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George Griffiths

George GriffithsPrivate George Griffiths, 201562, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 2nd/4th Battalion

George Griffiths was born in Pendlebury, Lancashire in 1893, the third child and first son of Shropshire-born coal miner, Richard Griffiths and his wife, Hull-born Annie (nee Smith) who married in the Burnley area in late 1888.

The couple had eight children from their marriage but two children had died before April 1911. George and Annie Griffiths had five children by 1901 when they lived in Ashton’s Buildings, Ossett and those children were born in Burnley, Pendlebury, Kippax and Fairburn suggesting the family led a peripatetic existence, perhaps necessitated by their father as he looked for work.

By 1911 Richard and Annie Griffiths had a sixth child and the family had moved to live at 103, High Street, Gawthorpe, Ossett. Richard was working as a hewer and 18 year-old George was a hurrier, most probbaly at the nearby Low Laithes Colliery.

In 1914, George Griffiths, aged 21, married Mary E. Squires in the Dewsbury area, and their first child, Minnie was born in 1915. In 1917 the couple had a second child, who was named George after the father he would never know.

George Griffiths’ army service record has not survived but it is known that he enlisted at Dewsbury and that he did not serve overseas before 31st December 1915. He was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals.

The 2nd/4th Battalion of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry was formed at Wakefield on the 30th September 1914 as a second line unit. On the 1st March 1915 the battalion moved to Bulwell and attached to 187th Brigade in 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division. They moved in April 1915 to Strensall, York and on in May to Beverley, moving again in November to Gateshead, in January 1916 to Larkhill and in June 1916 to Flixton Park near Bungay. They moved again in October 1916 to Wellingborough and landed at Le Havre on the 15th January 1917.

Private George Griffiths was probably wounded and then taken to hospital at Rouen following the action to capture the village of Solesmes, which was tasked to the 62 Division, and 2/4 Battalion, KOYLI in the 187th Brigade was heavily involved in the fighting.

From the 1st to the 17th October 1918, 62 Division were out of the line, apparently in VI Corps Reserve, but were following up as the advance progressed so that by the 15th October they were camped around Estourmel. That day 62 Division HQ received orders to be ready to capture Solesmes and the high ground to the east of the river Selle on or about the 20th October 1918. The River Selle at Solesmes was normally about 6 metres wide and 1.5 metres deep, with a muddy bed and steep banks, but was at this time swelled by heavy rains. Moreover, a demolished railway bridge had partially blocked the river and so flooded the area south of the village. The Selle flows south to north and joins the Escaut or Scheldt at Denain. An operation in two phases was envisaged viz Phase 1. Take Solesmes and the adjoining Saint-Python, including the crossing of the River Selle; Phase 2. Move forward to take the high ground about 2 km beyond, which overlooks Romeries.

During the night of the 17th to 18th October, 62 Division began to move forward from Carnières and Boussières to the front line just west of Solesmes, where it relieved a Guards brigade. The night of the 19th to 20th October saw the divisional Royal Engineers companies erecting, under fire, twelve assault bridges and two pontoon bridges for artillery, across the swollen river, some upstream and others downstream of Solesmes/Saint-Python.

At the same time the attacking force moved up to the start line near the villages from billets at Quiévy. Zero hour for Phase 1 was 2 am on the 20th October 1918. Because there were French civilians in the villages, only shrapnel and machine gun fire (from which they could shelter) were permitted in the creeping barrage. There was fierce street fighting, but the whole of both Solesmes and Saint-Python was taken by 7.15 am.

Meanwhile, another brigade of 62 Division assembled at Quiévy and from there moved forward at 4 am. One battalion moved round the left and another round the right of the village. By this time the rising water had submerged the bridges across the Selle, but a crossing was made and by 7 am positions were taken up on the start line for Phase 2 just east of Solesmes. A barrage opened at once and the attack on the high ground overlooking Romeries began. The objective was reached by 10 am, contact was made with the flanking divisions and a defensive front established.

After bombarding the new front line the enemy counter-attacked at 4.15 pm but was repulsed. Solesmes and Saint- Python were bombarded during the night of 20th to 21st October. On the 23rd October, 3 Division passed through 62 Division, which then withdrew to the Quiévy - Bévillers - Cattenières area for rest.1

The "Ossett Observer" 2 had this short obituary for Private George Griffiths:

"Private George Griffiths (25), K.O.Y.L.I., whose home was 7, Milner-street, Gawthorpe, met his death in the closing stages of the war. He was married and leaves a widow and two children. He formerly worked at the Low Laithes Colliery."

Solesmes, France November 1918

Above: German WW1 prisoners trooping past local inhabitants at Solesmes, France, on the 1st November 1918.

Private George Griffiths, died from wounds on the 1st November 1918, aged 25 years. He is buried at grave reference S. II. EE. 20. at the St. Sever Cemetery Extension,3 Rouen, Seine-Maritime, France. St Sever Cemetery and St. Sever Cemetery Extension are located within a large communal cemetery situated on the eastern edge of the southern Rouen suburbs of Le Grand Quevilly and Le Petit Quevilly.

During the First World War, Commonwealth camps and hospitals were stationed on the southern outskirts of Rouen. A base supply depot and the 3rd Echelon of General Headquarters were also established in the city.

Almost all of the hospitals at Rouen remained there for practically the whole of the war. They included eight general, five stationary, one British Red Cross and one labour hospital, and No. 2 Convalescent Depot. A number of the dead from these hospitals were buried in other cemeteries, but the great majority were taken to the city cemetery of St. Sever. In September 1916, it was found necessary to begin an extension, where the last burial took place in April 1920.

During the Second World War, Rouen was again a hospital centre and the extension was used once more for the burial of Commonwealth servicemen, many of whom died as prisoners of war during the German occupation.

The cemetery extension contains 8,348 Commonwealth burials of the First World War (ten of them unidentified) and in Block "S" there are 328 from the Second World War (18 of them unidentified). There are also 8 Foreign National burials here.

References:

1. The British 62nd Division in the Great War

2. "Ossett Observer", 16th November 1918

3. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site