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John Nelson 1878 - 1917

(A soldier of the Great War)


This is the story of a young man from an industrious and well to do family who left home at an early age to seek his fortune abroad.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) database records that John Nelson, Private 808529, 50th Bn (the Alberta Regiment), Canadian Infantry was killed in action at Vimy Ridge on 3rd June 1917, aged 39 years.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge, a great victory for Canadian forces, had taken place shortly before in April.

Known as Jack, he was the son of tanner John Nelson (senior) who in later life lived with his second wife at a house named 'Sherborne' in Malvern Wells, Worcestershire, England. Jack Nelson's name appears on the Malvern Wells war memorial.

Click to see photo of the Malvern Wells war memorial

We wondered why the father of a soldier in the Canadian Infantry lived in Malvern Wells, so attempted to find out a little more about the family; here is what we have discovered.


The Nelson family did not spend all their lives in one village, as for example farmers often tend to do, but moved around, made good marriages, and in some cases sought their fortune abroad.

John Nelson was born at Manchester on 25th November 1878 to tanner John Nelson (senior) and his first wife Alice Campbell Rowley, the daughter of a solicitor.

John Nelson (senior) born Manchester 1844 is recorded in the 1881 census as a leather factor employing 40 men, in the same trade as his father William who died in 1865. His grandfather had been a farmer.

John (senior) and Alice had six children, Alice Rowley, William, Winifred, Arthur Campbell, Herbert and John the youngest.

In 1883, John (senior), then living at Harefield Hall in Wilmslow, Cheshire, divorced Alice and married second at London in 1885 Mary Elizabeth Davies, daughter of a physician, by whom he had two further children - Rosamond and Wyndham.

In 1891 John Nelson and his father were living at Toft Hall in Cheshire.

By 1911 John (senior) was retired and had moved to 'Sherborne' in Malvern Wells, with his second wife, her sister, their daughter Rosamond, a companion and eight servants; his business must have been successful to afford so many staff. John Nelson (senior) died at Malvern Wells in 1925 and Mary at Hove in 1938.

Mother's second marriage

After her divorce, John's mother Alice married second at Hackney in 1886, Carl Frederick Claus (1861 - 1904) the son of a famous German born chemist Carl Friedrich Claus who invented the 'Claus' process patented in 1883 for separating sulphur from coal gas contaminated with hydrogen sulphide.

Alice had two further children by Carl who was otherwise known as Charles - Alice Campbell Claus and Carl Frederick Campbell Claus (junior). In 1891 Carl Frederick Claus (1861 - 1904) was the manager of an electrical works in Swansea; by 1901 he was living in Hammersmith and described in the census as an Electro Metallurgist.

Alice's father in law, chemist, Carl Friedrich Claus was born in Hessen Cassel, Germany about 1828. He married Mary Brown, born Yorkshire, by whom he had 5 children. We did not find them in the 1881 and 1891 England census so possibly he was travelling abroad; (his invention the Claus process was patented in the USA in 1886).

We think German chemist Carl Friedrich Claus died at 9 Gunnersbury, Middlesex on 29th August 1900 shortly after marrying, second, Caroline Barry at Hammersmith at the age of 72 years. If you can provide more information about his life please do let us know.

So it was that John Nelson, known as Jack, eventually was to have five siblings and four half siblings.

More about John Nelson

Probably John Nelson's life was influenced by his parents divorce and being a younger child, causing him to leave home at an early age to seek his fortune abroad. As mentioned above, the 1891 census had recorded John Nelson (1878 - 1917) aged 12 years living with his father and stepmother.

John's military service record, which can now be found on-line (ref 5, 6), relates that he attested at Calgary on 10th February 1916 when he had been in Canada for 4 years. His former trade is described as a labourer, but where he was between 1891 and 1912 we don't know. Possibly he had been working in the USA and, like many others, was attracted by the offer of free homestead land in Calgary.

So it was, a year later, John Nelson found himself in France where he was treated for a gunshot wound to the right shoulder in February 1917. In April he rejoined his unit. Eight weeks later on 3rd June 1917 he had not returned to base after an action, and was recorded missing.


Here is more about John's siblings, an uncle and two cousins, who led interesting lives, and seem mostly to have made good marriages.

Alice Rowley Nelson

Alice Rowley Nelson (1870 - 1950) married at Chester in 1897 stockbroker Charles Leonard Agnew.

William Nelson

William Nelson married, in 1897, Alice Caroline Wakefield the daughter of a merchant. In 1901 William was a tanner like his father living in Cheshire; the 1911 census records William and his wife living on private means in London.

(His mother's probate record describes him as late Captain HM army, but so far we have not found him in military records).

Winifred Nelson

Winifred Nelson married at Chester in 1895, physician and surgeon Robert Joseph Browne. By 1911 they had three daughters and were living in Surrey.

Arthur Campbell Nelson

John's brother Arthur Campbell Nelson of the Chestnuts, Lymm, Cheshire, Trooper 1837, South Africa Field Force, Natal Police,  was a casualty of the Second Boer war.

He died at Mahlabatini in South Africa in 1901.  He did not marry and probate was granted to Gertrude Louisa Price, who was possibly his fiancee.

Herbert Nelson

In 1906, Herbert Nelson then a Captain in HM army at Bordon Camp, East Liss, married at London Edith Francis Wright Corey, the daughter of a wealthy businessman. By 1911 they had two daughters, one of whom was born in India, and were living at Etterby House in Carlisle.

The London Gazette records that Major Herbert Nelson, Border Regiment, Distinguished Service Order (DSO), attained the rank of temporary Brigadier General.

In 1916 as a Lt Col he was commander of 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers under VIII Corps at the Battle of the Somme.

In 1917 Herbert Nelson was commander of 88th Brigade at the Battle of Cambrai, the year his youngest brother John was declared missing in action at Vimy Ridge.

His wife, Edith Frances Wright Nelson spent her last years as a pensioner at Mary Tudor Tower, Windsor Castle where she died in 1964.

Half siblings

Rosamond Constance Nelson

Rosamond Constance Nelson (born Knutsford Cheshire 1889) married at London in 1913, Frederick George Waites Pearson (1880 - 1941) and we think they had three daughters.

We know very little about Frederick George Waites Pearson, except in 1903 he was appointed 2nd Lt in the 1st Middlesex Royal Engineers (volunteers), in 1915 he was appointed 2nd Lt in the Royal Garrison Artillery, and later he became a Major in the Ministry of Munitions.

Rosamond's husband was the brother of Sir Edward Ernest Pearson JP who was twice mayor of Hertford and a member of the contracting firm S Pearson and Son Ltd. Their father George Pearson was the brother of Lord Cowdray. Their family business transformed into a multi national publishing company.

Wyndham Ivor Nelson

Wyndham, a young boy, died in Cheshire aged only 7 years.

Alice Campbell Claus

Alice Campbell Claus (1888 - 1916) married mining engineer Sydney Herbert Woolley in 1905, the year after her father's death. They had two daughters.

Carl Frederick Campbell Claus

Carl Frederick Campbell Claus or Clause (1892 - 1945) was living with his widowed mother Alice in Prestatyn, North Wales in 1911. In December 1914 he is recorded as a farmer returning from South Africa. Despite having a German grandfather he appears to have been a Lieutenant with 6th North Staffordshire Regiment, possibly a reserve unit in the UK.

In 1917 using the name Charles, probably not wanting to advertise his German antecedents, he married Gladys Farquar Ferguson, daughter of a Bank of England Employee. Later the Kenya Gazette recorded him living in East Africa where he died in 1945. He was survived by a son John Frederick Campbell Clause who died at Nairobi in 2004.

Step uncle and cousins

Wilhelm Claus

Wilhelm Claus, brother of John's step father Carl, was a manufacturing chemist like their father; he married at Manchester in 1884, Minna Sophia Broemme of Wiesbaden who was born in Russia. Her father Edward Broemme born 1822 was a Swiss engineer, who had lived in St Petersburg, and died at Wiesbaden, Germany in 1880.

Wilhelm and Minna had two children, John Nelson's 'step' cousins, Frank Harold Clause who became an advertising agent and company director, and William Lionel Clause, who became a landscape painter.

A medal card suggests at some time in the Great War Frank became a 2nd Lt in the Royal Field Artillery. In 1917 Frank married Margot Aspinall, and they had two sons Peter William Aspinall Clause and David. In 1927 Frank was listed in the London Gazette as a director of Clausewell Products Ltd which manufactured polish.

Frank's mother Minna died at Brighton in 1937, and shortly after Frank lost his wife Margot in 1939. Very sadly Frank also lost his eldest son in 1943. It must have been a terrible time for him. The CWGC and newspapers record:

Peter William Aspinall Clause, Lt 164231, Royal Corps of Signals, was killed in Italy on 13th August 1943, aged 25 years, while a prisoner of war. His name appears on the Waldron War Memorial in Sussex and he is buried in the Milan War Cemetery. In civilian life he had been a chartered accountant and his name is amongst many others who were casualties of the Second World War.

John Nelson (1878 - 1917) with whom this story started is the man named 'Jack' whose name is recorded on panel 3 of the Roll of the Fallen at Great Malvern library.

Roll of the fallen, page 3

Panel 3, Roll of the Fallen at Great Malvern library

John Nelson is also commemorated at the Vimy Memorial which remembers more than 11,000 members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force killed during the First World War in France, who have no known grave.



  1. CWGC database
  2. England and Wales Census
  3. National Probate Register
  4. London Gazette
  5. Communication from C Marvell, Toronto, April 2018
  6. Military service record of John Nelson, Private 808529, 50th Bn Canadian Infantry, National Archives of Canada

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