Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

George McGowen

George McGowen : Photograph of George in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.  Reference: MRP/5A/018

Photograph of George in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MRP/5A/018

George McGowen : (L to R) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal; Delhi Durbar 1911 Medal; Long Service and Good Conduct Medal; Corps of Commissionaires Medal

(L to R) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal; Delhi Durbar 1911 Medal; Long Service and Good Conduct Medal; Corps of Commissionaires Medal

George was born on the 7th March 1882 in Blackburn, Lancashire. He was christened 10 days later. His father was called John and his mother was Isabella. He had 8 older siblings: Sarah Ann, James, Edward, Elizabeth, Thomas, Joseph, Martha and Ellen, and 2 younger: Alice and John Robert. The family were Roman Catholics.

In 1881, shortly before George was born, the family lived at 6 Taylor Street in Blackburn. John worked as a labourer in a foundry, and several of his children worked in the cotton industry. Ten years later they had moved to 1 Hamilton Street in the town. John was now a cart driver.

By 1901 the family lived at 93 Galligreaves Street in Blackburn. John worked as a navvy, helping build civil engineering projects such as railway tunnels. George had followed his father into this trade.

In early 1905 George worked as an outdoor labourer and lived at 18 Hamilton Street in Blackburn. He must have wanted more from life though because on the 2nd February he joined the 5th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was a unit of the Militia. Members of the Militia kept their civilian homes and jobs, and served as a soldier for a short period every year. George was given the service number 294.

When he enlisted George was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 134 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. There was a tattoo on his left forearm. He began his Militia training, but after just 4 days decided to join the Regular Army instead. He again chose the Manchester Regiment, and was given the service number 337.

We know very little about George's service. He was a Corporal in the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment by the end of 1911. They left Kamptee in India that December to take part in the Delhi Durbar. At this ceremony King George V, the newly crowned Emperor of India, received his Indian subjects. The 1st Battalion took part in the Durbar itself on the 12th, and the spectacular military parade on the 14th. It also provided many guards of honour for dignitaries. A total of 100 Delhi Durbar 1911 Medals were allocated to the 1st Battalion, and one of them went to George.

After the Durbar was over George and the 1st Battalion moved to Jullundur in the modern Indian Punjab. He was promoted to Lance Sergeant, and then to Sergeant on the 1st May 1913.

At some point between then and the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, George was posted to the 5th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was a unit of the Territorial Force based in Wigan, Lancashire. Territorial soldiers lived as civilians and trained during evenings and weekends, as well as an annual training camp lasting around 2 weeks. George was one of the Permanent Staff of the battalion. These Regular soldiers ran the unit when the Territorials were not there, and led the unit's training.

When the First World War broke out the 5th Battalion was called into service. It was sent to Egypt in early September and arrived there on the 25th. We believe George served with them throughout the war, although we don't know any details about what he did.

The battalion landed in Gallipoli in early May 1915, and fought there until the theatre was evacuated during December. They were involved in difficult fighting and took heavy casualties. They spent 1916 and the first 2 months of 1917 in Egypt, where they helped to defend the Suez Canal against a Turkish attack, and then took part in long marches in the Sinai Desert to push the Turks back. In March 1917 the battalion moved to the Western Front.

George and the 5th Battalion served around Havrincourt in France before moving north to the Ypres area of Belgium during September. They patrolled the North Sea coast at Nieuport (now Nieuwpoort) until November. The battalion then returned to France.

In March and April 1918 the battalion fought hard to stop the German Spring Offensive. They then took part in the Allied Hundred Days Offensive that began in early August and drove the Germans back until the end of the war in November 1918. George ended the war with the rank of Warrant Officer Class II.

George had returned to the UK by July 1919, and on the 12th he married Gladys Mary Brown at the United Methodist Church in Heysham, near Morecambe in Lancashire. They had 2 children, both born in Morecambe. Lucy was born on the 25th July 1920 and Isobel on the 27th August 1921. Sadly Lucy died aged 14 in 1934.

George was transferred from the 5th Battalion to the 1st Battalion on the 31st December 1920. They were based in Ireland and fighting in the Irish War of Independence. The Battalion faced Irish Republican Army fighters who fought as guerrillas in small groups. They mounted ambushes and hit-and-run attacks, never standing and fighting the British.

The battalion was based in small bases in Kilworth and Ballincollig and responsible for an area of around 240 square miles in County Cork. They faced a determined enemy in the IRA. The 1st Battalion continued patrols and searches of the countryside, occasionally engaging in combat with IRA fighters, until a ceasefire was signed on the 11th July. This led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty on the 6th December 1921, and the establishment of the Irish Free State the next year.

George was promoted to Company Quartermaster Sergeant (CQMS) on the 21st January 1921, and at around the same time he was given a new service number: 3512205.

The 1st Battalion left Ireland for the Channel Islands on the 3rd February 1922. They were soon sent back to Northern Ireland because of the threat of an attack on this British territory by the Free State. After some minor skirmishes in June they left again in December 1922.

George left the battalion on the 16th February 1923. He had been posted to the Regimental Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne. During June the Army re-organised the strength of several of its units, so George had to return to the 1st Battalion. He became the CQMS of C Company.

George had to leave the Army on the 5th November 1924. He had been found 'unfit for any form of military service'. His conduct had been 'exemplary'. As well as his pension George received a gratuity of 55. He was also awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal to recognise 18 years Army service. He went to live at 14 Byron Road in Morecambe.

As a civilian George went to work for the Corps of Commissionaires. This provided doormen and security guards to government buildings. George worked for them for many years. The Corps of Commissionaires Medal was awarded for 'long and exemplary service', although we don't know when George was awarded his.

George kept in touch with his former colleagues by joining the Manchester Regiment Old Comrade's Association in 1928. In this year he lived at 'Emritsar', Colwell Avenue, Stretford, Manchester. He attended dinners and reunions throughout the 1930s. The last event we know he attended was in March 1947.

We believe George died between October and December 1960 in the Barton area of Manchester. He was 78. Gladys died aged 94 in August 1992. Isobel never married and died in December 2004, aged 83. George's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in March 2005.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council