Remembering William John Dunstan Devoran WW1 died accident at sea 24 December 1917

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William Dunstan’s grave in Brest Kerfautras Cemetery, France (Image copyright: TWGPP / CWGC, the War Graves Photographic Project)




William John Dunstan of Devoran, serving as 2352/ST, Engineman, Royal Naval Reserve, HM Trawler Pintail, died aged 45 on 24 December 1917.

He is buried in plot 40.3.5 Brest Kerfautras Cemetery, Finisterre, France (mostly an American naval and army cemetery).

Dunstan 1Brest (Kerfautras) Cemetery

William Dunstan’s grave lies in Brest Kerfautras Cemetery, France (Image copyright: TWGPP / CWGC, the War Graves Photographic Project)

The CWGC website lists him as husband of Juliana Dunstan of 6 Chapel Terrace, Devoran. Juliana was born in 1871 in Truro. The couple married in 1903 and had two children, both born in Devoran, Florence May Dunstan (b. 1905) and William Edwin Kean Dunstan (b. 1907).

William was born in Hayle, Phillick (Phillack?) in Cornwall in 1874. In the 1911 census he is listed as “Fireman Steamship” on board SS Erimus,  living at Chapel Terrace, Devoran.

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Devoran war memorial, names A to J , First World War

His life and death tell an interesting tale of Devoran past as a port or harbour, then of the war at sea, keeping the sea clear of enemy mines.

The ship where Dunstan served and sustained his fatal accident HMS Pintail was a Hull trawler H982 , built in 1908 and wrecked off Ireland in 1949. In October 1914 she was requisitioned for war service as a minesweeper, armed with 1 x 12 Hotchkiss pdr, 1 x 6pdr HA, Ad.No382 . She was moved to Penzance and Falmouth. (Ad.No.382). By 1st October 1918 she was at Penzance (General Patrol and Escort work).

By 12 March 1919, Pintail had been returned to her owner at Hull. There is more about the naval war and minesweepers off the Cornish coast in Pete London’s short book Cornwall in the First World War (Truran, 2013)

So Pintail survived war service. William Dunstan did not – according to the Royal Navy Roll of Honour WW1, he died of illness in hospital,  as a result of his war service.

Further research in the National Archives into his Royal Naval Reserve service record suggests that he signed up on 15 November 1915. He died as a result of an accident at sea on twenty third December.


Dunstan’s Navy Records state that he “Died Marine Hospital, Brest, France. Death due to accident. Injuries to head from from crank of engine whilst endeavouring to recover oil can from crank bilge. ”

Dunstan died of a fractured skull as a result of “head and chest injuries by crankshaft” received “whilst at sea on 23 December 1917”.

Previous to his service at sea on HM Pintail, he seems to have served from 1915 and 1916 on King Frederick (III) a Hired Trawler. “5.1915: Requisitioned for war service as a minesweeper (1-12pdr) (Ad.No.2659). Renamed KING FREDERICK.” H.M.S. Dreel Castle  appears  to be his “parent ship at Falmouth base” and “parent ship of the patrols working from Falmouth.”

Shore Establishments of the Royal Navy states that “DREEL CASTLE was a Drifter commissioned 2.2.15. Nominal depot ship Auxiliary Patrol Falmouth, Penzance, & Scillies replacing Vivid 1.10.15 – 16.9.19 [accounts to Vivid IV]. Flag of Rear Admiral Falmouth struck 15.8.19.”

Dunstan’s naval records in the National Archives are hard to read and decipher. He appears to have transferred from “King Frederick” to the Royal Naval Hospital Plymouth in November 1917 then back to sea on “Pintail” shortly before his accidental death.

His widow Juliana  chose no additional inscription on his standard headstone.


You can read more about William Dunstan and the other men of Devoran in WW1 here:

William John Dunstan, Remembered a hundred years on  in his home village of Devoran and by his family on Christmas Eve 24 December 2017.

Blogposted by Mark Norris, Devoran War Memorial Project

I shall add more to Dunstan’s entry should I uncover any more information.


4 thoughts on “Remembering William John Dunstan Devoran WW1 died accident at sea 24 December 1917

  1. Beverley Prowse

    William Dunstan was my great grandfather. I’d like to thank you for preserving his memory in this way. Beverley Prowse.

  2. worldwarzoogardener1939 Post author

    It’s a privilege to remember and honour ordinary working men and women who did extraordinary things – William’s story was amongst the many featured in the pop up small Armistice Day 100 exhibition in the Village Hall yesterday after the reading of the names at the Memorial.
    If you ever find a photo of William Dunstan, we would be very happy to place a copy on the website. Mark

  3. Beverley Prowse

    I believe I do have a photo. I have a whole stack of family photos going back to the dawn of photography practically, really old. More or less all local to Devoran/Perranarworthal. The difficulty is identifying the family members! I only wish I could have come to the exhibition but I’m at the other end of UK.

    It was wonderful to learn some more about William Dunstan and to forward a link to my children My grandad (Eddie Dunstan) often spoke of his father and we would stop at the memorial stone when we were out on our long walks to pay our respects. Thank you again for honouring his memory in this way. I will be in touch when I have sorted through the photos, there may be other local pictures of interest to you.

    1. worldwarzoogardener1939 Post author

      The exhibition sadly was up for one morning only – very pop up – but all the information and images were what we have placed on the blog. The restored Roll of Honour is proudly on display all the time in the refurbished village hall, when open, both looking very fine.

      New records are being released all the time so a Merchant Navy / seaman’s record one may pop up. I will keep checking every so often. Looking through the Roll of Honour it very much was much more of a navy / maritime / boat building / port and river area of employment still 100 years ago.

      Very interesting to hear that you would stop on walks with your Grandad (William’s son Eddie) and pay your respects at the memorial. Hopefully the website and folder in the church etc. should restore some of this life and memory to the bare names on the memorial and Roll of Honour for another generation or two to come. The Armistice 100 service, poppy wreath laying and reading of the names were as usual well attended (along with the pop up exhibition) by all ages form the youngest cubs and brownies to local veterans.


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