George Charles HANWELL’s birth was registered in Q2 1881 in Rugby. He was the son of William Hanwell, a railway fireman, and Sarah Maria née Wills. In 1882 they were living in Rugby where George had been born.
George was baptised at Crick on 3 September 1882, when his father was also recorded as a ‘fireman’. By 1891 the family were living at 15 Cambridge Street, Rugby.
In 1901, George was enumerated back in Crick, living with his grandfather, a retired plumber. His uncle was a ‘plumber and painter’ and George was listed similarly. It seems he was learning the trade, and by 1911 he was enumerated as a house painter.
His marriage with Georgina Worthington, was registered in Rugby in Q3 1906, and by census night 1911 they were living at 1 Caldecott Street, Rugby with their son Henry W who was 7 months old – his birth was registered in Q3 1910. They later had a son, Jesse, whose birth was registered in Q1 1915, but who died very soon afterwards and whose death was registered in Q2 1915.
George enlisted at Rugby and joined up initially as Private No.267297 in the 1/5th Bn. Royal Warwickshire Rifles (RWR) and later at an unknown date was transferred as Private, No.235001 to the 1st Bn. Worcestershire Regiment.
The 1/5th Battalion of the RWR were formed in August 1914 in Thorp Street, Birmingham as part of Warwickshire Brigade, South Midland Division. They landed at Le Havre on 22 March 1915 and on 13 May 1915 joined the 143rd Brigade, of the 48th (South Midland) Division and engaged in various actions on the Western Front including in 1916: The Battle of Albert, The Battle of Bazentin Ridge, The Battle of Pozieres Ridge, The Battle of the Ancre Heights, The Battle of the Ancre; and in 1917, The German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line, The Battle of Langemarck, The Battle of Polygon Wood, The Battle of Broodseinde, and The Battle of Poelcapelle.
The 1st Battalion had been stationed in Cairo, Egypt at the outbreak of war, but by 16 October 1914 had returned to England from Alexandria and arrived at Liverpool to join the 24th Brigade of the 8th Division and moved to Hursley Park, Winchester. They landed at Le Havre in November 1914 for service on the Western Front. The 1st Battalion placed an important role at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915 but by December it had lost half its strength due to frostbite as much as combat casualties as well as the commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel E. C. F. Wodehouse, who was killed-in-action.
It is unknown when George joined up or transferred to the 1st Bn., which having fought in the Battle of Aubers Ridge in May 1916, transferred with the 24th Brigade to the 23rd Division on 18 October 1915. During 1916 the Brigade helped to relieve the French 17th Division in the Carency sector and the attack on Contalmaison, and on 15 July 1916 transferred back to the 8th Division, with the Battalion taking over trenches at Cuinchy and then moving back to the front at Somme. During 1917 they were involved with the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, The Battle of Pilkem, The Battle of Langemarck, and the Third Battle of Ypres.
It was presumably during the first action of the Third Battle of Ypres that George was wounded.
The War Diary of the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment provides information on their positions and actions in July and August 1917. Prior to George’s death on 12 August, the Battalion was in reserve and under training so it seems likely that he was wounded before August.
This would have been during the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, 31 July – 2 August 1917, which was the opening attack of the Third Battle of Ypres. On 31 July, the Anglo-French armies captured Pilckem Ridge and areas either side, the French attack being a great success. However, heavy rain fell during the afternoon of 31 July, just as German regiments from specialist counter-attack Eingreif divisions intervened. The reserve brigades were forced back and the German counter-attack was stopped by massed artillery and small-arms fire.
The Diary noted that they had made an extensive advance on 31 July near Hooge and onto the Bellewarde Ridge, toward Westhoek, in which action tanks were also used. However, in the later part of the action on 31 July, they experienced heavy shell fire and also machine gun and sniper fire. The description of the day in the War Diary runs to some four pages and although the Battalion captured 70 Germans, as well as inflicting losses on the enemy, they had three officers and 22 other ranks killed and five officers and 157 other ranks wounded, and one officer and 49 other ranks missing.
It is assumed that George Hanwell was among the 157 wounded and he was presumably taken back to an advanced dressing station or a casualty clearing station before being evacuated to one of the hospitals well behind the lines at Rouen, where he later died of his wounds on 12 August 1917.
George was buried in Plot P. II. D. 14B, in the St. Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen. His headstone reads ‘God grant him eternal life’.
The St. Sever Cemetery Extension is located within a large communal cemetery situated on the eastern edge of the southern Rouen suburbs. During the First World War, Commonwealth camps and hospitals were stationed on the southern outskirts of Rouen. Most of the hospitals at Rouen remained there for the whole of the war. They included eight general, five stationary, one British Red Cross and one labour hospital, and No.2 Convalescent Depot. The great majority of the dead were taken to the city cemetery of St. Sever. In September 1916, it was found necessary to begin an extension, where the last burial took place in April 1920.
The Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects, recorded a payment on 22 November 1917, to his widow, Georgina, of £3-1-5d and then a payment of a war gratuity of £4-0-0d on 10 November 1919.
George’s Medal Card and the Medal Roll entry showed that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. There was no 1914-1915 Star, which suggests that he did not go to France until at least 1916.
George Hanwell is commemorated on the Rugby Memorial Gates in Hillmorton Road, Rugby.
George’s son Henry Hanwell’s marriage with Phyllis A Mansfield was registered in Rugby in Q2 1936. They had a son, John H Hanwell whose birth was registered in Q2 1936.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM
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This article on George Charles HANWELL 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, June 2017.