Sapper James Edwin Kerswell

Service Army Service No. 182777
Rank Sapper
Regiment:Royal Engineers Yeomanry Division
Date of Birth: 10/04/1878
Born Ballycastle, Co Mayo
Date of Death: 25/10/1918
Memorial: Dawlish Memorial Inscription KERSWELL J.E. SPR. R.E.

Service History

We do not have a date for James Edwin Kerswell enlisting with the Royal Engineers, but we may assume that it was early in the War, having volunteered in the Army Post Office Corps during the Boer War.

He is shown as being attached to the Signal Squadron of the Yeomanry Mounted Division of the Royal Engineers. Signals units were attached to every Division and in his case they were engaged in the campaign in Egypt and Sinai under General Allenby. His death is described as being by a ‘fever’ without more detail.

Association with Dawlish

James Edwin Kerswell was the grandson of William Kerswell (1804-1871), a general labourer, and Elizabeth (nee Haydon)(1814-1897). William was born and lived in Crediton where they had seven children.

The second son was James Kerswell (1837-1908) the father of James Edwin Kerswell.

James Kerswell was born on 5 September 1837 and was baptised in Crediton on 13 September. By 1851 James had left school, aged 14 and was a farm labourer at Higher Mounsden, Crediton. He left Crediton to join the Royal Navy on 1 July 1859, aged 21 and on 16 December 1863 volunteered for ten years service, being rated Able Seaman.

The census of 1871 shows him serving aboard H.M.S.NARCISSUS in the year of his father’s death.

On 16 December 1873 he engaged to serve for a further period of ten years as a Boatman in the Coastguard Service and was borne on the books of the district ship VALIANT.

He married Fanny Little Rickard (1856-1935) in Dromore West, Sligo, Ireland in 1875. Fanny (Frances) Rickard was born in Looe, Cornwall. They had eleven children (eight surviving by the 1911 census). The first six were born in Ireland where James was serving as a Coastguard until September 1887 when he became eligible for pension at the age of 50.

James Edwin Kerswell was still at school when the family were living at 5 Alexandra Place, Dawlish, in 1891. He was shown in 1901 to be boarding with Susanna Thompson at Stalybridge, Cheshire. He was there with his brother, Frederick Charles Kerswell, also working as a ‘sorting clerk & telegraphist’.

It seems possible that after the death of his father in 1908 he returned to live with his mother. It is his signature which completes the 1911 census return.

Devon Roll of Honour Kerswell, James Edwin, Sapr, R.E., 25th Oct 1918, Palestine
Additional Information Commonwealth War Graves Site

Next of Kin: Mother, Fanny Little Kerswell.
Last Known Address: 20 Hatcher Street, Dawlish

James Edwin Kerswell - taken from group picture, courtesy Dawlish Museum

Post Office staff ca 1911, Kerswell, chief clerk, far right - courtesy Dawlish Museum

Gravestone of grandparents William and Elizabeth Kerswell in St Gregory's churchyard

The Book of Dawlish by Frank Pearce – Post Office personnel photo page 69

Free BMD refs

Dawlish Gazette, 2 November 1918

Refs via subscription website:

Census records

Knight/Tapper family tree- Ancestry

Military records