Claudius Stephenson and Stella Carpenter had married in 1884 in King's Lynn, a town in which Stella had been born. A couple of years later, their first child, who they named Stella, was born in Essex. The family had moved to the South Manchester area by 1889 and their two sons, Claude and Douglas, were born there. Douglas' date of birth was 19 December 1890. A second daughter, Norah, was born in King's Lynn in about 1893.
The family history website, FreeBMD, only records the death of one man called Claudius Stephenson. This death was registered at Tadcaster between January and March 1897. This 58 year old man was probably the father of the four children as he is known to have died by the time of the 1901 Census.
The Census records the family living at 11 Albert Road, Cheadle Hulme. The family were clearly financially comfortable, as Stella is recorded as "living on own means" and she could afford to employ Rebekah Cole as a live-in "mother's help". During 1904, Stella remarried to James Smith at St Mary's Church, Cheadle. After the war, in the early 1920s, Stella Smith had moved away from the Stockport area and was living at 41 The Square, Fairfield, Manchester.
Douglas was educated at Stockport Grammar School and then went to work for the Manchester & County Bank at its branch at Market Place, Stockport. His service file still exists at the National Archives but contains little personal information. It does show that he was short man, even for those times, standing at only 5' 4". He had been a member of the pre-War Territorial Force serving as a private with the 6th Battalion, Manchester Regiment. On 29 May 1912, he was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant. At some point after this, he transferred to the 9th Battalion and was mobilised when War was declared in August 1914. The men spent the next seven months in Egypt before going into action at Gallipoli and it is presumed that Douglas was with them.
The next mention of him in official records is on 3 January 1916 when he was promoted to Acting Captain as he was then commanding one of the Battalion's Companies. Around early January 1918, he led a raid on the enemy trenches. His bravery was recognised by the award of the Military Cross. The citation, published in the London Gazette on 19 April 1918, reads:
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When in command of a raiding party, he showed great dash and, at one place where the wire was not cut, himself lay on the strands, thus enabling the men to pass over. He displayed great resolution and prior to the operation which resulted in the capture of seven prisoners and two machine gun, twenty-five of the enemy being killed, he showed the most commendable keenness and inspired his men with great confidence which helped to ensure success."
On 21 March, the long awaited German attack was delivered with overwhelming force. Within hours, the British Army was undertaking a desperate fighting retreat along a wide front. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are sparse details of the day recorded in the Battalion's War Diary. It records, however, that at 4.30am, they were ordered to "battle stations". They had to move into their designated position through a heavy gas bombardment which caused about 30 casualties. It then says, simply, "the battalion went into action and continued in action till April 1st."
In fact, although the 9th Battalion was kept in reserve, there was desperate fighting and, by the end of the day, the Battalion had been forced to retreat to avoid being cut-off. Nearly 70 men were dead. Like Douglas, few have a known grave.
Douglas probably never knew he had been awarded the Military Cross. One of the men with him on the raid, Frank Thickett, was with him when he was killed a few weeks later.