Redditch war hero George Frederick Irish

Seven letters, one life. George Irish’s name on the Thievpal Memorial, picture by Hattie Miles

Seven letters, one life. George Irish’s name on the Thievpal Memorial, picture by Hattie Miles

First published in News

JUST seven letters.

Seven letters on a memorial which has the names of 73, 367 men who went missing during The Battle of The Somme during World War One.

Irish G.F. is etched on the Thiepval Memorial to mark the sacrifice of Redditch war hero George Frederick Irish.

The whereabouts of his body will always remain unknown but he is remembered in a French field which will forever be a part of England.

The Somme was the scene of the blackest day in British military history with 60,000 lost in one day - July 1, 1916.

Generals had told their men to calmly walk across no-man's-land as they believed a giant bombardment of German lines had destroyed the enemy.

However, despite the biggest bombardment of explosives in human history the Germans were not dead but waiting with machine guns due the misdirection of the shells. The advancing men never stood a chance.

This set the tone for the rest of the battle which raged over the next two years.

Earlier that year George enlisted in Worcester for the Gloucestershire Regiment and given the number 027465.

Aged just 23 he arrived at The Somme weeks after July 1, 1916.

The private would have been given his "trench orders" booklet which detailed the dos and don'ts of military life on the Western Front.

These included how much rum he could drink, how to keep his rifle clean and the recommended ways to go to the toilet in the trenches.

Unlike the majority of the soldiers he was fighting with George was already hailed as a hero.

A selfless act of bravery in his native Redditch in 1913 meant he would always be hero in his hometown.

A young boy William Browning had fallen down a 14ft sewer near Holyoake's Field First School.

George saved the boy and was presented the Albert Medal by King George V.

But amid the industrial slaughter of The Somme, where over one million men would be killed or wounded, George's individual bravery would count for nothing.

Weeks after arriving on the Western Front George died during a vicious bombardment by German artillery in August, 1916.

His body was never recovered.

The saddest aspect of the life and death of George was he not even supposed to be on the front.

As a coal merchant he worked in a reserved occupation which meant he was needed on the home front during WW1.

However, his uncle failed to fill out the right paperwork and George was sent to a war he would never return from.

Irish G.F. is just one name on the Thievpal Memorial. A breathtaking 45 metre architectural masterpiece nestled amid trees in the countryside where so many died for so little.

Not far from Thievpal at Beaumont-Hamel the zig-zagging trench positions and no-man's-land have been saved for history.

Canada bought the land in which a huge amount of Newfoundland soldiers were killed, in one day 700 men went over the top and just 68 returned. Now, nature has taken its course and the pot-marked land is now beautiful parkland and you can walk in five minutes what cost Allied troops months and thousands of deaths to conquer.

Seeing the size of the craters and the damage the countless shells did to the landscape it is not hard to understand why the bodies of so many men, like George, were never found.

If you are ever in this part of the world George's name is not hard to find.

Just look for the Gloucestershire Regiment's roll call of its dead at the rear of the Thiepval Memorial.

Then follow the names alphabetically until you find those seven letters - Irish G.F.

And say a prayer for the Redditch hero who should never be forgotten.
 

- By Adam Smith, guest of Saga Holidays on the Road of Remembrance tour which starts in Folkestone and includes stays in France and Belgium. For more information phone 0800 056 6099.

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