Roll of Honour

2nd Lieutenant

Nelson Downie


Nelson Downie was born on the 5th May 1892 at the School House, Newton Mearns, Renfrewshire. He was the younger son of John Stevenson Downie MA, a Schoolmaster, and Marjory Downie (nee Nelson), who had married on the 1st July 1885 in Freuchie, Fife.

Image of Nelson Downie

Nelson came to the High School of Glasgow in 1904. At the age of 14 he was easily first in all his subjects. When he left school in 1909, Downie was Dux of VI Classical A, having additionally won all of the most coveted school medals and prizes. Amongst other activities, he served as Editor of the School Magazine and President of the School Council.

In October 1909, Downie came to the University of Glasgow having come third in the Entrance Bursary exams. His academic achievements were many, most notably his receipt of the Cunninghame Gold Medal in Mathematics and a Fellowship of £200 for Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. Then, with the same versatility he had displayed at school, he again turned to Classics.

In the summer of 1913, just prior to graduating from University, Downie took a summer course in Physical Laboratory at the Royal Technical College of Glasgow, forerunner of the University of Strathclyde. In November that year he graduated MA with First Class Honours in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. He went on to gain a distinguished place in the Civil Service Examinations with that most difficult of combinations, Mathematics and Classics, and later continued his studies at Oxford with equal success.

On 11th November 1915, Downie went out to Burma as a Magistrate of the Indian Civil Service. Within a short time he had so impressed everyone with his brilliance, energy and character that his Deputy Commissioner could say;

"He was one of the finest young men that had ever come to Burma... All who knew him loved and admired him."

One of Downie’s seniors added that;

"He was what we call a real sahib - a perfect gentleman."

In the early days of the war, it was reported that Downie chafed at the regulation which prevented him from joining the Army. No one was surprised that he entered the Indian Army Reserve of Officers (IARO) when released for service in August 1916. After many varied experiences and cheerful endurance of hardships that are barely glimpsed through his letters, 2nd Lieutenant Nelson Downie was wounded during an attack by the Mahsuds on the 16th May 1917. He died on the following day somewhere in the North-West Frontier Province of India. He is remembered on the Roll of Honour of the Royal Technical College, Glasgow.

Comments and Citations

University of Glasgow Faculty, General Council and Registry records.

Biographical information: Records of the Glasgow Provincial Training College, forerunner of Jordanhill College of Education - now the University of Strathclyde). Inf