Lance-Sergeant George A. Onion, 3/22402, East Lancashire Regiment, 6th Battalion
George Arthur Onion was born in Bradford in Summer 1877, the son of Charles Onion and his wife, Ann (nee Waddington), who married at Bradford Cathedral on the 28th July 1867. In 1891 George Onion was living at Tong, near Bradford, with his mother, Ann, his elder brother, John Charles Onion, aged 18, and his younger sister, Ann Elizabeth, aged 15. Their father, Charles Onion, was not in the household.
George Arthur Onion married Jeanetta Ackroyd at St Paul’s Church, Morley on the 13th July 1907 and by 1911 they had three children: Ann, Emily and Eliza. Only Eliza was born in Ossett, suggesting that the family had arrived in Ossett in about 1910. They lived at 28, Briggs Row, Storrs Hill Road, Ossett and George was working as a coal miner. George Arthur and Jeanetta Onion had a fourth child, Edith, born in Ossett on the 28th February 1914. At the time of his death, the Onion family were living in Manor Road, Ossett.1
George Arthur Onion’s army service record has not survived, but he enlisted in Dewsbury, and he joined the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry with service number 1051, before being transferred to the 3rd and subsequently the 6th Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment, with the service number 3/22402. He was promoted to Lance-Sergeant and died in Mesopotamia from disease on the 13th July 1916. George Arthur Onion was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals.
The 6th (Service) Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment was raised at Preston in August 1914 as part of Kitchener's First New Army and joined 38th Brigade, 13th (Western) Division and trained at Lucknow Barracks, Tidworth, spending the winter in billets at Winchester. Near the end of February 1915, the Division concentrated at Blackdown in Hampshire, with the 6th East Lancashires at Alma Barracks. They sailed from Avonmouth on the 16th of June 1915, landing at Alexandria, then moving to Mudros by the 4th of July, to prepare for a landing at Gallipoli. The infantry landed on Cape Helles between the 6th and 16th of July to relieve 29th Division. They returned to Mudros at the end of the month, and the entire Division landed at Anzac Cove between the 3rd and 5th of August. They were in action in The Battle of Sari Bair, The Battle of Russell's Top and The Battle of Hill 60, at Anzac. Soon afterwards they transferred from Anzac to Suvla Bay. They were evacuated from Suvla on the 19th and 20th of December 1915, and after a weeks rest they moved to the Helles bridgehead.
They were in action during The last Turkish attacks at Helles on the 7th of January 1916 and were evacuated from Helles on the 8th and 9th. The Division concentrated at Port Said, holding forward posts in the Suez Canal defences. On the 12th of February 1916, they moved to Mesopotamia, to join the force being assembled near Sheikh Sa'ad for the relief of the besieged garrison at Kut al Amara. They joined the Tigris Corps on the 27th of March and were in action in the unsuccessful attempts to relieve Kut. They were in action in The Battle of Kut al Amara, The capture of the Hai Salient, The capture of Dahra Bend and The passage of the Diyala, in the pursuit of the enemy towards Baghdad.
Units of the Division were the first troops to enter Baghdad, when it fell on the 11 March 1917. The Division then joined 'Marshall's Column' and pushed north across Iraq, fighting at Delli 'Abbas, Duqma, Nahr Kalis, crossing the 'Adhaim on the 18 April 1917 and fighting at Shatt al 'Adhaim. Later in the year they were in action in the Second and Third Actions of Jabal Hamrin and fought at Tuz Khurmatli the following April. By the 28th of May 1918, Divisional HQ had moved to Dawalib and remained there until the end of the war, enduring extreme summer temperatures.
After enduring the siege of Kut al Amara from late 1915 to the end of April 1916, when British commander Sir Charles Townshend surrendered his garrison of approximately 13,000 men to the besieging Turk force under Khalil Pasha, George Arthur Onion succumbed to one of the myriad of diseases prevalent in Iraq during the searing heat of the summer of 1916. 70% of the British and 50% of the Indian troops died of disease or at the hands of their Ottoman guards during captivity. The survivors suffered greatly and were starved and left emaciated by their Turkish captors.
"Forces led by Sir Charles Townshend, reached and occupied the Mesopotamian province of Basra, including the town of Kut al-Amara, by late September 1915. From there, they attempted to move up the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers toward Baghdad, but were rebuffed by Turkish troops at Ctesiphon (or Selman Pak) in late November. Despite outnumbering the Turks two-to-one, Townshend's troops, made up partially of soldiers dispatched from India, were forced to retreat to Kut, where on December 5th 1915, Turkish and German troops began to lay siege to the city.
Problems with illness plagued Townshend's forces, as morale sank precipitously along with dwindling supplies and a lack of relief due to the heavy winter rains, which had swollen the Tigris River and made it difficult to maneuver troops along its banks. The British attempted four times over the course of the winter to confront and surround their Turkish opponents only to suffer 23,000 casualties, almost twice the strength of the entire remaining Kut regiment, without success. Kut finally fell on April 29th, 1916, and Townshend and his 13,000 men were taken prisoner." 2
Above: Mounds of earth marking the graves of the British in Kut.
Lance-Sergeant George Arthur Onion, aged 39 years, died on the 13th July 1916. He is buried at grave reference III. M. 21. at the Basra War Cemetery, 3 Basra, Iraq. Basra is a town on the west bank of the Shatt-al-Arab, 90 kilometres from its mouth in the Persian Gulf. The cemetery is about 8 kilometres north-west of Basra.
During the First World War, Basra was occupied by the 6th (Poona) Division in November 1914, from which date the town became the base of the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force. A number of cemeteries were used by the MEF in and around Basra; Makina Masul Old Cemetery was used from December 1914 to October 1916 and the Makina Masul New Extension was begun alongside the old cemetery in August 1917. These two sites, enlarged later when more than 1,000 graves were brought in from other burial grounds, now form Basra War Cemetery.
The cemetery now contains 2,551 burials of the First World War, 74 of them unidentified. The headstones marking these graves were removed in 1935 when it was discovered that salts in the soil were causing them to deteriorate. The names of those buried in the graves affected are now recorded on a screen wall.
The cemetery also contains the Basra (Tanooma Chinese) Memorial, commemorating 227 unidentified casualties of the Chinese Labour Corps who were attached to the Inland Water Transport during the First World War. A panel in their memory was added to the screen wall when it became evident that their graves in Tanooma Chinese Cemetery could no longer be maintained.
During the Second World War, Basra was the scene of fighting from 2 - 7 May 1941 when Iraqi forces were driven from the town, which then became a base for Commonwealth forces. Basra War Cemetery was used once again and after the war, further graves were brought in from other burials grounds in Iraq and Iran.
There are now 365 Second World War burials in the cemetery. In addition, there are 36 war graves of other nationalities, many of them Polish, and 16 non-war burials.
Directly opposite Basra War Cemetery is the Basra Indian Forces Cemetery containing burials of both wars, and the Basra Cremation Memorial commemorating Indian casualties of the Second World War whose remains were cremated in accordance with their faith.
George Onion's elder brother, John Charles Onion had also moved to Ossett in the 1890s. He married Eliza Wilby in 1896 and they had three daughters, all born in Ossett, between 1909 and 1913. The family lived at Vicar Lane, Ossett and John Charles also served with the army during WW1. He had served pre-WW1 in the 1st/4th Battalion of KOYLI, but his engagement had expired.
One day short of his 42nd birthday, John Charles Onion enlisted on the 30th September 1914, and subsequently joined the 12th (Service) Battalion (Miners)(Pioneers), Kings Own Yorkshire Light infantry 4 (also known as 't'owd twelfth') with service no. 12/1052. The choice of battalion suggests that John Onion's occupation in 1914 was a coal miner. He embarked for the Mediterranean on the 6th December 1915 and moved from Egypt to France on the 2nd March 1916.
Private John C. Onion was ticketed home for treatment on the 8th July 1916, and was discharged on medical grounds on the 25th October 1916 after 2 years and 26 days army service. He subsequently found it difficult to find work and, aged 44, he was awarded a pension although on the 4th July 1917, the record suggests that 'he is undoubtedly exaggerating his disability'. True or not, Private John Charles Onion was awarded the Silver War Badge later in 1917.
Private John C. Onion was a Battle of the Somme survivor. On the first day of the Battle, on the 1st July 1916, he suffered gun shot wounds to his left leg, which fractured his tibia resulting in a ½” permanent shortening of his leg. He was awarded the British and the Victory medals and also the 1914/15 Star, in recognition of his overseas service before 31st December 1915.
1. "Ossett Observer", 21st October 1916