal from GALLIPOLI his unit was transferred to LEMNOS, there being insufficient accommodation in EGYPT, and was transferred to the 5th Field Company Engineers as the Australian contingent to WW1 was expanded from two Divisions, one supplemented by the New Zealanders, to five all-Australian Divisions.
At the same time as new units each with a cadre of GALLIPOLI veterans were being created in EGYPT, units with the same name were being created in AUSTRALIA and then sent to EGYPT, causing more than a little confusion.
An entry on his record indicates that he was initially appointed to the 7th Company Army Service Corps but there is nothing to support the fact that the transfer actually occured, and no date of effect for the entry. Either the transfer was at one stage intended, but never took place or there was a transfer to the 7th Field Company, Engineers - an entirely different unit - and the overwriting in his record changed the 7th to the 8th Field Company.
In any event, later in EGYPT and FRANCE he served the 8th Field Company Engineers as a Sapper, and he served with that unit until badly wounded just before the Battle of Fromelles. While later documents indicate that discharge was due to gun shot wounds (GSW), the actual cause of injury was shrapnel from an artillery shell burst.
After recuperating in ENGLAND, he took his furlough at his Aunt's farm at DACRE, YORKSHIRE, and on return to LONDON was repatriated to AUSTRALIA for "Change", a scheme whereby soldiers who were wounded or shell-shocked were send home for a year and, theoretically returned to combat when recovered. I have yet to find a record where the soldier was actually returned to combat. Stephen Downes was classified as Totally and Permanently Incapacitated (TPI) and unable to continue his service. He remained in AUSTRALIA and was awarded a disability pension of £3/-/- per fortnight (later recorded in the documents supporting his application for free passage of Rosa Houseman to £-/30/- shillings (which was £1/10/- or $3.00).
His furlough was apparently quite a happy time, as Rosa Houseman travelled to AUSTRALIA by ship under free passage arrangements put in place by the government, in 1919 and they were married the next day in STOCKTON, NSW.
In the time between repatriated and Rosa arriving in AUSTRALIA he was employed in "irregular light work at Mount Kembla Colliery and his earnings average about £2/6/-" ($4.60). This was recorded in the letter approving free passage for Rosa Houseman on 3 May 1918. [The Mount Kembla Colliery was at the escarpment overlooking WOLLONGONG] The letter was also annotated with a statement that "Above applicant has also applied to Lands Dept of N.S.W. for assistance to enable him to start in bee-keeping, as per file A/18/325." which was initialled "R.G 8/5/18". The letter is registered as 3147-3149 over the date 10/5/18. The letter also gives his former unit as the 7th Field Coy, proving that the earlier military confusion with unit titles and numbering was the gift that keeps on keeping on.
He soon started a carrying business in STOCKTON, NSW and later moved to TAMWORTH with his family. In about 1929 he leased a small section of Piper & Sons' skin depot at 237 Peel Street and used it to set up a furniture selling business. About a year later, he moved to a bigger shop at 350 Peel Street, a few doors down from the now Westpac Bank. There, in addition to selling furniture, he advertised 'linos, bedding and floor coverings'.
I am grateful to the Tamworth Historical Society for this further information concerning his life in TAMWORTH. Thank you! My grandfather died before I was born and there was little or no information other than the fact that he had a furniture shop and my mother stated that it was not unusual for her to arrive home from school and find that her clothing and other possessions were stacked on the floor as her father had sold her bedroom furniture.
After World War One, Stephen never returned to England while Rosa did return to her home county and extensive family there, once with youngest daughter Roslyn who went to school there as the visit was quite lengthy.
During 1939 Stephen Downes began looking for bigger premises. He eventually moved to the building which had been vacated by Gordon Gow at 416-418 Peel Street. In 1942 ill-health prompted him to take another TAMWORTH furniture business owned by Roy Piper into partnership and Piper closed his own shop at 453-455 Peel Street to enable him to concentrate on his work with Stephen Downes. A couple of years later, further deterioration in health prompted him to sell his share to Roy Piper and retire.
Steven Downes was involved with the community as a highly successful lawn bowler, representing NSW, and as an Alderman and Deputy Mayor of TAMWORTH from 1944 to until his death on 8 Mar 1947 in TAMWORTH, of a lung abcess, stomach ulcer and carcinoma of the stomach and leg.
This record was prepared and presented by Clive Mitchell-Taylor - 18 Jun 2018 and updated 17 Dec 2022 - grandson of Stephen Downes.
Documents of Stephen Downes and Rosa Downes, née Houseman are:
Stephen Downes UK Census;
Stephen Downs Passage to Australia
WW1 Nominal Roll;
WW1 Embarkation Roll;
WW1 Service Record;
Rosa Houseman Passage to Australia
Downes/Houseman Marriage Certificate, 6 Sep 1919;
Stephen Downes Death 8 Mar 1947;
Rosa Houseman's Birth Certificate 1894; and
Rosa Downes nèe Houseman's Death Certificate 1974.
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The following information and chronological table are a summary of the entries from the service record of Stephen Downes.