Francis Cornwall Williamson was born in Congleton Cheshire on 30th April 1896, the second son of John Henshall Williamson and his wife Constance Mary. He was baptised at Astbury Parish Church on 7th June 1896.
Francis’ father was a colliery proprietor and manufactured pottery colour and dyes and in 1901 the family were living at The Mount, Newcastle Road in Congleton along with five servants. In 1902 Constance filed for divorce on the grounds of cruelty; while this petition was set aside, it appears that the couple lived separate lives until John Henshall’s death in 1922. By 1912 Constance was living at Allanwood, Avenue Road, Great Malvern.
A naval education
Francis was educated at The Settle, Torquay and then between 1909 and 1912 he was a a naval cadet at the Royal Naval Colleges at Osborne and Dartmouth. On 27th July 1912 he joined the White Star Line’s training ship Mersey. This sailing vessel, purchased by the White Star Line in 1908 carried 60 cadets and made trips to Australia via South Africa. Illness however prevented Francis from completing his training, his indenture was cancelled on 28th July 1913.
It seems that prior the First World War, Francis Williamson received an assisted passage to Australia. He was employed as a motor engineer and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Blackboy Hill, Western Australia on 16th November 1914. He was posted to the Depot Signal Company before embarkation for Egypt as the 2nd Reinforcement to the 1st Divisional Signal Company. He joined his unit in Egypt on 18th February 1915.
The 1st Divisional Signalling Company, Field Engineers was part of the First Australian Division. The Division was formed in Australia in August 1914. It embarked from Western Australia in November 1914 and was diverted from an original destination in the United Kingdom to Egypt due to accommodation problems. It landed at Egypt in December. During this time the division took part in the defence of Eygpt, defending the Suez Canal against Turkish attacks in February 1915.
With the AIF in Egypt
Sapper Williamson’s service with the AIF was short, serving just six weeks. He contracted influenza and died of subsequent pneumonia on 3rd April 1915 at Mena Camp near Cairo aged 18.
Francis was buried at the Cairo War Cemetery. His effects were sent to his mother, care of his older brother Mr F Delmar Williamson of Lansdowne Place, Cheltenham.
In acknowledging receipt of his effects – including a ring, his field service pocket book, letters and identity disk – Constance Williamson wrote:
I was much touched and gratified to hear that the boy’s comrades have honoured him by erecting a handsome cross on his grave. One of his brothers is now fighting in France and the other in Gallipoli. I am sure they would join me in thanking the Australian Forces for all the care and respect paid to our lost one. He was only 18.
Mrs Williamson’s youngest son, Second Lieutenant William C Williamson served with the Royal Marine Light Infantry (and was likely to have been the son serving at Gallipoli). He was reported to have been seriously wounded in November 1917. Happily however, he survived the war. Francis’ sister was in Cairo in 1916 on war service and was able to visit her brother’s grave and arrange for it’s care through the British Consul.
Malvern News 17/4/1915, 17/11/1917
Staffordshire Advertiser 3/6/1922
White Star Line Officers' Books
Soldiers Papers: National Archives of Australia.
The AIF Project, https://aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=326319