Tuesday, 14 June 2011

E M Neilson

Elmer Montgomerie Neilson?

As you can immediately see, E M Neilson does not fit the usual pattern.  I cannot find any record of an E M Neilson dying in WW1.  There is only one E M Neilson in Newquay in 1911 - Elmer Montgomerie Neilson - and he definitely did not die during the war.  Here is his story - see what you think.

Elmer was born in 1875 in Scotland.  His father was Mathew Montgomerie Neilson, a son of James Beaumont Neilson, the inventor of the hot blast furnace.  The family business was highly successful, exporting ship and locomotive engines worldwide, which may explain why Mathew was able to spend his life travelling.  He does not appear on a single census with his wife (Mary Isobel Katherine Brody) and family.  

By 1901 Elmer was living in Devon with his mother and listed his occupation as a watercolour painter.  A few years later, in 1907, he married an older woman, Edith Emily Lord, whose family were from Chudleigh.  Edith ran a lace school in the town.   The couple moved to East Street in Newquay where Edith once again ran the "Chudleigh Lace School".  Elmer was apparently an art expert and dealer.

There is no record of Elmer's war service, although the medal rolls show that he applied for a medal of some sort - the outcome of his request is not clear.  He and Edith moved back to Chudleigh, certainly by the early 1920s.  Elmer was involved in an archaeological expedition to Egypt and later donated one of his finds, a mask, to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter.  A footnote states that his wife died in 1938 and that his only son, Somerville, was killed in action in 1917.

Elmer died in 1958 in Devon.

So how is his name on the Newquay War Memorial?  I wondered if it might be a confusion with his son - until I found that he did not have a son.  Somerville Montgomerie Neilson was his youngest brother - he is commemorated in the parish church at Chudleigh and on the Arras Memorial (he was a Second Lieutenant in the Devonshire Regiment).  Perhaps Elmer was for some reason embarrassed by his war record and chose to disappear from Newquay, leaving behind the impression that he had died whilst abroad.  I doubt that we shall ever really know.

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