George Thomas French of Glascote - a WW1 veteran

The life and wartime experiences of George Thomas French of Glascote, with articles from the Tamworth Herald and my own genealogical research.

George Thomas French of Glascote - a WW1 veteran
Glascote Cemetery

George Thomas French was born in 1874 in Tring, Hertfordshire, and he was the son of Thomas French and Jane, nee Masters. George's father, Thomas, was an agricultural labourer. Jane died in 1880, when George was six. The following year, George, age 7, his younger brother James, age 4, and their father Thomas, were all lodgers with an elderly widowed straw plaiter, Elizabeth Duncombe. Two years later, their father remarried to Mary Ann Simpson and went on to have three more children.

As a 17 year old youth, Thomas worked as a corn merchant's labourer alongside his father. He also served in the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the Hertfordshire Regiment. He joined the 2nd Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment at the age of 19, in 1893, regimental number 4629. He was 5 feet 9 inches tall with a fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. He was described as,

"A good recruit, anxious to join his County Regiment".

George served in England for a while. From 1993 to 1998 he was at the Bedfordshires' Kempston Barracks in Bedford. He was posted to Lichfield from June 1898 to 1900. On arrival in Lichfield he was promoted to Corporal.

George married Sarah Shaw back in Kempston, where George had been serving, in December 1898. I'm curious to know why he married her in Kempston, as it seems likely that he met her whilst stationed with the 2nd Bedfordshires in the Lichfield depot. I have no proven information about Sarah's early life, but the most likely Sarah Shaw I have found was born in Alderney in 1863 and can be found living in Tamworth in the 1881 and 1891 census.

George and Sarah had three children, Harold George French who was born in Tamworth in 1900, (sadly he died in Tidwood in 1906). George was posted back to Kempston Barracks in 1902, and Alexander Douglas French was born nearby in 1903. After a brief spell in Colchester in 1903, George was posted to Bordon Camp in Hampshire. Their youngest child, Ivy Irene French, was born there in 1905.

George served in South Africa from March to September 1900, then returned to England. In March 1901 he had an accident on the stairs in which he injured his elbow. This became ulcerated and continued to cause him problems until January of the following year, when he was admitted to hospital in Bedford.

He was promoted to Sergeant in February 1903. His service period was extended in 1905. He remained in England until 1911, during which time he gained a Small Arms Factory qualification (1908). In 1911 he went out to Bermuda as a Sergeant in the Bedfordshire Regiment, and his wife and their two children went with him.

In January 1912 he returned to South Africa, and in 1913 he had an attack of infuenza there, in Pretoria.

On 27th August 1913 George was due to be discharged, but he elected to continue serviving in South Africa until he returned to England in January 1914.

He embarked for France just over two weeks after the outbreak of war, on 14th August 1914. On 14th November 1914, only three months into his War, the Tamworth Herald reported on a long letter from Sergeant French, which gives us a good summary of his experiences thus far. At this time George and his family were living at Thomas Street, Glascote. I'm not sure what brought them to the area, but perhaps he had met Sarah when he was in Lichfield.

Soldiers’ Letters.


"Sergeant French, of the Bedfordshire Regiment, of Thomas Street, Glascote, has written an interesting account of his experiences in connection with the war from July 31 to October 13. Incidentally it may be mentioned that Sergeant French was sent home with a bad foot, and at the time of writing was expecting to return to his regiment. He was at home on furlough pending his discharge when the mobilisation order came, and subsequently joined his regiment in Ireland. He arrived at Havre on August 16, the troops receiving a great reception from the French people. He recalls their journey to Mons, and relates many incidents in connection with that battle in which his company lost 43 killed, wounded and missing. They lost nearly all the stretcher bearers there.
“They retreated to La Cateau, arriving on Tuesday, August 25, where they had their first issue of rations since the previous Sunday. Almost before they had time to get a feed, they were ordered to go trenching, and then they knew they were going to make another stand. Everything went on well until about 3 am on August 26, when they were called upon to man the trenches. After some hours three Uhlans were seen to be taking observations of their positions, and soon the bullets began to ping all round them. From the vicinity of a large wood, thousands of Germans subsequently emerged, and the artillery dropped shrapnel and lyddite among them as fast as they could, nearly every shot making a large gap. Hundreds upon hundreds must have been killed and wounded, and their advance was stopped. The Germans brought up several machine guns, but the trenches gave the British cover. On their right things got worse, and the British artillery, who had done such damage on their left, ran short of ammunition, and being unable to get more, had to retire.
“The troops were eventually compelled to leave the trenches, and how they got away to the supports was extraordinary, for they had 500 yards of open ground to cross, and the enemy poured a deadly fire at them, bullets falling about them as thick as hailstones. They only lost three of their machine gunners and one man wounded. Their retirement continued.
“September 6 they received notice to take up the offensive again, which put fresh spirit into them. Nothing of note happened for a day or two, when they got a message that the Germans were returning. They encountered the enemy after passing Cressy, Sergeant French’s regiment leading the 14th brigade. They drove the Germans back, the artillery doing good work. The Germans left a lot of wounded on the field.
“Proceeding to the battle of the Marne, Sergeant French recalls that in a village where they were billeted for a night, they came across an example of German cruelty. Some of the British went into a baker’s shop to buy bread, and found a woman and a little girl dead on the floor. The oven door was open, and the embers were aglow, and on looking into the oven they found the charred bodies of two men. Sergeant French recounts several successful encounters with the enemy prior to crossing the Marne. Afterwards some hard fighting was experienced.
“Sergeant French had a narrow escape. He received orders to cross a road and take charge of the troops, and just as he was doing so a shell burst behind him. He only received a few small cuts on his left hand. Two horses bolted from an ambulance loaded with wounded, and corporal and seven men in Sergeant French’s company drew the ambulance miles, under fire from the enemy, to a place of safety, for which they were recommended to be mentioned in despatches.
“The troops had to retire from a village they had taken, and were eventually ordered to cross the river again, which was accomplished under cover of darkness. On October 11 Sergeant French says they came close up to the Belgians, who had been having a rough time, and they were soon at it again. His foot had been very troublesome in the long marches, not having healed from a large blister at the time they marched to Mons. He marched miles without his boot on so as to be with his platoon. It was dressed when possible, but did not get any better.
“After passing Bethune they took up a position in an open field. They began to make trenches, and were shelled nearly all the time. They remained in the trenches in a downpour of rain all night, and the following day. The ground all around them was like a large fire, and shells were bursting everywhere. The smoke, which had been very thick, cleared away, after the enemy had shelled them for six hours. They then gave the Germans a hot time. Sergeant French had to give up owing to the trouble with his foot increasing, and was sent to the base hospital, thence to Calais and Dover, and eventually home.”

On 15th October 1914 he returned from the Front and was admitted to hospital in Rochester, suffering from ulcers in his right ankle. He remained there for 9 days. The problem was probably venous stasis ulcers, which are typically due to venous hypertension or chronic venous insufficiency, in which blood doesn’t flow correctly from your lower legs back to your heart.

In July 1915 George was transferred to the 1st Garrison Battalion, Essex Regiment (22386). He was discharged with the rank of Company Sergeant Major on 7th September 1915.

During his service George had been awarded the South African Queen's Medal and the Cape Colony Clasp and Roses, the British War Medal, the Victory Medal, and the 1914 Star. In 1917, two years after his discharge, he was awarded a £5 Long Service gratuity and a good conduct medal.

In about 1924 George became the caretaker at Bolehall Boys' School, now William McGregor School.

George's son, Alexander, married Ada Lilian Cleaver in 1930. They had a daughter Monica Joy French, in 1932.

In 1939 George was living at 85 Glascote Road with his wife Sarah, daughter Ivy, his son-in-law Walter John Fagg, a tailoring and outfitting shop manager, and his two-year-old grandson, Brian John Fagg, who was born in 1937. George still worked at Bolehall Boys' School, which was immediately opposite his house.

In May 1943 George was approaching retirement at 70 years old. He was fined 4 shillings costs for showing a light in the school during the blackout while he was showing a new caretaker round the building.

On 8th October 1948 George and Sarah celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary. In recent years he had been given the honour of being Tamworth Football Club's first ever Life Member, having served on its management committee for 12 years. I'm sure he would have been thrilled with Tamworth's recent promotion to the National League.

George's wife Sarah died on 28th December 1950, at 85 Glascote Road. Probate was granted to her son-in-law Walter. I believe George died on 11th February 1957, although I can find no probate record for him to confirm that this is the correct death. Again, this was probably in Glascote. (His death was registered in the Lichfield registration area). I imagine that they are both buried in Glascote Cemetery, but I could not find them when I searched today. All Tamworth's old burial records are held on Microfilm in Tamworth Library, Corporation Street, which can be accessed free of charge, so I will try to investigate soon.

George and Sarah's house has been demolished and replaced with a newer property.

George's granddaughter Monica married Graham Weighell in 1959.

George's daughter Ivy died in 1981, probably in Glascote. I have not found any children for Ivy and Walter other than Brian John Fagg.

George's granddaughter Monica had two children, David A Weighell (1962) and Alison J Weighell (1963). Monica died in Coleford, Gloucestershire in 2003.

I would love to hear from anyone with more information or photographs of George.

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