1st Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment who died on 23 October 1914

George Willcocks

Family History

George was born in Oadby to George and Annie Willcocks in 1890. Shortly afterwards, the family which included a sister, Mary Ann and a brother, Horace, moved to Main Street, Kibworth Beauchamp. George, the father, worked as a shoe riveter, while mother Annie was a machinist. By 1901, the family had moved back to Oadby and were living in London Road, where father George continued working as a riveter, Annie and daughter Mary Ann were working in the hosiery industry, Horace had joined his father in the boot and shoe industry and George was probably still at school, although he is not recorded as a scholar. In 1912 George’s sister Mary Ann married Arthur Illston a soldier serving in the same battalion as George who was killed in September 1915. The two men were stationed together at Talavera Barracks, Aldershot in 1911.

His army record shows that George enlisted with the Leicester Regiment in September 1906 for a period of twelve years, five of which were in the Reserves. Although he must have been only sixteen at the time, he gave his age as 18 years 4 months, almost the exact age that his brother Horace would have been at this time. George is described as being 5 feet 6 inches tall with a fresh complexion, brown eyes and sandy hair, having a tattoo of clasped hands on his right forearm and several scars on his left thumb, perhaps as a result of working as a shoe hand.

On Boxing Day, 1910, George married Florence Lucy Cox at St. Peter’s Church Leicester. Florence continued to live with her parents, William and Mary Cox and her seven siblings at 58 Waring Street Leicester while working as a tailoress. However by the time of his death their home was given as 18 Marston St Leicester. After his return to Leicester whilst serving in the Reserves, George was a member of the Oadby Rugby Football Club.

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Marston Street, Highfields, Leicester.

Service Record

All of the seven years that George was a soldier, were served in England. For the first three months he was at The Magazine, Leicester, followed by four years at Shorncliffe Barracks near Folkstone before being posted to Talavera Barracks, Aldershot in January 1910 where he remained until he had completed his service in 1913.

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Talavera Barracks Aldershot

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George’s Short Service Attestation paper (click to enlarge)

 

The day after war was declared George, together with all the other Leicester Reservists, was mobilised and billeted at Glen Parva Barracks.

The Reservists were quickly entrained for Fermoy, Ireland, where the 1st Battalion was stationed. George and the other Reservists arrived on 9 August. However, by 14 August the Battalion was on the move, travelling to England via Holyhead. They joined the 6th Division based around Cambridge and Newmarket on 19 August at a camp on Coldham Common. Here training was resumed and all three Brigades of the Division (16th, 17th and 18th Infantry Brigades) came together. On 27 August the Division moved to Grantchester and stayed there for ten days. The final Reservists replaced men unfit for combat.

Embarkation orders for France were received on 7 September. At Southampton they boarded the Braemar Castle. The Leicesters landed at St Nazaire, on 10 September, after being at sea for two days. The Division endured a long train journey arriving at Mortcerf, East of Paris, early in the morning of 13 September. Here the Division was billeted. A long march then commenced to the Aisne.

On the afternoon of the 20 September the 6th Division reached the British Army in the line, at Courcelles as they were digging in, on the far side of the River Aisne. The Division immediately relieved troops that had been fighting since the retreat from Mons and the Battles of the Marne and the Aisne. On 21 September the Battalion relieved the Worcesters and Royal Irish Rifles in the trenches at La Fosse Marguel. They suffered from enemy shell fire and sniping.

Chocolates and cigarettes were issued to the men on 6 October. The following day they were given a blanket per man as the nights were now terribly cold.

After being in the trenches for nine weeks, on the evening of 12/13 October the 106th French Infantry relieved the 1st Leicesters. The Battalion entrained at Fismes on 13 October. A 30 hour train journey took them past Paris, branching off to St. Denis, Etaples and Boulogne. The men were crammed 40 to each horse box. Some brave souls slept on the roof. They disembarked at Cassel and marched via Oultersteene, Cruseobeau taking up defensive positions at Croix Blanch on 17 October.

16th Infantry Brigade rejoined the 6th Division from the Aisne on 18 October. A push was ordered and Radinghem was captured and then retaken by the Germans. The Brigades of 6th Division held positions from Radinghem to Ennetieres and thence from Premesque to Epinette.

The Leicesters were in defensive positions at Croix Blanche and then Rue Du Bois where it relieved the West Yorkshire Regiment, in the line, at the Chemical Factory, under repeated attacks and continuous enfilade gun fire.   They suffered from heavy artillery and machine gun fire and were counterattacked. The German artillery was able to dominate the battlefield and it brought this considerable weight of fire onto the heads of the British infantry, along the entire front. The BEF was heavily outnumbered and outgunned.

On 21 October 1914 the 1st Leicesters relieved 1st Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment near Rue du Bois. Battalion Head Quarters was established in the railway station at La Houssoie.

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La Houssoie Railway Station, 1st Battalion Head Quarters

On 22 October the Leicesters were in the line, about the Rue du Bois, they were heavily shelled with shrapnel and heavy howitzers all day. 13 men were killed and 25 wounded.

The following day, 23 October, the Battalion was again heavily shelled all day. The Germans attacked at dawn and again at 4.30pm. Both attacks were repulsed and beaten off. However, seven men were killed and 22 wounded. Sadly George was killed during this attack.

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Soldiers of the 1st Leicesters man machine guns on the Aisne in September 1914
Two years after his death, George’s widow, Florence married John Grant and they lived in Charnwood Street, Leicester. In 1921 she signed for George’s medals in her new married name.

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Receipt for George’s posthumously awarded medals

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George’s Medal Index card noting his death as 25 October 1914

 

Memorials

George Willcocks’ obituary in the Leicester Mail in December 1914 was included with that of Matthias Summerland. It noted that “ Information has reached Leicester that Private George Wilcox (sic) of ‘B’ Company, 1st Leicestershire Regiment was killed in action on October 24th (sic). Private Wilcox was born at Oadby and had been in the army for six years. His home was at 18, Marston Street…… A muffled peal was rung at Oadby Church on Sunday as a token of respect for the two men who were both members of the Oadby Rugby Football team. It may be added that there are no less than a dozen of last season’s team still serving their country”

George Willcocks’ death is recorded on the Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium, with over 11,000 other Allied soldiers who have no known grave.

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Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium