Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Leading from the front - 31st July 1916 - the Somme - in memory of Captain George Brown Bird

George Brown Bird was a career soldier.  Originally with the 17th Lancers (the "Death and Glory Boys"), he joined up at 14 and was a Drummer Boy, going to the Boer War at a very young age.  He was a very talented musician, and, as a Band Sergeant, had been given a place at the Royal Military School of Music.  He had left India, where he had been soldiering, to take the Entrance Examination but unfortunately then was seconded to the Front, where he joined the 10th Warwicks.

By this day in 1916, my husband's great uncle, his grandmother's brother, Captain George Brown Bird, had been killed  On this day in 1916, his Commanding Officer H W Deakeyne wrote the following letter to his widow Maggie:

"Dear Mrs Harrison

It is with very deep regret that I have to write to you to tell you of the death in action of your brother, Captain George Bird, who was killed very gallantly leading his Coy. to the attack of some German trenches on July 31st at about 6.16 p.m.  The Regt. was told off to capture a line of trenches about 200 yards distant, and I gave command of the first attacking line to your brother.  Although he personally never reached the trenches it was due to his splendid example and courage that the line never wavered and carried their objective.  He was shot through the heart some ten yards from the trench , but had the satisfaction of knowing, before he died, that his objective was achieved.  Knowing your brother as I did, and appreciating his character, I fancy he died perfectly content knowing his object had been achieved.   Your brother was in many ways a remarkable and gifted man.  He was a born soldier and leader.  He was worshsipped by his men, who would do anything for him and follow him anywhere.  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 2nd. in command, and his death to me and the whole Battalion is a loss that we can ill spare.  

I beg to assure you that you have the very real sympathy of all the officers and men of the Battalion, as everyone realized that in the death of your brother they have lost a friend and a leader that it will be very hard to replace."

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 Daily Chronicle, 11.9.16.  Mention of George Bird's posthumus award:


The undermentioned officers have been awarded a Bar to their Military Cross for subsequent acts of conspicuous gallantry:

2nd Lt. George B. Bird, R. War.

For conspicuous gallantry during operations.  When his C.O. had become a casualty, he took command and organized the defence of the line.  It was mainly due to his good work that three enemy counter attacks were repulsed.

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For others, the ones who had been left behind, life went on in ignorance of the fate of their loved ones until that fateful telegraph arrived.  George was a Scarborough lad.  I am sure life seemed to go on normally, although Scarborough Castle was bombed and there were warships out in the North Sea beyond it.  These were remembered by George's niece Alice (my husband's mother) when she was only 6 years old or so, and being walked near the coast to see family friends, the old Miss Boddy(s).

Sadly, the girl who would probably have become George's wife had he not died, heard the sad news from George's sister.  Her letter (and other communications and newspaper pieces following George's death) is still in the Book of Memories compiled by Maggie:

"Dear Mrs Harrison

Many thanks for your kind letter, also copy of Col. Dakeyne's letter.  You have my deepest sympathy.  I am pleased to know the details.  It is satisfactory to you to know how the end came.  I miss writing to him very much, as I nearly always wrote a letter to him once or twice a week, and sent a newspaper.  I am going to ask a favour of you, that is if you have a photo of him to spare, or likely to have any copied, I should be very grateful for one.  It was great his being awarded the D.S.O. When he won the Military Cross I told him if he was a brother of mine I should be very proud of him.  He always seemed of a retiring nature, his letters were not of a boasting character.  His heart and soul seemed to be in his work.  It is finished now.  May he rest in peace.  I trust you will bear up in your great sorrow, tho' his place can never be filled.  

Yours truly,

Fanny G Moles."

I don't know if Fanny ever married.  She lived at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, so I am going to see if I can trace her.

There are other letters, replies from his superior officers, written in response to Maggie's heartfelt pleas for more information as to George's demise.  The truth of the matter was that he was left in a shell hole, and once the trench was taken, his men went back to check on him.  On the third occasion he had passed away.  Sadly, they never got a chance to recover his body as the shell hole was bombed, and so George's name is on the Roll of Honour for the fallen who were never recovered, on the Menin Gate.

His medals for bravery and gallantry are still in the family, and much treasured.


  1. From your post I can see Capt. Bird was a gallant guy and a true leader of the best kind, respected by his men. A tragedy. I think the book I am reading now "Enter Pale Death" mentions the 17th Lancers as being the top soldiers.

  2. Hello Terra. The 17th Lancers had quite a reputation. George joined them because Scarborough, where he lived, was one of their recruiting areas. It takes some guts to run towards machine guns, in front of all your men.

  3. How very sad. The fact that such devastating letters were being sent to thousands of families makes it no less sad for each recipient; one can't imagine the shock and heartbreak at such news or the terrible implications on those left behind. I. too, wonder if Fanny ever married because so many widows and girlfriends never felt able to give their hearts again.

  4. Hello Rambler. No, lots of maiden aunts after WW1. Without paying, I am finding her hard to track down, although the name occurs in present-day Bembridge, so male family members must have married and kept the name going.

    Bertie's widow (George's sister) never married again, though she had offers, and life was very hard for her bringing up 4 children alone.

  5. What a sad story, you are lucky to have so many letters and family memories to remember him by.

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  7. This is a copy of an extract for the 17th Lancers Regimental Magazine The White Lancer about Capt Bird:

    Another name, well known in the regiment as having made the "Supreme Sacrifice," is that of Capt. George B. Bird , better known as "Dicky" Bird. He joined the regiment in 1899 at Ballincollig, and for a time served as trumpeter at Dundalk. He proceeded t o South Africa when Mr Bilton took the band out. While the regiment was stationed at Edinburgh he was promoted corporal, subsequently becoming band-sergeant at Sialkot in 1911. He took a prominent part in sport, and was always worth a place in "C" Squadron football and hockey teams. In music, also, he was quite at home. H e was awaiting transfer to England when war broke out, having passed the entrance examination for Kneller Hall. In 1915 he was granted a commission in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and soon proved his worth . Perhaps no better tribute to his character could be conveyed than the following extract from a letter written to his sister by Co l. Daykeyne, commanding the regiment: "Your brother was in many ways a remarkable and gifted man. He was a born soldier and leader. He was worshipped by his men, who would do anything for him, and follow him anywhere. Their perfect trust in him was a tribute to his character. A few days before he died I had obtained permission for him to be my Second-in -Command, and his death to me and t he whole battalion is a loss we can ill spare." He was killed on July 31st, 1916, while gallantly leading his men to the attack on some German trenches at Mametz Wood .

    I am researching all 17th Lancers who were commissioned during WW1 and would appreciate permission to use the picture and written content of your blog. I would give full accreditation to the author.