Date of birth: 5 May 1892
Date of death: 17 May 1917
Died of wounds received in action aged 25
Nelson was born in Renfrew, the second son of John Downie, the second Headmaster of Newton Mearns Primary School from May 1884 until August 1919, and his wife Marjorie.
He went to the High School of Glasgow in 1904, and became one of her finest scholars. At fourteen he had reached VI. Modern, “and was easily first in all his subjects.” He transferred to the Classical side and when he left school in 1909 was Dux of VI Classical A., and had gained, in addition, all the most coveted of the school medals and prizes. Among his other activities he was Editor of the Magazine and President of the School Council.
In October 1909, he entered Glasgow University as third bursar. His successes were many, but the most notable was his winning the Cunninghame Gold Medal in Mathematics and a Fellowship of £200 for Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. Then with the old versatility which he had shown at school, he turned again to Classics.
In November 1913, he graduated MA, with First Class Honours in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. He gained a distinguished place in the Civil Service Examinations with that most difficult combination, Mathematics and Classics, and was the Indian Civil Service Scholar at Oxford in 1914-15.
He went to his province as Magistrate in the Indian Civil Service on 11 November, 1915, and in a short time had so impressed everyone by 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." And one of his seniors could write; "He was what we call a real sahib – a perfect gentleman."
In the early days of the war he chafed at the regulation which prevented him joining the Army, and 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, cheerfully enduring hardships whose existence only peered through his letters, he was wounded during an attack by the Mahsuds on 16 May 1917, and died the next day, somewhere in the North-West Frontier Province, India.
He is commemorated on the Delhi Memorial [India Gate] on Face 23 and on the Whitecraigs Golf Club Memorial, Giffnock, Glasgow.
( From the University of Glasgow website)
Registered Charity Number: 1143423