George John Stone SMIRTHWAITE
Rank: Private
Number: 20663
Unit: 22nd Battalion MANCHESTER REGIMENT
Date of Death: 18 March 1916
Age: 19
Cemetery: Mericourt-L-Abbe Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, France

George will have been just old enough to serve abroad when the 22nd Battalion left for France in November 1915. He had joined up on 23 November 1914, at Manchester, enlisting into the seventh of the "Pals Battalions" formed by the Regiment that autumn.

George's parents, Tom Snowden Smirthwaite and Jessie Boatswain had married in a civil ceremony registered at Stockport in 1889. The family history website, Cheshire BMD, holds summary information about registered births and these suggest he probably had older brothers and a sister - Tom, William and Martha. Martha is understood to have died in 1897, the year of George's birth.

His father is known to have been living on Wellington Road North at the time of the Great War but it was reported in the local newspaper that George had lived with other relatives for many years. Tom Smith later moved to 9 Newbridge lane. Until he joined up, George worked as an apprentice hatter for Battersby & Co, Hempshaw lane, Offerton. Once a soldier, he was assigned to the Battalion's No. 10 Platoon in "C" Company. Some details of the recruitment and training of the Pals can be found here. He will have gone overseas with the Battalion when it left the UK to go on active service in November 1915.

By the middle of March 1916, the  men would have settled into their new routine in the trenches. Tours of duty of around 3 days would be spent in the front line, alternating with a period in reserve when they would carry out fatigues. Occasionally, there would be a slightly longer break from the trenches and there would be time for rest and sports.

His officer wrote saying George was in the trenches and had been shot in the neck by a sniper. He was evacuated from the front line and was probably at the nearby Main Dressing Station, operated by the Field Ambulance of the Medical Corps, when he died. He is buried in the adjoining Cemetery. "He was nice fellow and a good soldier and I was deeply grieved at his loss more especially as he had always been with me. I offer you my deepest sympathy. There is one ray of comfort in thinking of how he died for his country and no man can do more." The officer mentions that George had always been with him, suggesting that the officer had been in command of the platoon since it was formed. Assuming this is correct, then the writer was 2nd Lieutenant J P H Wood. John Wood, by then a Captain, was killed in action on 11 January 1917. He was 36.

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