The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration ‘for valour in the face of the enemy’ awarded to British and commonwealth servicemen. It was founded by Queen Victoria in 1856 and to this day only 1,357 have been awarded worldwide. The simple words ‘For Valour’ are inscribed on it. One man so honoured lived and worked in Heaton for many years and is buried in Byker and Heaton Cemetery.
Edward Lawson was born at 87 Blandford Street, near the centre of Newcastle on 11 April 1873. His father, Thomas, is described in the 1881 census as a ‘cattle drover’.
As a young man of 17, Edward joined the Gordon Highlanders. In the 1890s the regiment was called into active service on the North-West Frontier province of what was then known as British India. On 20 October 1897, a famous battle was fought at Dargai Heights, at which 199 of the British force were killed or wounded.
24 year old Edward Lawson carried a badly injured officer, a Lieutenant Dingwall, to safety. He then returned to rescue a Private McMillan, despite being wounded twice himself. He, along with a colleague, Piper George Findlater, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery. The award was presented to him personally by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on 25 June 1898.
Piper Findlater, the other recipient, was shot in the feet but continued to play his pipes to encourage his battalion’s advance. This act of bravery was widely covered in the press back home and Piper Findlater became a very well-known public figure. On his return to Scotland, much to the consternation of the military and political establishment, he capitalised on his fame and for a while supplemented his army pension by performing in music halls. He went on to be celebrated in literature, art and music.
Private Lawson seems to have been a more self-effacing man. A few months later, a comrade described him to the Yorkshire Evening Post:
I heard Sergeant Ewart questioning Lawson about the affair: ’Did you know the danger you were in?’ Lawson said: ‘No, I didn’t know what I was doing.‘ …Lawson was always a decent fellow but very rash and reckless: he would stick at nothing… He was made quite a god of in the regiment.
The Aberdeen Weekly Journal (22 June 1898) reported that the Newcastle Evening Chronicle had interviewed him on his return to Newcastle and found ‘a modest, unassuming man, little disposed to talk of his own exploits’. By this time, the paper says, he had completed his period of service and was back home in Newcastle working in the East End Hotel, Heaton. (Does anyone know where this was?*). Official records describe him as a ‘Reservist’ at this time.
The article goes onto describe his military career. After enlisting, Private Lawson had been posted to Aberdeen and after 5-6 weeks training, he was transferred to Curragh Camp in Ireland. He remained in Dublin for about 5 months. He was sent to India in March 1893, where he remained until his discharge. Lawson said that he received ‘a couple of scratches’ during the episode for which he was honoured.
And seemingly the action for which Lawson received the Victoria Cross wasn’t his only act of bravery. According to the newspaper, when, on another occasion, one of his comrades was hit by a bullet and fell into a dried up river bed, Lawson carried him safely to camp.
According to military records, Lawson soon returned to his regiment and served until 31 October 1902 including in South Africa during the Second Anglo-Boer War. He received further military medals and clasps for this period of service.
On 14 March 1908, Edward married Robina Ursula Scott, who was known as Ursula. At this time, he was living at 128 Malcolm Street and working as an electrical wiremen. The Lawsons soon moved to 14 Matthew Street, South Heaton just north of Shields Road, where they brought up their six children. Matthew Street was their home until c1924 (when Edward was 51 years old) at which time they relocated to Walker where they were to live for the remainder of their lives.
Prior to and during the First World War, Edward served as a Company Sergeant with the Northern Cyclist Battalion, which was employed to protect the coastline. The battalion was based at Alnwick Castle during World War One. The next photograph shows men of the Northern Cyclists in 1910. Edward Lawson VC is seated at the front. The next photograph was taken at Bamborough Castle in 1914. Edward is fourth from the right on the back row. Left of him is his wife Ursula, right of him is sister-in-law Agnes (known as Lily). Both were employed as cooks to the officers mess. Front left is Thomas and right front is Arthur, both sons of Edward and Ursula.
Edward Lawson VC died on 2 July 1955. He is buried in Heaton and Byker Cemetery, where in 1999 a new headstone was erected on his grave. His Victoria Cross is held by the Gordon Highlanders Musuem in Aberdeen.
Thank you to Barry Lawson, Edward’s grandson, who supplied us with much of the above information and photographs. If you know any more about Edward’s career in the army or his life, we’d love to hear from you. Post a reply here or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
*See comments attached to this article for information about East End Hotel
Read here about a memorial to Edward and the other two Newcastle men to have been awarded the Victoria Cross.