Remembering James Douglas Forster

This week I’ve been looking at the life of a young man who died whilst serving on hms Dolphin in 1917.


James Douglas Forster,  Engine Room Artificer (Acting), 

James Douglas Forster was the second surviving son of James and Isabella Forster who had married in the summer of 1889 in Gateshead. He was born on 24 October 1894, and by the time he was shown on the census return in 1901 the family was living at 65 Park Terrace, Swalwell. James father recorded his occupation as ‘Machine – Plane’. In addition to his older brother Sidney, James also had two younger sisters.

Over the next ten years the family grew, and the next census return shows that James had another five sisters. A further four children had died in infancy. The family was living at 18 Crowley Road, Swalwell,and young James was learning a trade, working as an apprentice in an engine shop. The following year another son was born into the family.

James continued with his apprenticeship, and when he enlisted in the Royal Navy on 4 April 1917 he was a fitter and turner. He was described as 5’6” tall with a 38” chest, brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion. He was issued with the service number M/25803, and was initially posted to HMS Crescent. From 5 April to 25 July 1917 James served aboard HMS Victory, a shore based depot in Portsmouth. He was given the rank of Engine Room Artificer. On 26 July James was moved to HMS Dolphin which at that time was the base of the Royal Navy submarine service, and its submarine school. Perhaps he was training for service in the submarines.

Sadly James was not to survive his time there, and he died suddenly on 21 October, just three days before his 23rd birthday, after hurrying to catch the boat. James’ body was returned home, and he was buried in the local cemetery. His Commonwealth War Graves headstone bears the inscription ‘Thy will be done’.

James’ older brother Sydney, became a Congregationalist Minister. He married in the spring of 1921 and in June travelled with his new bride to Minnesota, where he spent the remainder of his life. On 7 May 1927 James’ sisters Mary (a typist) and Glendoris (a nursemaid) also left england bound for the United States, and when the 1930 Census return was made they were living with their brother in Aitken, Minnesota.

James parents lived out their lives in Swalwell and were still living at 18 Crowley Road in 1939. James died in 1946 and Isabella in 1949. They are buried in the same plot as their son James.

Forster family

Image used with permission of Brian54 (



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