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Albert Jacob George

Pte 17644 Albert Jacob George, 6th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment

 

Albert Jacob George was born in Newbury in late 1897, the son of James George and his wife Florence (née Flora Smith). James was a tinsmith, originally from Silchester in Hampshire (the site of the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum, the walls of which remain largely intact today).  His wife, shown as Flora in their marriage registration, was from a little further afield, Farnham in Surrey.

 

They married in the Newbury district and settled in Thatcham for a few years before moving to Wharf Road in Newbury. By 1911 Albert seems to have become Jacob for he is shown in the family’s census return as Jacob A George, so he will be referred to as Jacob henceforth. The census return gives the address 6 Kings Road while earlier (1901) and later (1917) references are to Wharf Road. In fact these records pre-date street numbering in this area. It appears that they did not move home; the confusion arises from them living in Coles Buildings – 10 long demolished cottages in a block on the corner of Wharf Road and Kings Road. The Georges lived at 6 Coles Buildings which was on Wharf Road, but only just as it was on the corner.

 

After finishing his schooling Jacob became a carter (according to the 1911 census), more likely a carter’s boy, working for a local cartage contractor.


Military Medal

Military Medal

(Wikipedia)

He enlisted with the Royal Berkshire Regiment on 27 April 1915 and, following his basic training at Fort Nelson (Portsmouth), went to France with a draft of reinforcements to the 2nd Battalion on 5 October 1915.  With the 2nd Battalion Jacob would have gone through the Battles of Loos and the Somme. On 23 October 1916 the battalion was part of an attack on a German position (Zenith trench) near Le Transloy. During the fighting one of Jacob’s officers, 2nd Lt William Hales was badly wounded; Jacob carried him back through the 200 yards of mud under enemy fire to a dressing station. Sadly Lt Hales died of his wounds, but Jacob’s action earned him a Military Medal.  


Not long after this action, at the end of November, Jacob was invalided home suffering from trench foot. His respite was a brief one, he returned to France in January 1917, this time joining the 6th Battalion.

 

On 12 October 1917 the 6th Royal Berks were given a part in an attack on Poelcapelle during the 3rd Battle of Ypres. They were to be part of the second wave of the attack, following the first wave and passing through them to take a second line of objectives.  The attack was not a success, in the face of machine gun fire and enemy shelling the first wave didn’t make it to the point at which the 6th Berks were to take on the attack; the 6th Berks only just made it to their start point minutes before they had to move forward,. At 0610 the battalion started forward, after 200 yards they came under heavy machine gun and sniper fire. At 0630 their commanding officer, Lt Col Longhurst was killed by a shell outside battalion HQ;  Capt Rochfort assumed command, went forward to find out what was happening and was badly wounded; Lt Wernham, the only officer left at HQ assumed command.

 

At 1900 the attack was abandoned and the battalion was informed that it was to be withdrawn overnight. However, it was impossible to pass the message on to all companies in time so the withdrawal did not happen until the following day; men filtered back over a period of eleven hours.

 

Battalion casualties were heavy: 39 killed, 164 wounded and 10 missing. Jacob was one of the ‘killed’.  His parents were notified in early November and placed a notice in the local paper:

 

Newbury Weekly News 8 Nov 1917- Killed in Action

 

GEORGE – Killed in action October 12, 1917, Pte A J George, dearly beloved son of Mr George, No 2, Wharf-road, Newbury.


Oh how I longed to have seen him
After victory won;
But God thought it best to take him
Before the fight was won.

 

Sleep on dear son in your lonely grave,
A grave I shall never see;
But as long as life and memory last
I will remember thee.

 

From his sorrowing Father, Sisters and Brothers.

 

The paper told the story of the deceased in their weekly column of war news:

 

Newbury Weekly News 8 Nov 1917 – Local War Notes

 

Private A J George, of the 6th Royal Berks, whose death we publish today, joined the 2nd Royal Berks in May, 1915, was trained at Fort Nelson, and was sent to France in September, 1915. He was recommended on the field for having carried his officer on the 23rd October, 1916, to a dressing station. He returned at the end of November through suffering with trench feet. He returned in January 1917. In September a letter was received by his mother, her son saying he was just about to go over the top for the eighth time since he had gone back, and if he got through all right, he expected to be home shortly on leave. This pleasant prospect was doomed to disappointment, for a letter was received from his Corporal, and confirmed by the War Office, saying that he was killed in action in the 12th October. The deceased was 20 last March. Another son, aged 23, is with the Canadian Engineers, now stationed at Ashford, Kent.

 

One wonders how his parents felt to see his name printed by the Reading Mercury (24 November 1917) in a list of wounded. It appears that the paper mistakenly included 29 names of those killed in action under the 'Wounded' heading of their 'Offical Casualty List' (so official that it bears the wording 'This list is compiled for the Mercury and is copyright').

 

Although Jacob had been awarded the Military Medal, the official notification coming in the London Gazette in January 1917, he had not actually received the medal.  It was left to his mother Flora to receive the medal from no less a person than King George V himself during a royal visit to the war hospital in Reading on 12 March 1918.

 

Newbury Weekly News 14 Mar 1918 – Local War Notes

 

Mrs Flora George, of Wharf-road, Newbury, had the honour of being summoned to Reading on Tuesday to receive her late son’s Military Medal personally from the King. She attended at the War Hospital in Oxford-road, where His Majesty, who was accompanied by Queen Mary, made the distribution. The King shook hands with her and handed her the medal. She was informed that she might wear the ribbon on her dress. The medal was granted to Pte Albert Jacob George, of the 2nd Royal Berks, who in October, 1916, carried his wounded officer, Captain Hales, to a dressing station. The officer died of his wounds, and Pte George continued on service for twelve months afterwards, when he was killed before the medal had been presented. This recognition of bravery on the field was consequently conferred on his mother, who was a proud woman on Tuesday, although as she said, she would have preferred for her son to have lived to receive it. The widow of the deceased officer has shown a kindly interest in her ever since the gallant effort was made, and met Mrs George on Tuesday, accompanying her to the ceremonial.


Jacob's name on Newbury War Memorial

Jacob's name on Newbury War Memorial

(centre column)

Jacob's body was not recovered, though he may be in one of the thousands of graves of unknown soldiers in the cemeteries around the Somme battlefields - inscribed Known unto God. His name is recorded on the memorial to the missing at Tyne Cot and is remembered locally on the Newbury Town War Memorial.

 

He was not forgotten by his family:

 

Newbury Weekly News 9 Oct 1919 – In Memoriam

 

GEORGE – In loving memory of Pte Albert Jacob George, MM, Royal Berks, killed in action Oct 12th, 1917.

 

We often think and speak of him,
And thing of how he died;
To think he could not say goodbye
Before he closed his eyes.

 

- From his loving Mother, Sisters and Brothers.

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 Died this day:
17 October 1918
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