George WATKIS
Rank: Private
Number: 52757
Unit: 1st Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment
Date of Death: 28 May 1918
Age: 19
Cemetery: Soissons Memorial, Aisne, France

Bertram Watkis and Fanny Tart had married in the Atcham area of Shropshire in 1895. The first child, Kathleen, was born in Shropshire the following year.  In 1899, they were living in Pendleton, Salford, when their son, Theophilus George, was born. Bertram was working as a clerk for one of the railway companies and it was, no doubt, this that brought him to live in the Compstall area.

It is not known what George did for a living but perhaps it took him to the Buxton area for this is where he enlisted into the Army. He probably joined up, as a conscript, when he became 18.

On 27 May 1918, the German Army launched the third phase of its spring offensive and, as earlier, it was overwhelming. By the end of the day, the 1st East Yorkshires had been reduced to about 100 men - around 10% of its full strength. Around midnight, they were ordered to withdraw from what was then the front line  and take up a new defensive position a few hundred yards north west of Hermonville - a village some 30 kilometres north west of the French city of Reims. They deployed on a 1000 yard frontage - one man to every 10 yards of trench - and were in position about dawn.

About 6am enemy infantry were seen advancing up the valley towards the Battalion. Artillery teams were also seen unloading howitzers which they prepared for action. The Regimental History recounts "For a short while there was an uncanny silence; the German infantry disappeared into the woods at the foot of the valley; not a shot was fired. The pause lasted about fifteen minutes, then shrapnel began to burst over the heads of the East Yorkshiremen.....At 7am the waiting troops were suddenly alarmed by shouting and machine-gun  and rifle fire coming from both flanks, but for a quarter of an hour no Germans were seen."

Colonel Alexander decided to withdraw the  men a little way to get a better field of fire and they moved back in small groups about 300 yards. It was not long before the Germans appeared at the edge of the wood and the move enabled the East Yorkshires to keep them pinned down for about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, the Germans had broken through on either flank and it became essential to undertake a further withdrawal to some old trenches near a position known as St Joseph's Farm. It was a strong position but there were now only about 40 men left and they were running out of ammunition. A company of French troops now moved up and this allowed the East Yorkshires to fully withdraw to relative safety.

In the chaos of the withdrawal, it was impossible to take the dead with them. George will have been buried with dignity by the Germans but, unsurprisingly, they had little interest in making individual identifications and he now has no known grave.

After the War, the Watkis' were living at Compstall Road, Marple Bridge. George's older sister, Kathleen, appears to have married in 1929.

   
           
   
     
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