Photograph of George in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MRP/6F/009
(L to R) 1939-45 Star; Pacific Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal
George was born on the 5th May 1917 in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire. His father's name was John Henry and his mother was Mary Olive. We believe he had 2 older siblings: May and Henry, and 4 younger: Albert, Arthur, Norman and Olive. The family were Baptists.
George grew up in Stoke on Trent, and by the time he was 20 he lived with his parents at 4 Forber Road in Trent Vale on the edge of Stoke. He was an aluminium worker. Perhaps George wanted more from life because on the 13th April 1938 he joined the Territorial Army (TA).
George enlisted in the 41st (North Staffordshire Regiment) Anti-Aircraft Battalion. This was part of the Royal Engineers. He was given the service number 2054067. He spent just 23 days in this unit though, and on the 6th May he joined the Manchester Regiment as a Regular soldier.
When he enlisted George was 5 feet 6 1/4 inches tall and weighed 135 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion and brown eyes and hair. His eyesight was poor, but we don't know whether he wore glasses.
After training at the Manchester Regiment Depot at Ladysmith Barracks in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, George was posted to the 2nd Battalion in Aldershot, Hampshire on the 12th November. He had obtained his 3rd Class Army Certificate of Education on the 23rd August. He served with the 2nd Battalion until July 1939 when he was sent to Singapore to join the 1st Battalion. He arrived there on the 19th.
The battalion's job was to protect Singapore and Malaya. They spent much of their time building defences and training to resist an invasion. The battalion's main role was to man pillboxes on the beaches of the island.
Between February and August 1941 George was assigned to Number 7 Mixed Reinforcement Camp. This unit existed to assign new arrivals in Singapore to their units. We don't know George's job here.
By late 1941 war with the Japanese was becoming more and more likely. They invaded Malaya on the 8th December, and by the 27th January 1942 the British had been forced back onto the island of Singapore.
We believe that George was a member of 11 Platoon in C Company when the Japanese invaded. By the end of January the British were being constantly bombed, and as the Japanese closed in their position became hopeless. The British garrison surrendered on the 15th February and George became a Prisoner of War (POW). At first the Army were not sure what had happened to him; they told his parents that until they knew better they would list George as 'missing'. We don't believe they confirmed George had been captured until the autumn of 1943.
George was first held in Changi Prison in eastern Singapore with most of the 1st Battalion and tens of thousands of other Allied POWs. After a while the Japanese began to move groups to work on construction projects. George was sent to Sonkrai POW camp in Thailand to work on the Burma railway. We don't know when he left Singapore.
Conditions in Changi had been poor, with little food or medical supplies, but in Sonkrai they were far worse. Sanitation, food and shelter were in short supply, and the POWs were expected to work long hours in tropical conditions. Disease was rampant, and if a soldier fell sick the Japanese would no longer feed him, on the grounds that he could not work. We don't know exactly what happened to George, but he contracted Cholera because of the poor sanitation and died at Sonkrai on the 31st May 1943. He was 26 years old. He was buried in grave A.39 at Sonkrai.
George was able to send postcards home to his family. Two have survived. We don't know when he wrote them, but they were not received until after he had died. The first was received on the 23rd August 1943. It read:
In good health and spirits.
Hope you and family are same.
Albert must be well.
The second postcard arrived at 4 Forber Street on Christmas Eve 1943. It read:
Fit and well. Hope Albert is alright and Harry and his family. You and Dad will be glad when this is all over I bet. Best of luck from George.
I miss the city times.
The Army did not find out what had happened to George until after the end of the war in 1945. On the 7th December they wrote to Harry confirming that George had died. They discovered the cause was cholera in early January 1946.
After the end of the War the graves of those soldiers who had died working on the Burma Railway were transferred to Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery in what is now Myanmar. George is now one of 2995 soldiers buried there. His modern grave reference is B4. L. 15.
George's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in April 1992.