Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

George Rayner

George Rayner : Photograph of George by kind permission of Mr George Rayner.

Photograph of George by kind permission of Mr George Rayner.

George Rayner : (L to R) 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal

(L to R) 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal

George was born on the 9th July 1913 in Collyhurst, Manchester. His father was called James and his mother was Mary. He had 8 siblings, and we know the names of 6. Elizabeth and James were older; Sidney, Leah, Mary and Arthur were younger. The family were members of the Church of England.

After he left school George found work at Lancashire Dynamo and Crypto Limited. This company made battery chargers, dynamos and other electrical equipment. In 1937 George was a labourer at their factory in Trafford Park, Manchester.

As well as this George joined the 8th (Ardwick) Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on the 17th November 1937. This was a unit of the Territorial Army, so George kept his civilian job and continued to live at 13 Richmond Grove in Longsight, Manchester. At the time James lived next door at number 15.

When George enlisted he was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 130 pounds. He had a 'pale' complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair. There was an 'old scar' on the inside of his right wrist. He was passed as fit for the Army and given the service number 3529556.

Territorial soldiers trained during evenings and weekends. They also attended an annual training camp lasting around 2 weeks. George was present for the 1938 and 1939 camps. He was embodied, or called into the Army, on the 2nd September 1939, the day after Germany had invaded Poland, and the day before Britain declared war.

This meant George had to leave his new wife. He had married Anne Aldred on the 5th August at Manchester Registry Office. They had made their home together at 6 Hampden Street in Ardwick. Anne was the sister of Edwin Aldred, George's best friend.

The 8th Battalion trained at their drill hall for the first few months of the war. On the 2nd February 1940, the day the unit was formed, George was posted to the 127th Infantry Brigade Anti Tank Company. This unit would use either the Ordnance Quick Firing 2 pounder, or more probably the French Hotchkiss Mark I 25mm anti tank gun to destroy enemy armoured vehicles that could threaten the infantry they were supporting.

The Army had expanded rapidly during 1939 and 1940, which left many units short of equipment. George remembered they didn't have proper anti-tank guns to train with, and had to make do with pipes attached to wheels.

George was promoted to Unpaid Lance Corporal on the 27th March, and began to be paid in the rank on the 17th April. One week later he arrived in France. Most of the 127th Infantry Brigade was remaining there and joining the British Expeditionary Force, but the 8th Battalion was not, it was being sent south to Gibraltar and eventually to the island of Malta. For this reason George left the 127th Anti Tank Company on the 6th May and rejoined the 8th Battalion. This meant reverting to the rank of Private. He arrived in Malta on the 19th May.

Malta was vital to the British forces in North Africa, especially once Italy declared war in June 1940. It soon came under air attack. George and the 8th Battalion were originally sent to help defend the island against an invasion, but they soon found themselves busy building shelters for people and aircraft, as well as repairing the damage caused by air raids.

When the Germans sent troops to North Africa in February 1941 attacks on Malta began to increase and the island was soon under siege. This meant that as well as constant air raids ships carrying supplies could not always reach the island. Several convoys fought their way to the island, but food and clothing were in particularly short supply.

When George and the 8th Battalion arrived in Malta the island was defended by obsolete Gloster Sea Gladiator fighters. Three of them were named Faith, Hope and Charity. George was there when these were found stored in crates on the docks. During 1941 and 1942, as the air attacks worsened, the British transported far more capable Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires to the island.

On the 10th September 1940 George had been promoted to Paid Lance Corporal. He was admitted to hospital between the 19th and the 23rd September 1941, and again between the 9th and the 15th June 1942, although we don't know what was wrong with him. On the 14th July 1942 he was promoted to Acting Corporal. He was confirmed in the rank on the 12th October.

As well as building shelters members of the 8th Battalion worked on Malta's airfields, helping to refuel and rearm aircraft. One day whilst he was doing this the airfield was bombed. The aircraft were protected from bombs by thick stone walls. Unfortunately one bomb exploded close to a wall and made it collapse. The stones landed on George and broke his right forearm. Despite treatment in hospital the bones never set properly. The effect was permanent; in later life his son remembers asking his father why his forearm looked different.

The SS Ohio was an oil tanker that reached Malta on the 15th August 1942. During the voyage across the Mediterranean she was torpedoed, bombed and had shot-down aircraft crash on her. The ship was crippled, but other vessels in the convoy supported her and kept her afloat whilst they towed her slowly into Malta, being bombed almost all the way. George was one of the huge crowds that watched the Ohio arrive in Valetta Harbour. The oil and kerosene on board the Ohio was vital to saving the island.

By the end of 1942 the Germans were retreating in North Africa. They were less able to spare aircraft to attack Malta and by the end of November the siege had effectively been lifted.

George was admitted to hospital again on the 22nd December. He was not discharged until the 31st, and then had to recover at a Convalescent Depot until the 20th February 1943. He fell ill again in mid May, and was treated in the 90th General Hospital in Imtarfa until the 7th June. We don't know which of these was due to his broken arm.

George also broke the bone in his right little finger. He needed an operation to have it set. This was carried out at Imtarfa Hospital.

George left Malta for Egypt on the 27th August 1943. Over the next 3 months he and the 8th Battalion moved around the Middle East. They spent time in Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. On the 30th November the movements stopped for a time when the 8th Battalion returned to Palestine.

The 8th Battalion stayed in the Middle East until March 1944. George attended and passed a Battle Drill Course at the 10th Indian Division Battle School between the 24th January and the 12th February 1944. This course taught him the latest techniques to use in combat. As a Corporal George would be expected to lead soldiers in battle, so it was important that he knew the best ways to do this. On the 23rd March the battalion arrived in Italy, which had been invaded by the Allies during September 1943.

George took part in hard fighting through the mountains of central Italy. George described this as a 'nightmare'. Every time he and his comrades took one ridgeline, they would see another one in front of them, which they knew would also be well defended.

His final campaign was the attack on the German Gothic Line. This ran along the Apennine Mountains of Northern Italy. The Allies broke through the position, although they took many casualties. One of the casualties was George. On the 17th August he was part of a daylight patrol, led by 2nd Lieutenant W.T. Holdsworth, which penetrated an enemy minefield at Monte Doglio. After a fierce firefight with Germans of the 71st Infantry Regiment George and 7 comrades were captured and taken prisoner. However the rest of the patrol captured 26 of the German soldiers.

This meant George was separated from his good friend Fred Bamford. They had been through Malta and Italy together. They would reconnect after the war and stayed in touch with each other.

The British could not confirm that George had been captured until November. He was held at Stalag VII-A in Moosberg an der Isar to the north of Munich in Bavaria. Towards the end of the war the prisoners were marched away from the advancing Americans in the west and Soviets in the east. They were marched in circles as the two Allied armies closed in.

It was 'a sight to behold' when the Americans arrived and freed the 80,000 prisoners at the end of April 1945. George had been held for 8 months. Before they were liberated they had been very short of food and had to live off potato peelings. The Americans handed out cigarettes and chocolate.

The war in Europe ended on the 7th May, and George was returned to the UK on the 15th. He was released from the Army with the rank of Lance Sergeant and returned home on the 21st February 1946. George's conduct had been 'exemplary'. He was 'thoroughly reliable and ...well experienced in the handling of staff, his control is most satisfactory and he has proved his qualities of leadership'.

George's friend and brother in law Edwin spent most of the war in the UK. He became a senior Non-Commissioned Officer. After the war he was posted to Germany as a member of the occupation forces. George found the difference between their experiences a little irritating!

After the war George worked with his brother Sidney for a while. They worked at a stove enamelling factory, which we believe was in Collyhurst, Oldham. A lot of their work was for government contracts.

Later George went to work for British Rail. He stayed with them until he retired at the age of 65 in 1978. He maintained railway tracks. George had found it hard to settle back into civilian life, but he enjoyed this work, as it kept him outdoors.

George and Anne had one child, on the 4th December 1946. They named him George. He trained as a butcher and eventually ran his own business in Glossop, Derbyshire. After he retired, George senior worked there part-time with his son. He enjoyed this work, which included making sausages and preparing meat for sale.

In retirement George enjoyed gardening. As time passed Anne fell ill, and he devoted himself to looking after her. She died on the 8th October 1993, aged 81.

George died on the 4th September 2008. He was 95 years old and a 'happy and contented man'. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in August 2010.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf

Telephone: 0161 342 5480
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council