Minchin, George Victor. Died 4th Sep 1918

This biography of George Victor Michin should have been published in September 2018.  However, some confusion with an older George Minchin, also in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, who was killed on 3 September 1916, meant that the main CWGC search listing gave George Victor Minchin the same date of death in 1916, when he would have been only 16!  However, the background documents on the CWGC site, and later announcements in the local press, confirmed George Victor’s date of death as 3 or more probably 4 September 1918.

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George Victor MINCHIN was born in Aston, Birmingham in about 1900.  His birth was registered in Q1, 1900 in Aston.  

He was the youngest son of Henry John Minchin [b.c.1862 in Bristol] and Mary Ann, née Allen, Minchin [b.c.1861, also in Bristol].  They had married on 10 September 1883, at St Paul’s church, Portland Square, Bristol.

In 1891, the family were still in Bristol, living at 3 Campbell Street, Bristol.  They now had three sons of 6, 4 and 2 years old.  Henry Minchin was a ‘tailor’.

In 1901, the family had moved to 5 Beatrice Terrace in Bristol.  Henry Minchin was now a ‘tailor journeyman’, and there were three more children: two girls and, the youngest by some years, a boy, George Victor Minchin, who was one year old.  However, it seems that the family may have been in the process of moving, following Henry’s period as a ‘Journeyman’, as George, who was born a year or so earlier, was registered not in Bristol but in Aston, Birmingham.

However, by 1911, the family was living in Birmingham, at 186 Nechells Park Road.  George was at school.  When he left school, and before the war and being old enough to join up, George worked for a period as a waiter in a Harrogate Hotel.[1]

At some date after 1911, the family had moved to Rugby – indeed George joined up there[2] in early 1917 – and in 1918, the family were at 10 Market Street, Rugby.  They were still there in 1939.

A later report[3] stated that George joined the army in January 1917, and his CWGC record and Medal Card shows that he served, at least latterly, as a Private, No.36285 with the 2nd/6th Battalion (Bn.) of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (R.W.R.).  The date when George went to France is not given on his Medal Card, but his date of birth and the fact that he did not receive the 1915 Star, supports a date of enlistment in January 1917.

The 2nd/6th Bn. Royal Warwickshire Regiment was formed in Coventry in October 1914 as a second line battalion and later went to Chelmsford with a role in Home Defence.  It became part of the 2nd/1st Warwickshire Brigade, in the 2nd/1st South Midland Division and in February/March 1916 moved to Salisbury Plain for final training.  In August 1915 they joined the 182nd Brigade in the 61st (2nd South Midland) Division.[4]  The division moved to France, arriving from 21 to 28 May 1916 for service on the Western Front.  There are some references to them becoming part of the 143rd Brigade in the 48th Division,[5] but this doesn’t appear to be supported by the Brigade numbering in the War Diary.

During 1916 the 2nd/6th Bn. R.W.R.’s first action was the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916, a diversionary attack in support of the Somme Offensive.  The attack was badly handled and casualties were heavy.  The 61st Division was so badly mauled that it was not used offensively again in 1916.  George would not have arrived in France until a year or so later, and probably not before mid 1917.

The following précis of actions based on the War Diary[6] of the 2nd/6th Battalion showed that later in 1917 …
… the 2nd/6th Battalion, was involved in the Operations on the Ancre, 11-15 January 1917; the German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line, 14 March-5 April 1917; the Battle of Langemarck, 16-18 August 1917; the Battle of Cambrai: German counter-attacks, 1-3 December 1917.  Due to the manpower shortage being suffered by the BEF, on 20 February 1918, the 2nd/6th Bn. received men from the disbanded 2nd/5th Royal Warwicks.

On the day before the German Spring Offensive, Operation Michael[7] on 21 March 1918, the 61st Division was just north of St Quentin when 2nd/6th Royal Warwicks was ordered to raid the enemy line at Cepy Farm and they obtained prisoners from three regiments and two separate divisions, indicating that the German lines were packed ready for an attack early the following morning.  Unfortunately, this information was not widely disseminated before the Battle of St Quentin began.

The front held by 61st Division opposite St Quentin was one of the few sectors where the attackers were delayed.  Strongpoints held out for most of the day and the Battle Zone was successfully held by 2nd/6th R.W.R.s and four other battalions.  Unfortunately, the neighbouring battalions were driven back and the 2nd/6th Bn. was ordered to retire.  It was then involved in the defence of the Somme Crossings on 24-25 March.  The Division was relieved on 27 March and taken north to make a counter-attack the following day at Lamotte near Villers-Bretonneux.  This attack was shot down yards from the objective and the exhausted remnants were finally pulled out of the line on 30 March.

During the rest of Spring 1918 the battalion was involved in the Battle of the Lys; the Battle of Estaires on 11 April, when the 61st Division arrived just in time to prevent the destruction of the 51st (Highland) Division; the Battle of Hazebrouck, 12-15 April; and the Battle of Béthune, 18 April.

The 2nd/6th Bn. R.W.R. War Diary[8] for this period can be found with the War Diaries of the 61st Division.  In August 1918, the Allies began the ‘Hundred Days’ Offensive’, which led to the Germans retreating or being driven back from all of the ground taken in the ‘Spring Offensive’; the collapse of the Hindenburg Line; and led to the Armistice in November 1918.

Whilst this was a successful offensive, much fighting was involved and many casualties occurred.   The 61st Division was committed to ‘minor’ operations during the pursuit to the Haute Deule Canal.  The activities of the Battalion in this offensive in late August and early September 1918 are recorded in the War Diary and can provide information as to George’s likely whereabouts and the occasion when he was killed.

There were indications of an enemy withdrawal in late August and orders were drawn up for an attack under cover of a ‘rolling barrage’.  On 1 September the Battalion were holding an ‘outpost line’ with the enemy on the east bank of the canalised river La Lys, known to the allies as ‘Canal River’.  In addition to the Daily Reports, there is a lengthy Appendix recording in detail an attack in the period 3-6 September 1918.

On the night of 2/3 September the Battalion relieved the 2nd/5th Gloucesters, taking up a position on left bank of the River Lys and River Still Becque.  The enemy held the east bank and all the main bridges had been destroyed.  A footbridge was found to the right and crossed in early afternoon on the 3 September, but casualties were taken.  On 4 September Companies advanced on the road west of Fleurbaix.  ‘Considerable opposition was met from M.G.s and snipers, and in addition, the road was shelled and the party came under T.M. fire.’  Elsewhere Companies worked around the village of Bac St Maur – they also were later held up by enemy fire.  At 7pm an explosion set off by a time fuse, indicated that the enemy was withdrawing – and a very heavy enemy barrage onto the position followed.  However, by the next day the Battalion held the village of Bac St Maur.

Sometime on 3 or 4 September, and maybe overnight – as records give both dates, George Victor Minchin was ‘Killed in Action’, aged 18.  The earlier ‘Grave Registration Report’ gave 4 September, and the later printed summary, 3 September – although the other three members of the Warwickshires who were also killed on the same day and buried adjacent to George remained listed as killed on the 4 September.  The record of UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919, also stated 4 September 1918, however, the Rugby Advertiser notices gave 3 September 1918 – such is the confusion of war in an ongoing battle.

Despite the undoubted confusion, George’s body was recovered and he was buried some five miles west of Fleurbaix where they had been in action, in plot: 3. G. 8. in the Anzac Cemetery, Sailly-Sur-La-Lys.  Later when his CWGC gravestone was placed, his parents had the inscription added, ‘He Died that we might Live’.

Anzac Cemetery, Sailly-Sur-La-Lys is on the north-west side of the road between Armentieres and Bethune.  Sailly Church was burnt during the fighting in October 1914, when French cavalry and British and German infantry fought on the Lys, but from the winter of 1914-1915 to the spring of 1918, the village was comparatively untouched.  It was captured by the Germans on 9 April 1918, and it remained in their hands until the beginning of September.

Anzac Cemetery was begun by Australian units in July 1916, immediately before the Attack at Fromelles, and it contains the graves of many Australian soldiers who died in that engagement.  It continued in use as a front-line cemetery until April 1918 and was used by German troops for the burial of Commonwealth soldiers during the following summer.  Anzac Cemetery contains 320 Commonwealth burials of the First World War. … The cemetery was designed by Sir Herbert Baker.

The Rugby Advertiser reported his death on 12 October,
Mr H Minchin, 10 Market Street, has received news that his son, George Victor, a private in the R.W.R, was killed in action on September 3rd.   Pte Minchin, who was nearly 19 years of age, joined the Army in January last, previous to which he was employed as a waiter at a Harrogate Hotel.[9]

There was an ‘In Memoriam’ published in the same issue,
MINCHIN. – GEORGE VICTOR, youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. Minchin, 10 Market Street, Rugby. Killed in action September 3, 1918, somewhere in France; aged 18 years and 9 months.

He was also included in the casualty list in the Coventry Evening Telegraph a few days later,
THE ROLL OF HONOUR.  Coventry and District Casualties.  The following are included in the latest casualty lists: Killed. … R.W.R. Minchin, 36285, G., Rugby, R.W.R.; …[10]

 

George was awarded the British War and Victory Medals and is also commemorated on the Rugby Memorial Gates in Hillmorton Road, Rugby.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM 

– – – – – –

 

This article on George Victor MINCHIN was researched and written for the Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the RFHG, October  2018.

[1]      Rugby Advertiser, 12 October 1918.

[2]      UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919.

[3]      Rugby Advertiser, 12 October 1918.

[4]      Greater detail can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/6th_Battalion,_Royal_Warwickshire_Regiment, from which this summary was prepared.

[5]      As noted above, whilst reported to be in the 48th Division, the War Diary continued to be kept, and later filed, under the 61st Division.

[6]      The National Archives, WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), 1914-1920, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 61st Division, Piece 3056/2: 2/6 Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment (1915 Sep – 1919 Feb); also available on www.ancestry.co.uk.

[7]      See: https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/the-1918-spring-offensive-operation-michael/.

[8]      UK, WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), 1914-1920, TNA ref: 61st Division, Piece 3056/2: 2/6 Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment, (1915 Sep – 1919 Feb).

[9]      Rugby Advertiser, 12 October 1918.

[10]     Coventry Evening Telegraph, Tuesday, 15 October 1918.

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