Private George Thomas Rothery, 97980, 2nd Battalion, Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derbyshire) Regiment.
George Thomas Rothery was born on the 6th April 1899 at Chickenley Heath, Dewsbury, and baptised at St. Mary’s Church, Gawthorpe and Chickenley Heath on the 21st May 1899. George was the eldest child of soldier and miner John Rothery (born 1867 in Horbury) and his wife Florence Elizabeth (nee Hyoms, born 1880 in Doncaster) who married on the 26th November 1898 at St. John the Divine Church, Horbury Bridge. There were 15 children born between 1899 and 1921 to their marriage, although only five survived into adulthood.
Above: St, Mary's Church, Gawthorpe and Chckenley Heath before demolition in January 2011.
George's father John Rothery, then 18 years and 9 months old, enlisted for 12 years at Pontefract in July 1886 as Private 2452 in the South Yorkshire Regiment of the King's Own Yorkshire light Infantry. His record showed that he had served previously in the 3rd Battalion of the the Yorks and Lancs Regiment. The South Yorkshire Regiment of K.O.Y.L.I. became the 2nd Battalion, K.O.Y.L.I. in 1881.
In December 1890, after serving 112 days in prison for desertion, Rothery moved to India with the 2nd Battalion K.O.Y.L.I. on the troopship HMS Malabar and subsequently served in India at Colaba, Mumbai until January 1898 when he was placed on the army reserve back in England.
Whilst Rothery was serving in India, besides him having an appalling disciplinary record, his medical records shows that he was frequently hospitalised with sexually transmitted diseases when he contracted syphilis and severe gonorrhea resulting in an ulcer on his penis. He contracted malaria (ague), suffered with rheumatism, a sprained ankle and an 'accidental' scalp wound, which was subject to a Court of Enquiry because it occurred off duty, most likely in a fight or mugging incident.
He was recalled to army service in November 1899 and was transferred once again to the 2nd Battalion, K.O.Y.L.I. where he served during the Boer War in South Africa between January 1900 and August 1902. His disciplinary record shows us that on the 2nd May 1901, he was subject to court martial for "failing to appear at the place of parade by his commanding officer", for which he was held in confinement for 9 days and then jailed for 42 days. He returned to duty on the 22nd June 1901 and had to forfeit his King's South African Medal and Clasps. He was discharged on the termination of his engagement on the 11th August 1902 and placed on the army reserve.
At the age of 44 years and 354 days, on the 14th October 1914, John Rothery re-enlisted in the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry as Private 3306 and served in France with the 1st Battalion, K.O.Y.L.I. from the 10th June 1915 to the 29th October 1915, before moving to Marseilles on the 30th October 1915, when the battalion sailed for Alexandria, Egypt, arriving in November 1915. Once again, his disciplinary record was appalling with frequent 14 day detentions and the forfeit of pay. He was given 14 days Field Punishment in the February of 1916 and clearly never learned from previous experiences.
John Rothery was transferred to the King's (Liverpool) Regiment on the 2nd October 1916, where he served in the 1st Garrison Battalion, King's Liverpool Regiment as Private 47666. This battalion was formed in Seaforth on the 19th August 1915 and moved to Egypt in September, where they remained throughout the rest of WW1. Garrison battalions were normally formed from men of a lower medical category and employed on guard duties on the lines of communication. They did not serve in brigades or divisions. Rothery was finally discharged on the 9th March 1919 after serving 4 years and 142 days and was later awarded the 1914-15 Star and the British and Victory medals.
Between 1912 and 1921, John Rothery fathered five more children, who all died soon after childbirth, with the exception of Florence Rothery who was born in 1915 and died in 1916 aged 1 year. I believe the loss of ten children born to John Rothery and his wife Florence was entirely attributable to him passing syphilis and gonorrhea to his wife, neither of which were curable until as late as 1943 when syphilis was first treated when the antibiotic penicillin was available.
Syphilis in pregnant women can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or the baby's death shortly after birth. Approximately 40% of babies born to women with untreated syphilis can be stillborn or die from the infection as a newborn. Untreated gonorrhea in pregnancy has been linked to miscarriages, premature birth and low birth weight, premature rupture of membranes, and chorioamnionitis.
In addition to his chequered career in the army, John Rothery also served time in Wakefield Prison on the 14th February 1910 for the non-payment of debt. He paid the outstanding debt and was released two days later on the 16th February 1910.
Florence Rothery died aged 45 years in 1925 in Kirkhamgate, Wakefield and John Rothery lived on until 1936 when he died in Leeds aged 68 years.
George Thomas Rothery
18 year-old labourer George Thomas Rothery enlisted in the army for the duration of the war at Pontefract on the 25th May 1917 after being called up for service. He was 5ft 2" tall and weighed 125 lbs (56.7kg). He gave his address as 2 Dibsey Square, Providence Street, Wakefield and his next-of-kin as his father John Rothery of the same address. On the 26th May 1917, he was posted to the 6th Training Reserve Battalion of the Notts and Derby Regiment at Rugeley and allotted the service number TR/6/3774. On the 17th September 1917, he transferred to the 11th Training Reserve Battalion at Brocton Camp, Cannock Chase. On the 12th November 1917, he was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, (Sherwood Foresters) Notts and Derby Regiment and allocated the service number 97980.
Private George Rothery arrived in France on the 29th January 1918 with the 2nd Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, part of the 71st Brigade of the 6th Division. On the 2nd February 1918 he was posted to Lindop Camp, Fremicort, France.
George Rothery was wounded on the 28th May 1918 by a gas shell and spent a couple of weeks in hospital before rejoining his battalion at Calais on the 17th June 1918. However, like his father before him, George had a problem with discipline and in September 1918, he was court-martialed:
"Tried by FGCM (Field General Court Martial) 10.9.1918 and sentenced to 28 days FD No. 1 for "W.O.A.S." conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline.
2.9.1918 - 1. Not complying with an order and 2. Using obscene language to an NCO.
In close arrest 2.9.1918 to 9.9.1918. 9 days."
On the 19th September 1918, Private George Thomas Rothery was reported missing and declared either killed in action or died of wounds. His body was later found on the 24th September 1918.
Above: A captured British soldier being given a light by a German soldier on September 18th 1918 in action around Epehy.
On the night of September 13th-14th 1918, the 6th Division relieved the 32nd Division near Holnon Wood, three and a half miles west of St. Quentin, having the 1st Division on the left and the 34th French Division on the right. It was expected that the enemy would stand on the heights, which command St. Quentin to the west and south, but it was not known whether his resistance would be strong or not, as his troops were much disorganised and his morale had declined. The 1st and 2nd Divisions, hand in hand with the French, were ordered to capture the tactical line on September 18th, as a starting point for the attack on the Hindenburg Line, which ran just outside St. Quentin to the canal at Bellenglise.1
The 6th Division front was practically coextensive with the eastern side of Holnon Wood, and the advance was to be up 3,000 yards of slope to the heights overlooking St Quentin. About the centre was another Quadrilateral, recalling unpleasant memories of the one in the Somme battle. The 71st Brigade was to attack on the right, the 16th Brigade on the left. The left on the 71st included the Quadrilateral in its objective.
"The 2nd Sherwood Foresters moved up to the position of readiness on the afternoon of the 17th September, and were in the assembly position by 3.15 next morning, advancing to attack at 5.25. Some 40 German prisoners were almost at once captured, but it very soon became evident that the enemy was in great strength, that his machine guns were numerous and well disposed, and that his wire was unusually thick and but little damaged by our artillery. At 7.45 the right company of the Battalion was reported held up by heavy machine-gun fire, but the remaining companies pushed on, and soon after 8 a.m. the right company, with the 1st Buffs and 2nd Durham Light Infantry of the 16th Brigade, was reported as holding Douai trench with its left in touch with the 2nd York and Lancaster Regiment. There was now a long pause in the battle."
Another unsatisfactory feature was that the Holnon Wood covered practically the whole 2,500 yards frontage of the Division, and was so drenched with gas shells and the tracks so bad, that both the 16th and 71st Infantry Brigades had to make a detour north and south of the wood respectively to reach their assembly positions on the 17th September, and naturally fatigued the troops and hindered communication and supply.
"Between 10 and 12 o’clock p.m. news came to hand that the attack by the French had broken down, and that the British attacks upon Holnon village had failed owing to heavy fire from the German machine guns. Orders from the Brigade about midday on the 18th directed the attack upon the Quadrilateral to be renewed by the Foresters and 9th Norfolks; but these orders were cancelled during the night of the 18th-19th, no doubt owing to the weakness of these battalions by reason of the losses they had sustained, and these were now ordered to withdraw to a position in rear between Badger and Kitchener Copses, while the other battalions took their place; these units were, however, no more successful, and at 10 p.m. on the 19th the Battalion was directed to retire still further, with the Battalion headquarters in a quarry."
"By 3.5 a.m. on the 20th the Battalion was in its new position, and it was now possible to form some approximate estimate of the losses it had incurred, when it was found that these were not far short of 400 killed, wounded and missing; there were killed 4 officers – Captain H.H. Tyler, M.C., Second-Lieutenants J.S. Corless, R.R. Nicolson, M.C., W. Meek – and 56 other ranks; wounded, 6 officers – Lieutenant R.D. Trevor-Roper, Second-Lieutenants A. Lawler, C.B. Keatley, W.J. Threlfall, J. Lyth, J.H. Redgate – and 267 non-commissioned officers and men, while 3 officers – Second-Lieutenants A. Millin, J. Cowe and T.P. Plant – and 37 men were missing." 2
Private George Thomas Rothery, aged 19 years, was killed in action on the attack on the Hindenburg Line near Holnon, west of St. Quinten as part of the Battle of Epehy, on the 19th September 1918. He is buried at grave D.41 at the Trefcon British Cemetery, Caulaincourt, France.
Trefcon and Caulaincourt are two villages about 14 kilometres west of St Quentin on the south side of the main N29 Amiens-St Quentin road. The Cemetery is situated between the two villages on the D34 road.
On the 22nd March 1918 Caulaincourt and Trefcon was captured by the Germans, in spite of a stout defence by the 50th (Northumbrian) Division. The villages were regained by British troops in September 1918.
The cemetery was made by the IX Corps (6th and 32nd Divisions) in September 1918, and was called at that time Caulaincourt Military Cemetery.
There are now nearly 300, 1914-18 and a small number of 1939-45 war casualties commemorated in this site. Of these, over 10 from the 1914-18 War are unidentified.
The Cemetery covers an area of 977 square metres and is enclosed by a low rubble wall.
George Thomas Rothery is remembered at the Ossett War Memorial when his name was added in August 2022.
Researched and written March 2023 by Stephen Wilson for ossett.net, the first established and only Ossett history website with original, non-plagiarised and accurate content.
1. War Diary, 2nd Battalion, Notts and Derby Regiment, 1st January 1918 - 30th September 1918
2. "The 1st and 2nd Battalions The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) in the Great War", Gale & Polden Ltd., London by H.C. Wylly