21st Division 1914-18...a divisional history

Corporal George William Boyall, 9226, 1st Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment, killed in action 29 September 1918

George William Boyall was born at Stamford, Lincolnshire in the parish of St Martin’s in 1890. He was the youngest child of Joseph and Annie Boyall. By 1901 the family was living in Ketton, Rutland. George’s older brother Joseph (aged 15) was engaged in agriculture, working as a Labourer, while his father was a gas stoker.

George enlisted in the Lincolnshire Regiment in September 1911. He attested at Stamford on the 27th, followed by his medical examinations at Lincoln on the 30th. He signed up for 7 years and a further five with the reserves. George is described as 5 ft 10 inches tall, 148 lbs with a fresh complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair. Prior to joining the army he was employed as a labourer. Originally posted to the 3rd Battalion, George undertook his basic training before being assigned to the 1st Battalion at Portsmouth in August 1912.

The 1st Lincolns were at Portsmouth at the outbreak of war and were quickly mobilized for action. The battalion was attached to the 9th Brigade of the 3rd Division and embarked for France, landing at Le Havre on August 13, 1914. George served with the Lincolns throughout the early battles of 1914, including Mons, Le Cateau, the Marne and Aisne. He emerged from these intense battles unscathed. In November 1914 the 1st Lincolns were engaged around Ypres in Belgium facing a series of intense German assaults aimed at breaking through to the channel ports. On 13th November George was wounded, most likely at Nonne Boschen. There is some confusion to the nature of the wound, with his service record showing a gun shot wound to his right thigh, while his medical records reveal a bullet wound to his calf. Regardless of the details of his wound, it was deemed serious enough for him to be evacuated via hospital ship back to Britain.

George was admitted to St Bartholomew’s Hospital London on November 16th. He remained here for the next 23 days. His recovery continued into the New Year, and on January 18, 1915, George was posted to the 3rd Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment. The unit was primarily engaged in training new recruits for service in France. George remained here for a month, before been deemed fit for service and reposted to the 1st battalion.

On February 17, 1915 George returned to France, and made his way to the 1st battalion. The battalion was still in the Ypres area. Here it was engaged in general day to day trench warfare until mid June 1915. The British planned a minor operation at gaining ground close to Bellewaarde Lake at Hooge. The attack was launched at 4:15am on June 16, after 105 minutes of artillery preparation. The Lincolns compromised (with the Liverpool Scottish) the 3rd Division’s second wave for the assault. The initial assault was boldly pushed that the initial objectives were quickly secured, with some men advancing too quickly and consequently suffering losses from the supporting British artillery. The Lincolns joined the assault and the German second line was taken. A strong German counter-attack was repulsed. However losses had been heavy and the many battalions involved had been hopelessly mixed up. By 9:30am the British pulled back to the German front lines. During this fighting George was wounded for a second time, this time a gunshot wound to his back. Perhaps this was suffered as the British fell back from their earlier gains.

The next day George was admitted to hospital at Boulogne. On June 18, he was transferred by hospital ship to England landing on the same day. There is no mention of George’s medical treatment in his medical record, but by August 15, 1915 he had recovered sufficiently to be posted to the 3rd Battalion. On October 15, he was appointed Acting Lance Corporal, unpaid. George remained with the reserve battalion through to January 1916 when he was posted to the 8th Battalion.

George embarked from Folkestone on January 21, 1916, being posted to 21st Infantry Base Depot at Etaples. This depot handled the allocation of drafts of reinforcements for the 21st Division, which included the 1st, 2nd and 8th Lincolns at this time. After a couple of weeks at the base George joined the 8th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment. The battalion was attached to the 63rd Brigade of the 21st Division.

George reached the battalion on February 7, 1916 at the Armentiers sector where he was attached to A Company. The battalion spent the next few months engaged in regular trench duties and training for the Somme offensive.

On July 1, the battalion attacked Fricourt. Losses were heavy, Officers-4 killed, 1 missing and seven wounded, other ranks-30 killed, 12 missing and 197 wounded. The battalion had been part of the second wave and therefore suffered less than some other units. Supporting the 8th Somerset Light Infantry the battalion broke into the German front lines and were able to bomb their way along the German communication trenches, “Dart Lane” and “Brandy Trench”, these positions were held throughout the day, until the battalion was relieved.

The 8th Lincolns was moved into reserve on July 4, 1916. During the re-organization of the battalion George was appointed Acting Corporal. Two weeks later on the 16th the promotion was confirmed when he was promoted to full Corporal. Three days later he was transferred from “A” Company to “B” Company.

The battalion remained on the Somme but did not participate in any further attacks. The battalion together with the rest of 63rd Brigade was transferred to the 37th Division. On September 1, 1916 George was selected to attend a Light Trench Mortar course. This was probably offered at divisional level. George rejoined the battalion on December 2, 1916. It is unclear why George returned to the battalion and was not permanently attached to the Trench Mortar arm.

George served with the 8th Lincolns until April 1917. The strain of daily trench warfare during the winter months was clearly placing a strain on the men. On April 9th through the 13th the battalion was in action at Arras. George came through the fighting unwounded but the prolonged exposure to muddy damp conditions led to him being diagnosed with trench foot. The battalion had been pulled out of action and into billets at Beaufort. On the April 14 he reported to the 31st Casualty Clearing Station before being transferred to the St. John’s Ambulance station at Etaples the same day.

A week later George was transferred by the Hospital Ship “Brighton” to England, arriving on April 20 1917. George was initially admitted to the Military Hospital Colchester. He was then reassigned to the Romford Military Hospital. He stayed at Romford from April 26 through May 5, 1917. When he was released from treatment, George was granted 10 days furlough. He then rejoined the 3rd Battalion at Grimsby on June 11th. George married Gertrude Annie Jarvis at Pickworth Church on August 25th 1917. The witnesses were J. Boyall (George’s brother) and Maud Jarvis, sister to Gertrude.

It is unclear why George remained in England for so long after his recovery. It is possible that a combination of his wounds and recent marriage may have had some influence. On December 19, 1917 he was dispatched to an Occupational Index Board. This may have been a hearing to determine whether George was still fit for service or could revert to civilian life. The Board appears to determined that George was still fit for military service, and therefore he remained with the 3rd battalion.

In April 1918 George was transferred to France for the fourth and final time. After the massive German spring offensive, tens of thousands of troops in the United Kingdom were immediately posted to the front. Sailing from Folkestone, George landed at Boulogne on April 3, 1918. The same day he was posted to the 6th Lincolns. However two days later he was reposted to the 1st Lincolns, his original unit. By now the battalion was attached to the 21st Division’s 62nd Brigade. The battalion had suffered heavy casualties in the initial days of the German spring offensive which began on March 21, 1918.

By late May the battalion was holding positions in the Romigny sector when it was warned at 8:00pm on the 26th to expect a German assault the following morning. For the next three days the 1st Lincolns withheld repeated attacks by large numbers of German troops. When the battalion was ordered to fall back on the 29th at 7:00pm only 8 officers and 42 men remained unwounded and with the battalion, George was among the survivors that fell back.

The battalion received many drafts of replacements to bring it back to strength. Within weeks the massive German offensive had been stopped and was gradually being forced back. George would be killed within 5 weeks of the end of the war, as the British advanced deep into the German lines. The battalion took part in the fighting to recapture Epehy in mid September 1918. Here it suffered one officer and seven men killed, with a further 50 men wounded and 20 missing.

After a brief period resting George and the men of the 1st Lincolns moved forward towards Gouzeacourt and Gonnelieu. On the 27th the battalion supported an assault on Gouzeacourt by the 12th/13th Northumberland Fusiliers. That night the Germans abandoned the village and the battalion followed up during the 28th. At 9:00pm orders were received instructing an attack on the village of Gonnelieu for 3:30am on the 29th.

The orders for the attack called for the 2nd Lincolns to advance on the battalion’s left. Two tanks would support the infantry and the attack would be preceded by an artillery bombardment. Unfortunately the orders authorizing the assault reached the 2nd Lincolns late and they were unable to assemble in time. Furthermore, one of the tanks broke down before zero hour with the supporting artillery fire was described as “very bad”.

At 3:30am the battalion’s “A” and “C” companies led the assault. They were immediately met with heavy machine gun fire. Some men managed to reach the German trench lines but being isolated (having no support) were forced back to Kemmel Support. It is likely that George was killed in the positions that had been evacuated as he was initially reported as missing. At noon it became apparent that success further north would allow Gonnelieu to be attacked from the flank. Therefore the battalion moved back through Gouzeacourt. However the anticipated success was not as described and the men returned to Kemmel Support from where they were unable to advance any further.

The 1st Lincolns had suffered a total of about 250 men killed, wounded or missing. Among the fallen was George William Boyall.

As his body was never positively identified George is commemorated on the Vis-En-Artois Memorial in northern France. He is also remembered on the parish war memorial at Ketton, Rutland.


The above was gratefully provided by Jim Davies.