Sapper George Holbrough of 329th Quarry Company, Royal Engineers. Service No: WR/30306
George was born in Winchcombe in Gloucestershire in March 1877, the son of George and Jane Holbrough, his father George senior, was an agricultural labourer. He appears in the 1881 Census of Winchcombe as a 4 year old child and in the 1891 census George at 14 was a 'Farmers Boy' still living at home with his parents.
By the time of the 1901 Census of Goole, Yorkshire, George is single and 26 and described as a Railway Point Shunter. He was staying with his older brother Charles, his wife and four children. Charles was the first of his family to move to Goole for work.
In 1911 George was still in Goole and single and by this time was a boarder at the home of his married sister and her husband, William and Matilda Clark at 81 Weatherill Street Goole. He was now a Railway Goods porter and his age was given as 34.
He was signed up on the 10th December 1915 as part of the Derby Scheme. He was 38 years and 9 months and on his declaration form he was unmarried and a Boilermaker living at 9 Napier Street in Keighley. His height was given as Five feet five and a half inches. At this point his next of kin was given as his sister Matilda Clark.
The Derby Scheme was introduced in autumn 1915 the Director General of Recruiting, Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby to demonstrate whether British manpower goals could be met by volunteers or if conscription was necessary. Derby required each eligible man aged 18 to 41 who was not in a "starred" (essential) occupation to make a public declaration of their willingness to serve. Each was handed a letter explaining the programme, emphasising that they were in "… a country fighting, as ours is, for its very existence ...". Many men went to the recruiting office without waiting to be "fetched". The rest were contacted by canvassers to whom each man announced whether or not he would attest to join the forces. If found fit they were sworn in and paid a signing bonus of 2s 9d. The following day they were transferred to Army Reserve B. They were then called forward for service when needed.
George was on reserve from 10/12/1915 until 5/4/1916. He is listed as having leave at home from 6/4/1916 to 10/5/1916, then he was appointed to the 22nd (Labour) Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment which was landed in France as part of the Fifth Army Troops on 11/5/1916 as Private 29915. Some infantry regiments formed Labour Companies and Works Battalions for work on the lines of communication, but the organisation of manpower was haphazard until the formation of the Labour Corps.
In May 1917 the 22nd West Yorkshire became the 18th & 19th Labour Companies of the Labour Corps and on 14/5/1917 George was transferred to the 18th Labour Company as Private 10457. As with the battalions, The Corps was manned by officers and other ranks who had been medically rated below the “A1” condition needed for front line service. George was described at a medical at that time as having defective vision – but not sufficient for him to be rejected and was certified for labour abroad.
On 20/5/1917 he was transferred again and became Sapper WR/30306 of the 329th Quarry Coy., Royal Engineers. Two companies - 328 & 329 - were formed in France from suitably-skilled men transferred from other branches of the Army, the others had been formed and trained in Britain. It may have been that George’s work on the docks and railways in Goole had given him a background that would have been considered useful. The men were not trained in military matters - the company didn't have rifles issued to it.
George was 40 in early 1918 when he married 25 year old Annie Meeking at St, Mary's Church, Eastwood in Keighley on the 12th January. They were both living at 9, Napier Street, Keighley at the time and George's profession was given as Sapper no. 308574, 329 Company Royal Engineers.
Extract from the Mount Sorrel Heritage Group Archive (posted purely for context):
The mission of a Quarry Company RE was the operation of quarries for the purpose of producing road metal (crushed stone or aggregate) primarily for the construction of roads and for ballast for railway tracks. Banc Noir (Rinxent) in the Pas de Calais where he worked produced Limestone.
The work of the men in a Quarry Company typically involved first removing the overburden, or soil, from the rock to be quarried. The rock was then drilled and blasted from the quarry face and the blast rock was transported to the crusher to break it down to a suitable size for use as road metal, railroad ballast or concrete aggregate. Screens may have been used in conjunction with the crusher to obtain a suitable grain size distribution. The processed stone was then stockpiled until it could be hauled away by railroad, truck or wagon to its intended place of use.
The equipment used consisted primarily of pneumatic compressors, pneumatic drills, pneumatic jack-hammers, rock crushers, and side-tipping wagons. The French normally used cheddite as an explosive when working the quarries, but early in 1916 the British supplied the quarries with blastine. At Marquise the work was 24 hours a day, in a shift system. It is reported that the shift continued until the required amount of stone had been quarried.
George's fatal accident happened on the 11th October 1918 at the Banc Noir Quarry.
The report reads:
“No.WR/30306 Sapper Holbrough G. was at work in Banc Noir Quarry at about 13.00 hours on the 11th inst. charging a hole, when a piece of stone rolled from the top and fell onto his back.” This evidence was confirmed by Sapper W. Richards and Sapper E.J. Fisher who added that they had no time to warn him of the danger as the stone fell about 10 feet. George also made and signed a statement saying the same. His injuries were described by the company Medical Officer as: contusion, fracture, pelvis & shock. Severe.
It was described as an accident with no-one to blame.
George was transferred back to England and died on the 8th November 1918 At Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot of a fractured spine and Cystitis (bladder infection).
He was buried at Utley Cemetery, Keighley on the 14th November 1918.
His widow Annie received his remaining back pay of £13, 3 shillings and 8 pence on 17th July 1919 followed by a war gratuity payment of £12 on 7th June 1920. She also received a weekly war widow's pension of 13 shillings and 9 pence which began in May 1919.
Birth, marriage and death records.
1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 census.
WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920.
WW1 British Army Service records.
WW1 Soldier's Effects records.
Keighley News archives, Keighley Library.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The Mountsorrel Heritage Group Archive.