George Edward was born in Lewes and baptised at St John sub Castro on 07/06/1896. He was the son of George and Eliza Johnson nee Pilfold and seems to have always been known just as George. At the time of his birth the family were living at 3 Edward Street and George snr was a house painter. George and Eliza eventually had 12 children of whom 10 survived to adulthood. George jnr was their eldest surviving boy.
In 1901 they were living in St Thomas a Beckett parish at North Court, 8 Cliffe High Street, but by 1911 had returned to St John sub Castro and were living at 5 Church Row. They later moved to 3 Castle Banks.
Although George snr was a house painter, he had previously served with the Royal Sussex Regiment in Egypt in 1882 and was present at the Relief of Khartoum. He had been born in Whitby and his brother Harry was the father of George Johnson.
Initially George jnr worked as a PO Telegraph boy but by 1911 was listed as a general labourer. He worked for Wightman and Palmers. With his father’s background it is not surprising that George joined the 1/5th Battalion the Royal Sussex Regiment. The 1/5th was a Territorial Force known as the Cinque Ports Battalion. His official army papers are no longer available to view but George would have been placed in ‘D’ Company whose headquarters were in Lewes and his number, 5/1639, suggests an enlistment date in either May or June 1913.
Following the outbreak of war George’s battalion was immediately mobilised and assigned to the 2nd Brigade which also included the regular soldiers of the 2nd Battalion RSR. He, along with many other local men, were included by name on the intercessions lists at St John sub Castro in September 1914.
Following battle training, George arrived in France on 18/02/1915. The regimental war diary of the 1/5th Battalion is held at the West Sussex Record office in Chichester but available to view online.
This fully details the daily life within the battalion and gives copious details of the events they were involved in. The entry for the period surrounding George’s death is long and also covers the entire battle plan for the attack on Aubers Ridge.
The Battalion had arrived in Richebourg at the beginning of May and were in support of the troops already there. The attack on Aubers Ridge was originally intended for 7th May but was postponed for two days by bad weather. The battalion moved into trench positions towards the end of 8th May and were ordered to attack at dawn the following day.
The plan was for a pincer movement, with the 1/5th forming part of the second line on the left of the attack. Heavy bombardment preceded the attack but the nature of the open ground, which was criss-crossed with wide drainage ditches, made forward movement extremely difficult, plus the German rifle, machine gun and shell fire was intense. The battle lasted for several days but later intelligence suggests that many men from the 1/5th were killed or injured in that first attack. This is almost certainly when George was injured. He died from those injuries the following day, 09/05/1915. In a twist of fate this was just two days after his mother’s birthday.
George is buried in the Bethune Town Cemetery in plot III C 26 and is remembered on the St John sub Castro Memorial as well as the Lewes War Memorial. He was entitled to the War and Victory medals and the 1915 Star. His effects and medals were sent to his father.