George Edgar S WHITE was born in early 1891, in Leicester. He was the son of George White, born in about b.1862, in Leicester, and his wife, Mary Ann, probably née Burbidge, who was born in about 1867 in Birmingham. It was probably their marriage which was registered in Leicester in Q2, 1877.
In 1891, George was three months old. The family was living at 22 Birstall Street, Leicester and his father was a ‘Greengrocer / Beer Retailer’. It is assumed that the indented ‘Elastic Foreman’ on his wife’s line, may also refer to him, and that he did some sort of factory work, whilst his wife ran the shop. George had an elder brother, Harold J, who was two.
In 1901, the family were living at the Willow Tree Tavern, 91 Willow Street, in north-west Leicester. George was aged ten; his elder brother Harold was twelve, and they had a two year old sister, Elizabeth Elsie. The children were all born in Leicester. George’s father was a ‘Licensed Victualler’ and presumably running the pub.
Sometime before 1911, the family moved to Rugby. In 1911, they were living in a five roomed house at 20 Paradise Street, Rugby. George’s father was 49, an employer and a ‘Fruitier’. His wife, now 44, helped in the business, although that had been deleted. There had had seven children, but only three were still living – George who was now 20 years old was a ‘Fruiterer Shop Assistant’ – no doubt helping his father, and his sister, Elizabeth Elsie, aged twelve was at school. His elder brother was now married and still living in Leicester.
George’s Medal Card states that he was a Private, Number: 22140 in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. There is no date of Entry to France so it was probably later than 1915. The CWGC site provides very little detail on George’s military career or family, other than that he was in the 2nd/7th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire regiment (RWR).
Four RWR Battalions – the 2/5th, 2/6th, 2/7th and 2/8th Battalions – landed in France as part of the 182nd (2nd Warwickshire) Brigade in the 61st (2nd South Midland) Division in May 1916 for service on the Western Front, and their stories are broadly similar, and several other Rugby men served and were killed in action with these Battalions.
2nd/7th Battalion RWR was formed in Coventry in October 1914 as a second line Battalion. It became part of the 2nd Warwickshire Brigade, 2nd South Midland Division, and then in August 1915 it was re-designated as part of the 182nd Brigade, 61st (2nd South Midland) Division. The Battalion landed in France on 21 May 1916.. Whether George was with them is unknown. If he was with them, he could have been engaged in various actions on the Western Front including: the Attack at Fromelles in 1916; and during 1917, the Operations on the Ancre; the German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line; the Battle of Langemarck toward the end of the Third Battle the Ypres, and then after being in reserve for the Battle of Cambrai, the Battalion was used to reinforce the units under counter-attack in the area of La Vacquerie at the end of November 1917.
The Battalion War Diary gives details of the Battalion’s activities throughout the war, but the following information has been abstracted for the period before George’s death.
In early December 1917, the Battalion was in the Welsh Ridge sector, near the Hindenburg line. To start the New Year, the Battalion was in training. The Battalion moved to Savy, then toward the end of the month it was at Holnon Wood, and then moved back to Berthecourt. The Battalion strength was 29 Officers and 388 Other Ranks.
During February 1918, the Battalion was in support and then relieved the 2nd/6th RWR on 3 February, who relieved them in turn on 6 February. On 14 March the 2nd/8th RWR were transferred to the Battalion, with 8 Officers and 256 Other Ranks. In March the Battalion continued turn and turn about in Holnon Wood, improving the line and with training in the days between 14 and 20 March.
The anticipated attack by the Germans, Operation Michael,, was launched on 21 March 1918, against the British Fifth Army and the right wing of the British Third Army. The German artillery targeted command and communications; then, the destruction of artillery; and then the front-line infantry. The artillery bombardment began at 4.40am on 21 March 1918, and hit targets over an area of 150 square miles, the biggest barrage of the entire war. Over 1,100,000 shells were fired in five hours.
Thus commenced the Battle of St Quentin and the Actions at the Somme Crossings. The 61st (2nd South Midland) Division was holding the forward zone of defences in the area northwest of Saint Quentin in the area of Ham and lost many men as it fought a chaotic, but ultimately successful, withdrawal back over the Somme crossings over the next ten days.
In the initial clash, the South Midland Division faced three enemy Divisions and only began to retire on the afternoon of 22 March, when ordered to do so, in consequence of the enemy’s progress in other parts of the line.
On marching out on 21 March, the Battalion had comprised 21 Officers and 556 Other Ranks. In the period to the end of March, there were 30 Officer casualties (some additional officers had joined in the period) and 488 Other Ranks casualties.
The remnants of the exhausted Battalion – and the 61st Division – were transferred from the XVIII Corps on 10 April 1918. Lt. General Ivor Maxey wrote a message of congratulations to the 61st Division, which had ‘… established for itself a high reputation for its fighting qualities and its gallant spirit …’.
The Battalion was moved north to a quieter part of the line near Bethune. On 10 March 1918 the Battalion went to St Roche via Amiens, and then entrained for Berguette which was further north and where they arrived at 10.30pm. They became involved in the Battle of Estaires, and then on 11 March, they took up positions to the rear of the Robecq-Calonne Road, and were involved in the Battle of Hazebrouck (12–15 April), when their positions south of Merville were captured.
On 12 March the enemy were active and by 10.30am all that remained of the 2nd/6th RWR were withdrawn though the line to a support line. On 13 April, the British artillery was more effective and the line was being held, with troops back in the old line and reoccupying houses. That night they were relieved by the 2nd/6th RWR and returned to Hamet Billet for breakfast.
Several other Rugby men in the 2nd/6th and 2nd/7th Battalion RWR were killed in the period from 11 to 14 April, during this second major German attack, on this ‘quieter part of the line’ [see: Sidney George Hall and William Harry Packwood and Robert Victor Wilson ].
On 14 April 1918, during this second major German attack, on the ‘quieter part of the line’, George was ‘killed in action’. His body was recovered, but whether he was buried initially in one of the other local cemeteries is uncertain, as some graves were brought in from other small nearby cemeteries, such as the La Haye British Cemetery at St. Venant which was used by the 2nd/7th RWR, and do not appear to be separately identified in CWGC documentation.
George Edgar White is now buried in the St. Venant-Robecq Road British Cemetery, Robecq, in grave ref: II. B. 3., this is some five miles back from the Merville area where the Battalion was in action, turn and turn about with the 2nd/6th Battalion RWR.
St. Venant is a small town in the Department of the Pas-de-Calais about 15 kilometres north-west of Bethune. For much of the First World War, the villages of St. Venant and Robecq remained practically undamaged, but in April 1918, during the Battle of the Lys, the German line was established within 2 kilometres of the road that joins them. The cemetery was begun around 12 April and used as a front line cemetery until the end of July. At the Armistice it contained 47 burials, but was then greatly enlarged when graves were brought in from the battlefields south of St. Venant and from other cemeteries in the vicinity. The most important of these cemeteries were La Haye British Cemetery at St. Venant (65 graves), used by the 2nd/7th Royal Warwicks and 2nd/8th Worcesters between April and August 1918, and Carvin British Cemetery, Mont-Bernenchon (54 graves), used by fighting units and field ambulances during the same period.
When his temporary wooden cross was replaced by a gravestone, there was no family request for an inscription.
George Edgar S WHITE is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gates. His Medal Card shows that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM
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This article on George Edgar WHITE was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the RFHG, January 2018.
 Military career from CWGC, https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/54980/wilson,-robert-victor/.
 WWI War Diaries, 1914-1920, 2/7 Bn., Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 61st Division,
 The 2nd/7th RWR were operating with the 2nd/6th RWR, and thus on 13 April 1918 the 2nd/6th RWR was combined for some days with the 24th Entrenching Battalion as a composite Battalion and then relieved the 2nd/7th RWR.