Once I had the tip from my mother that my great-grandfather may have served in the Boer War, I went hunting for any records. Sadly, I found no record of him in any of the records at either the National Archives or the War Memorial. There were, however, other items at the Memorial that related to other Dowsetts, a handful from both of the World Wars. It didn’t surprise me that there were others, but there were two Dowsetts that both saw active service at Gallipoli so I kept looking around. There was an Arthur (Jack) Dowsett from a relative’s Ancestry tree that I had seen, and now I had come up with a citation for Jack Dowsett at the Memorial and war records for a J A Dowsett at the Archives.
After sifting through the records for his enlistment details and any family information, comparing data from a few public Ancestry trees to verify home address, parents, birth date and correct first name, it became clear. Jack Arthur Dowsett, born December 15, 1895 in Paddington NSW, was my great-grand uncle – the brother of Frederick, whom my mother thought may have been a Boer veteran. I was amazed – Jack had not only enlisted with the legendary Light Horse, he had been at that most infamous of Australian battlegrounds – Gallipoli. A whole new vista of research into the Great War era had opened up, right at the time the nation was preparing to commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli landings.
When it came to Gallipoli and World War I in general, I had to admit a naive kind of ignorance. Sure, like many, I had read many books and seen many films about World War II – almost to the point of over-saturation. It was an incredibly fast-paced, dynamic, complex and truly global conflict with no end of military and geopolitical angles to consider. At the time, though, I simplistically viewed World War I as somewhat quaint – not in terms of human loss, of course – in terms of war and military hardware. I could not have been more wrong.
Reading the accounts of the 7th Light Horse in Gallipoli and beyond into Sinai and Palestine also coincided with receiving Anzac Treasures – ‘The Gallipoli Collection of the Australian War Memorial as a Christmas gift from my beautiful wife. An incredible tome, this book not only photographically displays the Memorial’s Gallipoli Collection but takes the reader on a narrative journey through the time the Australians spent dug-in on that far away peninsula. As one would expect, the gripping and harrowing stories I was now getting into from this war completely changed my view of it. No longer seeming quaint, it was now revealed as an epic grind of complex warring alliances giving rise to a modern, rapidly mechanizing type of battle pitching men, metal, gunpowder and chemicals at each other.