37468 Lance Corporal George Samuel Darnell
13th Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment
formerly 21040, Reserve Cavalry.
Died of wounds, 11 February 1917, Flanders,
Buried at the Vlamertinghe Cemetery.
George Samuel Darnell was the youngest of the four children of George Thomas Darnell, a gas stoker, and his wife Martha Talbot. George’s father was an active participant in the movement now known as the “Defence of Ham Common”.
George was born in Ham on 29 October 1894 and baptised on 9 December of that year in the Parish Church of St Andrew. The family lived for many years at Malvern in Lock Road.
In the 1911 Census, where the census return was completed by the householder, the birthplace of George’s mother, Martha Talbot, was recorded as Malvern, Worcestershire. This is likely to be the reason that the house was named Malvern and this regional influence may even account for George’s enlisting with the 13th ‘Glosters’ (also known as the ‘Forest of Dean Pioneers’).
Prior to that, George had served in the Reserve Cavalry and team photos and a postcard from his time with them suggest an enthusiasm for football. His background as a former member of the Boys’ Brigade, and his experience on farms as well as the indispensable ability to ride, suggest he may have been on the Reserve of a Cavalry Regiment even before the outbreak of war.
George attended the local school in Ham, and whilst a pupil there, won a scholarship that enabled him to join The Tiffin School, a grammar school in nearby Kingston upon Thames. When he left, the school’s Admission Register shows that he intended to “work on a farm with his father.” This cannot have been a long-term arrangement, because he was then apprenticed to Mr Allen, a local golf professional, as a golf club maker. A set of golf clubs made by George subsequently ‘disappeared’ from the Lock Road house. The Richmond Golf Club (in Sudbrook Park, Petersham) may have information about Mr Allen who may have been attached to the club, and possibly also some record of George’s apprenticeship.
His relatives have told me that George was also a member of the Boys’ Brigade, and remember that there was some talk of a bugle, which also ‘disappeared’ from the family home. George and Martha lost their eldest child, William, who was killed in a motor accident in France in 1913, and it was young George who had to travel to France to identify his brother’s body.
George is shown here in the uniform of the Reserve Cavalry, in which he served before enlisting with The Gloucestershire Regiment.
He died of wounds inflicted near Ypres on 11 February 1917 and is buried in the Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery in Ypres.
There is a transcription online of the war diary of the 13th Gloucesters in pdf format. The National Archives’ reference for this war diary is WO 95/2577/1.
From the transcript, February appears to have been a relatively quiet month for this regiment. Casualties amongst the ‘Other Ranks’ are rarely named, though, as a Lance Corporal, George had a slightly better chance of being mentioned than had a Private soldier. George is not, however, named in that part of the war diary which was viewed.
The summary of casualties for February 1917 reads:
Casualties for month: Wounded 3 O[ther] R[anks]. Wounded (gassed) 6 O[ther] R[anks]. D[ied] O[f] W[ounds] 1 O[ther] R[anks].
[George must be the soldier who died of wounds.]
The War Diary is so relatively ‘clear’ of mentions of casualties for February, that the month of January was also viewed. It is unlikely that George would have been wounded any earlier than that because a long period of uncertainty would probably have been mentioned by his sisters to their children.
As Pioneers, the men of the battalion were mostly involved in working on, and repairing trenches. The War Diary for January focuses on where each of the four companies was deployed and what they were doing. The only entry of possible interest is that for 10 January 1917.
“10 [January 1917]2 p.m./4.30 p.m. POPERINGHE was shelled for the first time for some months.
2.30 p.m. The billets of the Detachment (“B” & “C” Co[mpan]ys at LES TROIS TOURS were shelled for the first time. One shell which fell close to the hut occupied by “B” Co[mpan]y signallers was responsible for 13 casualties (2 killed & 11 wounded) the incinerator was hit & damaged.”
No note would have been made, in a monthly casualty summary, to indicate the progress or otherwise of the wounded signallers.
George is not the only family member commemorated on Ham’s Parish War Memorial. His aunt, Louisa Darnell and her husband, Alfred Fricker, lost two sons, William and Harry Fricker, in 1917 and 1918 respectively. They lived at Kibworth Cottage (now 315 Petersham Road).
In a letter in which she referred to the family’s loss, Pat Winterburn (née Warwick), the daughter of George’s elder sister, Annie, wrote: “I remember my grandfather telling me that as he and George waited for the bus that was to take him back on his last leave—grandad had to fight against a terrible temptation to push him under it—so that he’d be unable to go to the war again. They never got over his death. “
It should be noted that George’s headstone reads 11th Gloucesters, which is almost certainly an error. While there was movement between units, the last letter he sent home is headed 13th Gloucesters. His headstone includes a personal inscription, paid for by the family at the cost of 3½d per letter or space. It reads:
HE NOBLY ANSWERED
AND GAVE HIS LIFE
FOR ONE AND ALL.
George was our poster boy early on in this research, because we were able to make contact with his great niece, Catherine, who shared photos and information with us.We are grateful to Catherine, her siblings and her cousin, Pam, who have shared with us photographs and information about George and are permitting us to post them on this blog.
His family and the researchers on this project would also like to express their appreciation to John King, Archivist at the Tiffin School, and to the Tiffin School’s Old Boys, who acted so swiftly to have George’s name added to Tiffin’s War Memorial in time for the school’s Remembrance Service on 11 November 2014. We were thrilled to have George Darnell ‘rescued from oblivion’.
Documents, photographs and records consulted
- ‘Death Penny’ for George Darnell. © The Family of George Darnell.
- George Darnell as a cavalryman [presumably when with the 9th Reserve Cavalry—‘A’ Squadron] © The Family of George Darnell.
- George’s Darnell’s last letter home, written to his sister Eleanor Mary, grandmother of Catherine Symons. It refers to Uncle Alf (Alfred Fricker) and ‘Thornton’ must be Harry Thornton Fricker, George’s cousin, who died in 1918). © The Family of George Darnell.
- George Samuel Darnell in uniform (studio photograph). © The Family of George Darnell.
- George Samuel Darnell (studio photograph). © The Family of George Darnell.
- The winning football team of the 9th Reserve Cavalry (photograph).
- Comments [by George] on the reverse of the football photo.
- Headstone on George’s grave [which incorrectly assigns him to the 11th Gloucesters —see his last letter home, in which he is still with the 13th Gloucesters]. (Photograph)
- Martha Darnell with her four children [taken before George reached the age of being ‘breeched’]. (Photograph) © The Family of George Darnell.
- The National Archives, WO 95/2577/1, War Diary of 13 Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment (Pioneers), January and February 1917.
- Tiffin School, ‘Admission and Discharge Register’. (Scan provided by John King, ©The Tiffin School)