George William Timson

Name George William Timson
Corps Durham Light Infantry 1/5 Battalion. Formerly Northamptonshire Regiment, 4th Battalion 2697
Rank Private
Service No. 9399
Date / Place of entry 11 October 1914 Cottingham
Date of death 1st November 1916, Killed in Action
Memorial / Grave Pier and Face 14A and 15C Thiepval Memorial

George William Timson’s family were from Ashley though George was born in the early summer of 1898 in Burton on Trent where his father Benjamin Timson was then working as a maltster. George’s mother Mary Ann Gibson was from Derby and he had three younger sisters, Frances Emma, Elisabeth Alice and Emily. In the early 1900s the family returned to Ashley,

George’s grandmother Harriet Timson nee Crane had been left a widow in Ashley in 1889 having borne two sons and eight daughters. She was born in Middleton in 1839 and her older sister Sarah became a sister in law of Mary Crane nee Sculthorpe, whose husband Henry Crane murdered his neighbour’s young son in 1875. Harriet died in Ashley in 1905. 

At some point George’s father Benjamin served in the Army Volunteer force for five years and in September 1914, aged forty two, he enlisted at Kettering for one year’s service with the 7th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment. He was discharged on 24th October on health grounds.

Two weeks before, a few months after his sixteenth birthday, farm worker George William followed his father’s example and enlisted for four years at Cottingham into the 4th(Territorial) Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment. He gave his age as seventeen years and one month. According to his medical he was five foot six and a half, weighed one hundred and forty three pounds and was physically well developed.

Initially on home duties, George was admitted to hospital in Northampton on the 31st March 1915 with cerebrospinal meningitis, an infection which was generally fatal. However after seventy three days in hospital he was discharged fit on the 12th of June.

The 4th Battalion was renamed the 1/4 Battalion and in July 1915 was sent to Gallipoli but George William’s military record says nothing about this. In view of his youth it seems likely he had been transferred to the 2/4 line Battalion formed late in 1914 to take men judged too old or too young for active service abroad.

On 31 August 1916 George was transferred to the 1/5 Battalion “A” Company of the Durham Light Infantry. The previous year the Battalion became the 150th Brigade in 50th (Northumbrian) Division, a formation of the Territorial Force and remained on the Western Front throughout the war. It consisted principally of men drawn from the North East and North Yorkshire.

George arrived on the Somme just as the 50th Division was deployed in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, a phase of the Battle of the Somme. This was the first time tanks were used in warfare. Later that September the Battalion was engaged in the Battle of Morval, a success for the Allies who gained control of the high ground around the Butte de Warlencourt, closer to the important military position of Bapaume.

The Battalion took part in the final offensive of 1916 mounted by the 4th Army, the Battle of Le Transloy Ridges. This indecisive engagement lasted from 1st October to 5th November and resulted in the Allies advancing a mere five miles. The land they fought over had become a quagmire after months of bombardment and torrential rain during October so appalling that  the Australian official historian Charles Bean described it as the worst ever known.

The poet John Masefield visited the area and wrote ‘I never saw such mud, or such a sight in all my days. Other places are bad and full of death, but this was deep in mud as well, a kind of chaos of deep running holes & broken ground & filthy chasms, and pools and stands and marshes of iron coloured water, and yellow snow and bedevilment. Old rags of wet uniforms were everywhere, and bones and legs and feet and heads were sticking out of the ground’.

Following Le Transloy British casualties numbered 420,000 among them George Timson, killed in action on 1st November after sixty two days’ active service. His body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. The Memorial bears the names of more than 72,000 British and South African officers and men who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916.

George was survived by his father Benjamin who had rejoined and was also on active service in France, his mother and his sisters.