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George W. Hemsworth

Private George W. Hemsworth, 17506, Lancashire Fusiliers, 1st Battalion

George W Hemsworth was born in Ossett in summer 1877, the second child and eldest son of William Hemsworth and his wife Martha Ann (nee Ogilvie) who married in late 1875. In 1891, bricklayer’s labourer William, his wife and five children were living at Jack Lane, Hunslet, Leeds. George is the only child of the family born in Ossett and the family only appear to have been in the town between about 1875 and 1878/9.

In 1901, George is recorded in the District Sheffield Barracks at Langsett Road, Nether Hallam, Sheffield where he was serving as a Private in the 4th Yorkshire Regiment. In 1911, George was 33 years of age and he appears to be boarding in Salford and working in a cotton mill. George’s presence in Salford in 1911 fits with the military information about him since he enlisted in Salford and joined the 1st Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers with regimental service number 17506. His army service record has not survived.

Private George Hemsworth was killed in action on the 11th August 1917 and he was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals, but not the 1914/15 Star indicating that he did not serve overseas before 31st December 1915.

The 1st Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers was a Regular Army battalion and in August 1914 they were in Karachi, (then) India. They returned to England, and landed back on the 2nd January 1915 when they immediately moved to Nuneaton. On the 2nd January 1915, the Battalion came under orders of 86th Brigade, 29th Division. On the 16th March 1915, they sailed via Egypt and landed Gallipoli on the 25th April 1915. They were evacuated to Egypt in January 1916. and landed at Marseilles in March 1916.

Private George Hemsworth died during the crossing of the Steenbeck near Langemarck by the 1st Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers on the 11th August 1917. This action preceded the Battle of Langemarck on the 16th/17th August 1917:

"On 9th August 1917 the 1st Battalion (Major T. Slingsby, M.C.) relieved the 2nd Royal Fusiliers in the line on the south-west side of the Steenbeck stream about a mile west of Langemarck, and officers reconnoitred the crossings over the stream the same night. They found that, owing to the rain, the Steenbeck had by now become a serious military obstacle in many places. Since it was necessary that a firm footing should be obtained on the far bank before further operations on a large scale could be undertaken in this direction, orders were issued for posts to be established about one hundred yards beyond the river on the morning of 11th August.

The task was entrusted to three platoons of the 1st Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers and a body of equal strength from another battalion, the former finding two posts from "C" Company on the right and four from "B" Company on the left. Each post was to consist of two sections. The operation was preceded by a barrage; and zero was at 4.15 a.m. on the 11th August. Shortly before that time the various parties moved forward and crossed the river, establishing the posts in the areas indicated without loss under cover of the barrage, though "C" Company's right post, near the Ypres-Staden railway, was later driven back by bombs to the bridge carrying the rails over the river.

The battalion on the left was met by such heavy machine-gun fire from Passerelle Farm, close to Wejdendrift, that it was unable to establish its post there. "B" Company's two left parties, under Second-Lieutenant H. Latham, were therefore compelled to form a defensive flank. Latham moved constantly backwards and forwards under heavy shelling and rifle fire, supervising the dispositions; and at one stage he led a section across the open in order to fill a gap which had occurred. Second-Lieutenant T. A. Harrop was wounded during the morning, but he refused to leave his post and continued to superintend its consolidation until the battalion was relieved.

During the night 11th/12th August, "A" Company carried up trench stores to the posts and was to have come back for rations. But it was unable to do so before daybreak owing to hostile shelling and rifle fire, and consequently had to stay in the forward positions till the following night, having only its iron rations to eat on the 12th. At 4.20 a.m. on this day the battalion on the left attacked and captured Passerelle Farm. The left of "B" Company was then able to move forward to its proper place and the complete new line was consolidated during the day, the battalion being relieved at night, while advantage was being taken of its success to establish twelve double wooden bridges over the stream in readiness for the forthcoming operations.

Second Lieutenants H. Latham and T. A. Harrop received the Military Cross for their work during this operation. The casualties had been light-8 men killed, 1 officer and 48 men wounded, and 3 men missing (including Private George Hemsworth)." 1

George Hemsworth is not remembered on any Ossett Memorial or Roll of Honour probably because whilst he was born in Ossett the family appear to have left the town in the mid/late 1870’s He is remembered in this 2014 biography and Roll of Honour because the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and/or the "U.K. Soldiers who Died in the Great War 1914-1918" listing records him as born or residing in Ossett.

Langemarck 1917

Above: Preparations for the Battle of Langemarck in August 1917.

Private George W. Hemsworth, died on the 11th August 1917 aged 40 years. He is remembered on Panel 33 at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial,2 Ypres, Belgium. Ypres (now Ieper) is a town in the Province of West Flanders. The Memorial is situated at the eastern side of the town on the road to Menin (Menen) and Courtrai (Kortrijk). Each night at 8 pm the traffic is stopped at the Menin Gate while members of the local Fire Brigade sound the Last Post in the roadway under the Memorial's arches.

The Menin Gate is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient. Broadly speaking, the Salient stretched from Langemarck in the north to the northern edge in Ploegsteert Wood in the south, but it varied in area and shape throughout the war.

The Salient was formed during the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914, when a small British Expeditionary Force succeeded in securing the town before the onset of winter, pushing the German forces back to the Passchendaele Ridge. The Second Battle of Ypres began in April 1915 when the Germans released poison gas into the Allied lines north of Ypres. This was the first time gas had been used by either side and the violence of the attack forced an Allied withdrawal and a shortening of the line of defence.

There was little more significant activity on this front until 1917, when in the Third Battle of Ypres an offensive was mounted by Commonwealth forces to divert German attention from a weakened French front further south. The initial attempt in June to dislodge the Germans from the Messines Ridge was a complete success, but the main assault north-eastward, which began at the end of July, quickly became a dogged struggle against determined opposition and the rapidly deteriorating weather. The campaign finally came to a close in November with the capture of Passchendaele.

The German offensive of March 1918 met with some initial success, but was eventually checked and repulsed in a combined effort by the Allies in September.

The battles of the Ypres Salient claimed many lives on both sides and it quickly became clear that the commemoration of members of the Commonwealth forces with no known grave would have to be divided between several different sites.

The site of the Menin Gate was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through it on their way to the battlefields. It commemorates casualties from the forces of Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and United Kingdom who died in the Salient. In the case of United Kingdom casualties, only those prior 16 August 1917 (with some exceptions). United Kingdom and New Zealand servicemen who died after that date are named on the memorial at Tyne Cot, a site which marks the furthest point reached by Commonwealth forces in Belgium until nearly the end of the war. New Zealand casualties that died prior to 16 August 1917 are commemorated on memorials at Buttes New British Cemetery and Messines Ridge British Cemetery.

The Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial now bears the names of more than 54,000 officers and men whose graves are not known.

References:

1. "The Lancashire Fusiliers, 1st Battalion, WW1 Ypres"

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site