Ernest Southam’s first wife, Mary, died in 1885, when their only child, Florence, was 2. Two years after this he remarried, to Frances Brooks, and they would have several children together. When the Census was taken in 1901, Ernest, then 41, was working as a house painter. Frances was 34. The family was living at 33 Charles Street, Stockport. As well as Frances, the children at home were Ernest (4 months), Fred (8), George (5), Lillie (10), Lizzie (3), Talbot (1) and William (12). They would have two more children – Annie , born in 1902 and Alice, in 1906.
George enlisted into the army, at Manchester, fairly soon after war was declared and was assigned to the 1/4th Battalion of the Royal Scots – one of its Territorial units. He was allocated 2511 as his original service number. Soldiers in Territorial Battalions were all reallocated six-digit service numbers at the beginning of 1917.
At the beginning of July 1918, British troops had launched an offensive that would see the end of the War three months later. It would be a time for open, mobile warfare which had not been seen since 1914. Although there would be no more defeats for the Allies, there would be many deaths as the German Army, still strong and well equipped undertook a fighting retreat.
The 27th September was scheduled to see a further major attack in Northern France. In their sector, George and his comrades would lead the Brigade attack which would secure the line of the Canal du Nord and nearby German trenches along the road between Moeuvres and Graincourt.
At 5.30am, “A” and “D” Companies left their trenches and spread out across No Man’s Land. They quickly became entangled in rusty barbed wire which was hidden by the long grass. This slowed them up and they suffered heavy losses but they captured a shallow trench just west of the Canal. Small groups of soldiers were now sent out round the north flank, armed with grenades (bombs) until they reached a short trench with a tiny pillbox and two machine guns.
The Regimental History records “While his comrades engaged the pill box with fire, Corporal Foggo, dashing forward, flung two bombs into the post, then, being joined by the others, speedily cleared the pill box and scaled the wall of the Canal. The resistance of the enemy, apparently surprised and disheartened by the sudden appearance of the small party, thereupon collapsed. “A” and “D” Companies hastily swarmed up the western embankment, slid down the dry bed of the canal and clambered up the eastern wall. After this triumph, there was nothing to stop the Royal Scots who, by 10.30am, were in possession of all their objectives.”
The attack had not been without cost. George was one of 22 to be killed. Probably three times that number were wounded and out of action. Corporal W B Foggo would be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his bravery. The award was second only to the Victoria Cross.
By the early 1920s, when the War Graves Commission was collecting its casualty information, George’s father had also died. His mother had moved to 66 Adswood Road, Stockport.