George was born in May 1899 at home, eldest son and child of Edward and Elizabeth Heesom of 40a St George’s Hill, Everton, Liverpool. He had younger siblings, William, (Joseph who died as an infant), Henry Ernest, John Bimbow, Edward, Harold, Elsie Jane, Alice and Agnes. Following his education he worked as a mill hand.
George volunteered at the Technical School in Liverpool on 11th May 1917 at the age of 18. He was 5ft 3½in tall, with a 34in chest, weighed 112lbs, had brown hair and had scars on his right index finger.
He first served with 1/7th Battalion Manchester Regiment until Friday 5th April 1918 when he joined the Yorkshire Regiment with service number 35295, and was compulsorily transferred to the West Riding Regiment on Friday 26th July 1918. He left from Folkestone, Kent, for Boulogne and was sent to Depôt in Etaples. He left to join the Battalion on Monday 5th August, arriving the next day.
George arrived on the battlefield as the war was turning inexorably against the Germans. General Erich Ludendorff wrote: “August 8th was the black day of the German Army in the history of the war. This was the worst experience I had to go through … Knowing that the next measure must be purely defensive, General Headquarters had early in August ordered a gradual withdrawal of our lines in the plain of the Lys, and the evacuation of the bridgeheads on the Ancre and Avre. They were evacuated on the 3rd and 4th of August.” It must have been an exciting time to arrive at the front, after four years of war it was clear that there was only one way the front would be moving — forward. George must have been relieved to arrive in time to join in the victory. George had time to chat to battle-hardened troops who had been serving at the front for many months, many longer, who told him about the reality of war and what fighting the enemy entailed. As the Germans withdrew, the British advanced across their part of the Western Front.
His first main action was against the area around Mory. George moved west of Courcelles and went into the trenches west of Béhagnies. At 9.00am on Sunday 25th August, under a creeping barrage, George and his comrades moved forward towards Sapignies and Béhagnies. Initially little opposition was encountered so the advance went well until the German machine gunners began sweeping the ground between Mory and Favreuil. The enemy was well positioned in Favreuil and put up a stout defence. It took a number of attacks before the village was captured but not before the Battalion had taken significant losses.
From 3rd September George began training in the Gomiécourt area to prepare for an attack and capture of Havrincourt. The Battalion marched from their camp into the assembly trenches ready to take part in the attack that began at 5.30am on Thursday 12th. It was an immediate success with many prisoners flooding back to the rear. During the advance George was killed, his body lost in the mêlée. General Whigham wrote: “On September 12th, the Division was called upon to repeat its former feat of capturing the village of Havrincourt. This village stand on very commanding ground, and formed a most formidable position i the Hindenburg front line. Its capture was essential to the development of the great offensive south of Cambrai, in which we have latterly been engaged. … Without the possession of Havrincourt, the grand attack of September 27th could not have been successfully launched.”
R/18329 Lance Corporal Cyril KnightCyril was the son of Samuel Knight, of 18 Bank Street, Widnes, Lancashire. He had elder brothers, Samuel and Isaac ‘Ike’, and younger siblings, Harry and Muriel. He was educated locally and then worked as a grocers’ assistant.
2nd Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps
Died on Sunday 20th August 1916, aged 20
Grave reference XVIII. J. 7, Delville Wood Cemetery, France.
My grandfather, Frank Heesom and his brother, Sidney, married two sisters Doris and Lillian. Sadly Uncle Sidney died in 1929 leaving a young daughter, Doris and Aunt Lil heavily pregnant (she had a daughter Sydney). They came to live with my grandparents and grew up with my mother, Emma, and her two brothers, Frank and Harry. In the mid-1930s Aunt Lil remarried to Ike Knight, Cyril’s elder brother, they had a daughter, Valerie. Uncle Ike had lost both legs during the war and, as a young boy, he used to tell me stories of service at the Western Front and on the home front following his injuries. My mother was particularly fond of her Uncle and Aunt and she was the first person from the family to visit Cyril’s grave when I took her there during our first Somme Battlefield Tour.
Cyril volunteered and after training came over to France with a draft in 1916. The Battalion served in the summer offensive during July but by the end of the month they had moved via Albert to Franvillers where a number of drafts of men arrived to bring them back up to strength. General Sir William Pulteney arrived on Tuesday 1st August to inspect the Brigade on the parade ground to the south of Henencourt Wood. That evening a cricket match was organised between the officers of the Battalion and those from the Royal Sussex Regiment. The next morning Brigadier General Arthur Benison Hubback inspected the Battalion and then addressed the parade and in the afternoon a boxing competition was organised with The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. A Divisional Show and Sports Day was held on Friday 4th when Lance Corporal Wilcox won the ¼ mile and led the winning team in the relay race. Major Guy Montague Atkinson arrived on Sunday 6th to take command of the Battalion. Each day Cyril practiced with his comrades for the attack they would take part in.
With intense training at an end Cyril marched from his camp on Sunday 13th and went to Bécourt Wood. After twenty-four hours he went to Mametz where the Battalion was held in Brigade Reserve and held the line west of ‘High Wood’. Cyril spent the night digging and improving the trenches but in the nearly hours of Tuesday 15th twelve of his comrades were killed and many others wounded by shellfire. Late in the day Cyril was relieved to a bivouac in Mametz Wood. During an attack on ‘High Wood’’ by the 1st Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment and the 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment, Cyril with his comrades worked hard supporting the attack. The attacking forces suffered heavy losses, one of our regular members of our early tours, veteran ‘Josh’ Grover, MM, took part in the attack and I took him back to ‘High Wood’ for the first time since the attack in 1982. He spoke emotionally at the corner of ‘High Wood’ about his participation, his description of the battlefield was incredible.
Fatigues continued over the ensuing days and casualties mounted. News arrived during the afternoon of 19th that the Northamptonshire Regiment was advancing and the enemy was retreating. Major Atkinson took the Battalion forward to northwest of ‘High Wood’ and went into the line. Early on Sunday 20th the Germans were spotted massing behind the ‘Switch Line’ but the Battalion was able to advance and engaged the enemy. The Germans debouched from ‘High Wood’ in large numbers but were beaten off; two more attacks were also repulsed. In the desperate fight Cyril was killed, one of twenty-eight and one of the very few to have a known grave.
Cyril is commemorated on Widnes Town War Memorial.
World War Two
Taukkyan War Cemetery, Myanmar (Burma)
Taukkyan War Cemetery is outside Yangon (formerly Rangoon), near the airport and immediately adjoining the village of Taukkyan. It is on PY1 road (formerly Prome Road), about 35 kilometres north of the city from which it is easily accessible.
Taukkyan War Cemetery is the largest of the three war cemeteries in Burma (now Myanmar). It was begun in 1951 for the reception of graves from four battlefield cemeteries at Akyab, Mandalay, Meiktila and Sahmaw which were difficult to access and could not be maintained. The last was an original ‘Chindit’ cemetery containing many of those who died in the battle for Myitkyina. The graves have been grouped together at Taukkyan to preserve the individuality of these battlefield cemeteries Burials were also transferred from civil and cantonment cemeteries, and from a number of isolated jungle and roadside sites. Because of prolonged post-war unrest, considerable delay occurred before the Army Graves Service were able to complete their work, and in the meantime many such graves had disappeared. However, when the task was resumed, several hundred more graves were retrieved from scattered positions throughout the country and brought together here. The cemetery now contains 6,374 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, 867 of them unidentified.
In the 1950s, the graves of 52 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War were brought into the cemetery from the following cemeteries where permanent maintenance was not possible:
Meiktila Cantonment (8);
Thayetmyo New (5);
Mandalay Military (12)
and Maymyo Cantonment (22).
Taukkyan War Cemetery also contains: The Rangoon Memorial, which bears the names of almost 27,000 men of the Commonwealth land forces who died during the campaigns in Burma and who have no known grave. The Taukkyan Cremation Memorial commemorating more than 1,000 Second World War casualties whose remains were cremated in accordance with their faith. The Taukkyan Memorial which commemorates 45 servicemen of both wars who died and were buried elsewhere in Burma but whose graves could not be maintained.
No of Identified Casualties: 5,559
7907142 Lance Corporal Walter Heesom
25th Dragoons, Royal Armoured Corps
Died on Monday 7th February 1944, aged 24
Grave reference 3. C. 2.
Warrington Cemetery, Lancashire
During the two world wars, the United Kingdom became an island fortress used for training troops and launching land, sea and air operations around the globe. There are more than one hundred and seventy thousand Commonwealth war graves in the United Kingdom, many being those of servicemen and women killed on active service, or who later succumbed to wounds. Others died in training accidents, or because of sickness or disease. The graves, many of them privately owned and marked by private memorials, will be found in more than twelve thousand cemeteries and churchyards. Warrington was the depot for the South Lancashire Regiment for both wars and was home to the Lord Derby War Hospital and White Cross Auxiliary Hospital during the First World War. During the Second World War, a shore establishment of the Fleet Air Arm was stationed there. Warrington Cemetery contains one hundred and ninety-seven First World War burials, seventy-four of them in a war graves plot with a Cross of Sacrifice. The one hundred and two Second World War burials are scattered. A Polish airman is also buried in the cemetery.
No of Identified Casualties: 300
856601 Corporal John Edward Stanley Heesom
922/3 Balloon, Royal Air Force (Auxiliary Air Force)
Died on Friday 22nd January 1943, aged 37
Grave reference Sec. R. Grave 110.
John was the son of Dennis Cliffe Heesom and Alice Maude Heesom. He was married to May Heesom, of Warrington.
Sangro River War Cemetery, Italy
The Sangro River War Cemetery lies in the Contrada Sentinelle in the Commune of Torino di Sangro, Province of Chieti. Take the autostrada A14 exit at Val di Sangro. At about 2½ kilometres from the exit turn right onto the SS16, Pescara to Vasto road, for nearly 2 kilometres. There is then a sharp right turn up to cemetery.
On 3 September 1943 the Allies invaded the Italian mainland, the invasion coinciding with an armistice made with the Italians who then re-entered the war on the Allied side. Allied objectives were to draw German troops from the Russian front and more particularly from France, where an offensive was planned for the following year. Progress through southern Italy was rapid despite stiff resistance, but by the end of October, the Allies were facing the German winter defensive position known as the Gustav Line, which stretched from the river Garigliano in the west to the Sangro in the east. By 4 November, the Allied force that had fought its way up the Adriatic coast was preparing to attack the Sangro river positions. A bridgehead had been established by the 24th and by nightfall on the 30th, the whole ridge overlooking the river was in Allied hands. The site of this cemetery was selected by the 5th Corps and into it were brought the graves of men who had died in the fierce fighting on the Adriatic sector of the front in November-December 1943, and during the static period that followed. In addition, the cemetery contains the graves of a number of escaped prisoners of war who died while trying to reach the Allied lines. Sangro River War Cemetery contains 2,617 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War. Within the cemetery will be found the Sangro River Cremation Memorial, one of three memorials erected in Italy to officers and men of the Indian forces whose remains were cremated in accordance with their faith - the other two cremation memorials are in Forli Indian Army War Cemetery and Rimini Gurkha War Cemetery. The memorial at Sangro River commemorates more than 500 servicemen.
No of Identified Casualties 2,544
329140 Trooper Sidney Heesom
50th Royal Tank Regiment, RAC
Died on Monday 4th November 1943, aged 27
Grave reference XIV. E. 40.
Dely Ibrahim War Cemetery, Algeria
Dely Ibrahim is a village in hilly country about 10 kilometres south-west of Algiers on the road to Blida. The War Cemetery lies on the slope of the hill about 500 metres short of the village of Dely Ibrahim.
Allied troops made a series of landings on the Algerian coast in early November 1942. From there, they swept east into Tunisia, where the North African campaign came to an end in May 1943 with the surrender of the Axis forces. Dely Ibrahim War Cemetery contains 494 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War and 11 war graves of other nationalities. There are also 25 non-war graves, mostly of merchant seamen whose deaths were not due to war service.
No of Identified Casualties: 522
10563598 Private Henry Ernest Heesom
Royal Army Ordnance Corps
Died on Sunday 22nd November 1942, aged 38
Grave reference 3. H. 18.
Henry was the son of Edward and Elize Heesom. He was married to Amanda L Heesom of West Derby, Liverpool.