George Brown Bird M.C. and Bar
Captain, 10th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
Born 22 October 1884 in Scarborough
Killed in Action 30 July 1916 near La Boiselle, Somme
Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial
George was the son of George Bird, a joiner, and Emma Righton who was born in Newby and was a servant in Scalby prior to her marriage to George. The family lived at 12 Oxford Street in Scarborough and also had a daughter, Maria Margaret (Maggie), born in 1883. Her husband Bertie Ward Harrison was killed in action on the Somme on 5 July 1916, serving with 7th Bn Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, just 25 days before her brother George, leaving her with 4 children under 7 years old. Emma died in 1902 and George senior in 1917.
Fifteen year old George enlisted in 17th Lancers on 17 March 1900 for a term of 12 years. He was only 5ft 4inches tall. On 14 May 1901 he was appointed a Trumpeter and became a Bandsman on 1 January 1901. The Scarborough Pictorial published a photo of George as a Bandsman on 2 December 1914, under the banner ‘Our Heroes Gallery’.
George served in Ireland until he was posted to South Africa from 18 December 1900 until 3 May 1901. He was in India from 6 September 1905 – 11 February 1913 and again from 3 October 1913 to 15 October 1914. He contracted malaria there in January 1912. He had been promoted Band Sergeant on 2 November 1911 and re-engaged for a further 10 years. He served in France from 8 November 1914 and on 6 September 1915 he obtained a commission in 10th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment, joining C Company at Zelobes on the Bethune-Estaires road on 3 October. The Battalion was under the command of 57th Brigade, 19th (Western) Division. On 21 October the author of the Unit War Diary remarked these are the worst trenches we have been in yet. It was very wet and the men spent much of November repairing dug-outs that had fallen in. On 23 November the War Diary reports 48 hours in the front line is about all the men can stand as there are no dug-outs and the men can neither sleep nor get warm. On 26 November the rain turned to snow, sleet and hard frost. On 2 December the diary states Lt Bird accidentally wounded in arm at Machine Gun School. He rejoined from hospital on 22 December. On 25 December ‘A’ Company offered bursts of rifle fire at 10 past 12 midnight (to wish the Germans a Merry Christmas). During the day on 27 December the Germans shelled the church at Richbourg St Vaast which they knocked about seriously, completely bringing down the tower. The men finally got their Christmas dinner on 1 January 2016. Until the end of April the battalion was kept busy with periods of duty in the trenches, rest, route marches and training. From 4 – 15 April Lt Bird and 10 men went on leave . On 30 April Divisional Follies gave an open air performance to Battalion and on 7 May they moved south to the Somme, by train, then marched through Amiens to Vignacourt. They were now in GHQ Reserve. Sunday 21 May was observed as a holiday. After church parade it was Brigade sports … the Battalion won the individual bombing, team bombing and digging competitions. 6 officers and NCOs took part in divisional inter-communication by aeroplane exercise whilst the rest of the Battalion went on the rifle range. On 23 May they marched to the River Somme just above La Chaussee and bathed and washed clothes. On 28 May Battalion played football match v 58th Field Ambulance. Draw. 3 goals all. On 1 June they practised the attack, using gas helmets on 3rd.
The London Gazette of 3 June 1916 reports that Lieut Bird was awarded the Military Cross in the King’s Birthday Honours. His Unit War Diary notes this on 5 June and adds that he relinquished the duties of Transport Officer to take up the command of ‘C’ Company. On 14 June the Battalion marched to Albert. On 28th Companies were at the disposal of company commanders during the morning for the purpose of explaining the coming operations. On 30 June they marched with the 8th North Staffs to assembly trenches in front of Millencourt, arriving in the reserve line at 11.15pm.
On 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, they moved at 100 yards intervals to the intermediate lines north of Albert and at 4.40pm they were ordered to move up into the Tara-Usna Line to replace the 56th who were moving forward. A Brigade order had come through to say that the 8th and 34th Divisions had been held up at Ovillers and La Boisselle. It was only later that the true extent of the disaster that had befallen these Divisions became known and the Diary reports Owing to the lack of communication trenches, and the fact that no one knew much about our line at that spot the Brigade was unable to get into their positions at the appointed hour, and so the attack was postponed. On Sunday 2 July the Battalion took over the front line from Keats Redan to Argyll Street, exactly the area from which Lt Col Charles Sillery and his men of 20th Northumberland Fusiliers (Tyneside Scottish) had left to meet their fate at 7.30am the previous morning. Charles Sillery is also commemorated on the Scalby War Memorial. On 3 July at 2.15am The 10th Worcesters attacked the German front line between Albert – Pozieres Road …. the Germans shelled our front line heavily. At 8am C and D Companies went up to support the Gloucesters to clear up the situation in the village. They held a trench towards L of La Boisselle. Artillery support was asked for and obtained …. at 3pm the CO was wounded and at 8.30 Major Henderson took over the Command. The CO, Lt Col Ronald Heath was not well enough to return to his Battalion until 7 September. On 9 September 1916 the London Gazette reported that Lieut Bird was ‘Awarded a Bar to his Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry during operations. When his CO had become a casualty he took command and organised the defence of the line. It was mainly due to his good work that three enemy counter attacks were repulsed, but by this time this was published, George Bird was dead.
The Battalion marched back into billets at Albert on 5 July and on 19th they marched north to Becourt Wood, moving into trenches at the NW corner of Mametz Wood on 20th. Fighting was very heavy and there was a lot of confusion. Orders were received to attack High Wood on 22nd but owing to the Worcesters’ guides not knowing the way, and also to the heavy shelling, we were not in position till 1.5am, by which time the barrage had lifted. The companies all went over, but owing to the heavy machine gun fire were forced to withdraw to their original trench. This they were ordered to hold at all costs. Shelling was very heavy and at 9.45am the new CO, Lt Col Henderson was killed. That evening the battalion was relieved, having had 3 officers killed and 6 wounded with 9 Other Ranks killed, 81 wounded and 31 missing.
On Friday 28 July the Brigadier General had a conference of all Officers and told them the scheme for the attack. We were to assault the Intermediate Line in front of Bazentin le Petit. On Saturday 29 July Captain G B Bird led C Company into the front line. At times the shelling was uncomfortably hot. The wire was reported to be well cut and on the evening of 30th there was heavy shelling by both sides for quite one hour before the assault which rather upset things. At one minute to zero the companies who were now all in the front line crept out under the barrage: B and C making the front line … A, B and C Coys reached their objective but D Coy were stopped halfway by heavy M.G. fire and lack of Officers (casualties). Nonetheless they were led up into the line later. Meanwhile urgent messages came down to Batt. HQ for reinforcements and more munitions …. about 20 prisoners were taken and a machine gun, the majority of the prisoners being killed by their own shelling, together with the escort on their way back. The War Diary reports that they were told the 10th Worcesters had failed but asserts We were in fact the only Battalion in the Brigade who had gained their objective. It was during this attack that Captain George Bird was killed. In total 3 officers were killed and 6 wounded, 17 Other Ranks died, 116 were wounded and 15 missing.
On 11 August 1916 the Scarborough Mercury reported that the news of George Bird’s death had been received by a Mrs Hill of 23 James Street. Her relationship to George and his sister is not known, but George’s Officer’s records, kept at the National Archives in Kew contain a copy of a telegram sent to his sister in Levenshulme, Manchester, on 5 August, informing her of his death. It also contains a small note, written on YMCA paper, from his father in London, enquiring if the Captain George Bird killed on 30 July was his son.
On 18 August the same newspaper reported a letter was received by George’s sister, Mrs Harrison, from his Commanding Officer, telling her Captain George Bird was killed very gallantly, leading his company to the attack of some German trenches … although he personally never reached the trenches it was thanks to his splendid example of courage that the line never wavered and the objective was carried. He was shot through the heart some yards from the trench, but he had the satisfaction of knowing before he died that his objective was achieved. Your brother in many ways was a remarkable and gifted man. He was a born leader and a soldier. He was worshipped by his men who would do anything for him. Their perfect trust in him was a tribute to his character – and Tommy is no mean judge of character. A few days before his death I had obtained permission for him to be my second in command, and his death to me and to the whole battalion is a loss that we can ill spare. We have lost a friend and a leader who it will be hard to replace.
George’s body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial on The Somme. How he came to be commemorated on the Scalby memorial is unclear, since his only connection with the area appears to be through his mother’s birth and later employment as a servant in the family of farmer John Stonehouse in the early 1870s. However, the Scarborough Mercury of 24 November 1916 asserts, at the end of a long list of those from Scalby and Newby who had joined up, There may be added the notable name of one who spent his early years at Scalby, Captain Geo. Bird, V.C. (killed in action). George was awarded the M.C. and bar, but not the V.C!
George’s name also appears on the memorial in Albemarle Baptist Church, Scarborough, not far from where he lived in Oxford Street.