Noel Downing Welsh Guards

Originally William Noel Downing joined the 21st Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (4th Public School) as a private. This was one of the many so-called ‘pals’ battalions set up in the massive wave of recruitment in Sep 1914. After more than a year, the battalion was deployed to France in Nov 1915, but only saw limited action. The battalion, drawn from English Public schools and universities, was disbanded in April 1916 as many of the men took up commissions.

Noel Downing, Welsh Guards, 1916

Noel Downing, Welsh Guards, 1916

Noel Downing himself was gazetted in the Welsh Guards on 4 Aug 1916 and ordered “to report to Buckingham Gate forthwith”.

He appears to have completed the probation period for his commission as a second lieutenant, Special Reserve Officer, in Sep 1916.

Noel Downing, in common with most of his contemporaries spoke little about his experiences in France. He returned to France with the Welsh Guards in about Oct 1916 after his change of regiment. He did recall to his daughters stories about his uniform coming back from laundry with the lice pressed into the creases.

One letter written to his future wife, dated 11 November 1916 has survived. Here he is fairly stridently against the war saying how he hates the army. Much of the letter is in sympathy with Molly Evans, who finally took the decision to resign from the VAD in France and return to her sick mother. Molly’s brother, Wilmot Evans, had been killed on 1 July 1916 and Noel shows little patience for the Army Officers and their relatively comfortable existence away from the trenches.

The buttons and insignia of his Welsh Guard uniform have survived.

There is also a large collection of humorous publications that show that he kept his spirits up by trying to see the funny side of some of the more awful things going on around him. viz. Pow Wow (UPS Battalion) news sheet and the Bystander magazine as well as bound copies of Punch from the wartime years.

It is evident he spent a period in early 1917 unfit for combat because of deafness, described in a letter to his sister Mary.

Noel Downing was demobbed sometime between Jan and Apr 1919 and got married to Molly Evans in Jul 1919.

Last updated on 17 January 2019 by JJ Morgan