|George Brandon 1893-1916|
|The mine at Hawthorn Ridge|
I know very little about my great-uncle and have written previously about my regret at not questioning my grandmother further when I had the opportunity. In 1984 I was living in Germany where my husband was stationed with the RAF, and that Easter my mother joined us for a visit of the WW1 battlefields, and an attempt to locate the last resting place of her three uncles. I was living at home with two small children and had the time to do some research into military records. I didn’t have the luxury of the internet then and everything was achieved through a laborious series of letters to regimental headquarters, museums and so on. People were very helpful and we were able to locate the grave of one brother and the inscription of the other two, who had no known graves; one on the Menin Gate in Ypres, and one on the Thiepval Memorial, allowing us to pay our respects and remind ourselves of the great sacrifice paid by so many.
|George’s name is inscribed on the magnificent Thiepval Memorial at Pozieres|
|There is something of a mystery over his initial but that is a story for another day|
|George served in the 2nd Battalion and this photograph is the only other one we have of him, standing on the top row, far left.|
He was to die later in the lengthy Somme offensive, on September 15th 1916. The archivist at the Regimental Headquarters in London, kindly copied the relevant pages from a three-volume history written by their Lieutenant Colonel. It gives a vivid blow-by-blow account of the days leading up to George’s death, when the regiment suffered particularly heavy losses. With the advent of the internet it is now so much easier to research family history and there are vast amounts of information available, but I treasure those yellowing photocopies of over a quarter a century ago. Re-reading the account chills the blood. Mistakes were made, moments of indecision cost countless lives, a foolhardy and almost comical bravery was shown by some of the officers which is reminiscent of those poignant final scenes of Blackadder Goes Forth. I’m not going to go into the details of the individual assaults but I would like to share with you some of the pictures drawn by this account, which have helped sketch in some details of two days in the life of my great-uncle. He wasn’t an unknown soldier but to some extent he was a man of mystery. We know so little of him and he has no known grave, but at least we can place him approximately in those last few days, sharing the hardships and comradeship of his fellow soldiers. If you don’t like descriptions of war then read no further, but if you want to hear of tales of bravery and selflessness, this would be a good place to begin. I would urge you to visit the beautifully kept war cemeteries and battlefield memorials, and marvel at the sheer magnitude of the slaughter of young men on both sides of the conflict. The skylark does indeed sing over their graves. Poppies do indeed grow in the open fields. Read the words below and remember those who fell.
|John Oxenham’s poem at the entrance to Beaumont Hamel, speaks for many.|
September 15th: At 5.00 a.m. the tanks were seen moving slowly on the left flank of the Brigade, but they apparently did not arouse suspicion or attract any fire. At zero hour the battalions started off and and the leaders of the assault were ‘mown down’.
Lieut.- Colonel J Campbell knowing that in the 'infernal roar of rifle and machine-gun fire no commands could possibly be heard’ had used a hunting-horn, which pierced the din and allowed the men to follow.
The casualties in the 2nd Battalion were considerably increased by the fact that the tank which should have passed over the place where the machine guns were posted, never reached its objective, and consequently a gap of 100 yards was left where it should have gone.
Lieut.- Colonel Crespigny was easily distinguished as he marched along, as he wore a forage cap in place of a helmet. On reaching Ginchy 'a heavy barrage came down on the men, huge shells bursting at the rate of one a second were shooting showers of mud in every direction and the noise was deafening’ There were again a considerable number of casualties.
A series of blunders followed, and in order to take a trench it was necessary to deploy into a line. In so doing they lost very heavily. ‘Our creeping barrage had, so to speak, run away, and there was now no artillery support of any kind’.
Go to Sepia Saturday for some more Twentieth Century stories.