He was the love of her life, and she never recovered from his untimely death in the First World War. 

Even when she finally went on to marry, Jessie Fletcher Orr secretly kept a photograph of her childhood sweetheart in a gold locket around her neck – under one of her husband – until the day she died. 

Jessie’s grandson will pay tribute to the brave soldier who possessed his grandmother’s heart, even after his death, at a Remembrance Day Service this Sunday at St John’s Church, Hamilton. 

Speaking about his family’s history, Jessie’s grandson, Iain English, 61, said: “Robert Dawson was the love of my grandmother’s life, they got engaged when he was 19, and she was devastated when he died.

“She never fully recovered from his death and went on to marry my grandfather, Jimmy, but it was a case of ‘you’ll do’ and I don’t think she was very happy throughout her life.”

HeraldScotland:

Jessie Fletcher Orr (middle) wore locket with photo of her long-lost love

Jessie became betrothed to Private Robert Dawson in 1914, the same year he is understood to have enlisted. 

Mr Dawson served with the 10th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment and was just 22-years-old when he was mortally wounded after Candle Trench at Poelcapelle, near Ypres, was shelled. 

He was taken to a British military hospital in Etaples in northern France, but died from his injuries on October 27, 1917, leaving his fiancee heartbroken.

Years later, Jessie went on to marry James Jamieson, with whom she had three children, but her feelings for her first love remained undiminished. 

She named her only daughter after him, christening her Margaret Dawson Jamieson. 

Mr Dawson was one of 29 men from St John’s Church who died in the Great War and whose lives will each be represented by a silhouette that will be dotted among parishioners during Sunday’s Service. 

Mr English, of Hamilton, who will sit beside the silhouette representing Mr Dawson, said: “I am very proud to be able to attend the service and remember Robert, who was a member of the church and most likely met my grandmother there. 

“It is going to be very emotional because he is someone who I remember my grandmother making reference to. She was a spiritual person. When I look back, I was her favourite grandchild and I think that is partly to do with the fact I was born on the same date that Robert Dawson died, albeit 40 years apart.

“My grandmother married James in 1922 but gave little impression that she was happily married.  In fact, she went off on her travels to visit family in Australia without consummating the marriage.

“She returned to Scotland in 1924 to re-engage her marriage, wearing a gold locket which, unbeknownst to my grandfather, secretly contained a photograph of Robert underneath one of him.

“She wore this locket throughout her marriage until her death in 1973.”

HeraldScotland:

Mr English, a retired community safety officer who now manages a Befriending Service for Older People, discovered more about Mr Dawson after his mother died in 2014 at the age of 84.

Margaret had kept treasured keepsakes that belonged to her mother including a Christmas Card sent from Loos and dated September 25, 1915, signed “with love from Robert”. Another embroidered card was embossed with the motif ‘To my Dear Sweetheart’ and addressed to “my darling Jessie.”

The most poignant memento is a Field Service postcard, written by Mr Dawson before his battalion moved to a farm north of Poelcapelle, where he was fatally wounded eight days later.

It stated that he was “quite well” and acknowledged that he received a letter from Jessie a few days before.

Mr English recalls he had also snooped in his grandmother’s house as a child and discovered a French banknote hidden under the lining of a drawer.

He said it is highly likely that his grandmother secretly visited Mr Dawson’s grave at the military cemetery in Etaples while pregnant with his mother, which led to her being given his name.

Mr English, who has visited the grave and Candle Trench, said: “Robert’s death was a huge loss for my grandmother. I feel a great sense of connection to him and I wish my mum, Margaret, was around to be part of the Remembrance Service. It is very hard for me to keep my emotions together and the poignancy of all of this is, had Robert survived my family would not exist. That is the part that we owe to that man’s life.”

Speaking ahead of the service, Rev Joanne Hood, minister at St John’s Parish Church, said: “Of all the names on our memorial plaque, the story of Robert is the only one we know.  It is incredibly emotional hearing Robert’s story and it is an opportunity to celebrate his life in a way that will have never been done before in the church.”

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