George Henry Adaway – in from the cold

George Henry Adaway ceased to be a member of Mitcham’s “Out in the Cold” group on 15/12/2011 when he was finally recognised by the CWGC, more than ninety years after his death.  The CWGC had inspected George Adaway’s grave by 23rd April 2012 and an official headstone was erected not long after.


CWGC Headstone at Church Road Cemetery

I had submitted his case via Terry Denham in 2010, his prior connections to the CWGC streamlined the process.  Terry Denham is a co-founder of the “In From the Cold Project” (IFPC) formed to research and identify all service men and women missing from the official Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  The question of who qualifies for a Commonwealth War Grave is answered on the IFCP website, where the criteria are laid out in full.

George Adaway died after discharged, one of many whose contribution to the Great War has been overlooked.  This is his story.

George was born in 1888, the third child of George and Martha (nee Thatcher).  His father, a plasterer by trade, had been born in Mitcham and his mother was from Battersea.  By 1908 George was one of 10 siblings, he had 4 brothers and five sisters whose ages spanned 24 years.  Such large families were not unusual in Edwardian Britain, but their living conditions must have been very crowded by modern standards.  The family had lived in Abbey Road and Phipps Bridge Road and then at 5 Bath Road Mitcham by the outbreak of war.  They would never have called themselves affluent, living close to the stinks and fumes of the many Varnish Factories along Church Road.  Putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads would always be a concern.

When nineteen, George Adaway had decided to seek a life beyond the confines of Mitcham and joined the Army, enlisting in London on the 14th January 1907.  George was posted to the 2nd Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment on 22nd January 1907.  He would spend time in Gibraltar, Bermuda and South Africa. As a soldier of the Empire, grown accustomed to periods at sea on various troopships, George could lay claim to seeing a good bit of the World during his battalion’s “Grand Tour“.

The 2nd Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment were at Roberts Heights near Pretoria in South Africa at the outbreak of war and did not return to the UK until 19th September 1914, landing at Southampton. Having refitted for European warfare, they left Southampton at 8 a.m. on 5 October 1914, on board the S.S. Winifredian and after a brief stop at Dover for supplies, landed in Zeebrugge at 6.30 a.m. on 7 October 1914.  It is unlikely that George Adaway had ever fired a shot in anger during his seven years in the Army, that was about to change.

After a series of marches, George would have covered some 40 miles over the next 10 days and his battalion’s first contact with the enemy is described in his unit’s War Diary:

18 Oct 1914 – Menin Road between Gheluvelt and Gheluwe The Battn. formed up on POEZELHOEK-BECELAIRE Road facing S.E. & advanced towards 10 Kilo stone on YPRES-MENIN Road. On nearing the road on coming over a rise we were fired on by rifle fire. Advancing further & astride we came under shrapnel fire. A Company lost 2/Lieut.C.O.Bell [Charles Ockley BELL] killed & Captains F.M.BASSETT [Francis Marshall BASSETT, OBE] & Wolff [Cecil Henry WOLFF] & Lieutenant Horsford [Thomas Gavin Moor HORSFORD] wounded – other casualties 1 sergeant & 1 man killed 21 other ranks wounded 2 other ranks missing. After this action the Battalion drew back slightly & entrenched a position with its right on 10th Kilo MENIN Road in touch on right side with 20th Bde. on left with R.S.F.

So George’s war had begun, and over the next days and weeks his battalion would be part of the desperate struggle of trench warfare as the enemy tried to wrestle Ypres from allied hands before the end of 1914.  George would be one of tens of thousands in the B.E.F who endured the squalor and freezing conditions of the trenches that winter.  The unit War diary gives some idea of George’s experience of the “Christmas Truce” of 1914.

25 Dec 1914 Christmas day. “The Truce”. The following is the substance of a report forwarded by C.O. to Brigade H.Q. “On evening of 24th Dec.1914 at about 8 p.m. the Germans were singing in their trenches. There were numerous lights on their parapets apparently on Christmas trees. A voice shouted from their trenches & could be distinctly heard “I want to arrange to bury the dead. Will someone come out & meet me… 2/ Buriatte [Harold de BURIATTE] went out with 3 men & met 5 Germans the leader of whom spoke excellent English… I had given strict orders that none of my men were to go towards the enemy’s lines without definite orders & that no one except those on duty were to be looking over the parapet… “.

A full transcript of the 2nd Bedfords War Diary can be found here.

In 1915, George’s Battalion were engaged during The Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March, the Battle of Festubert in May, the Second Action at Givenchy in June and the Battle of Loos in September. The entire War Diary for 1915 can be read here:

George Adaway had survived more than year of trench warfare without any record of leave and was in his second winter of awful conditions when he fell sick.  For the first recorded time in his army life, George reported sick with chest pains and a severe cough early in January 1916.  His was invalided back to the UK on 18th January 1916 and diagnosed with TB. George’s health did not improve, he was discharged unfit on 3rd April 1916 after nine years service, and agreed to spend time in a sanatorium.  He was awarded a pension and later a Silver War Badge.  Sadly, George Adaway never recovered, he passed away on 11/02/1917 and was buried in a family grave in the Church Road Cemetery, Mitcham.  Once a soldier, always a soldier. The burial register records George Henry Adaway’s occupation as “soldier”.

An article appeared shortly after George Adaway’s death in the Mitcham and Tooting Mercury, on Friday 16th February 1917:


The death occurred on Monday at 5 Bath Road, of Pte. George Adaway, who died of consumption, brought on by the effects of gas on the Western Front. Pte. Adaway was 28 years of age, and had served nine years in the Army. He is to be buried with military honours tomorrow afternoon. (see footnote 2)

George, and his family, may have firmly believed that exposure to gas was the cause of his illness.  He was certainly present at Loos on the 25th September, when the B.E.F made its first use of chemical warfare, but there is no specific mention of the 2nd Bedfords being exposed to gas.  One incident, however, was recorded in November:

19 Nov 1915 TRENCHES GIVENCHY. Night passed quietly. – about 10 a.m. The enemy sent over GAS BOMBS on left Coy’s. front “6 men gassed”. casualties week ending 19/11/15. Wounded 1 O.R. Gassed 6 O.R. Sick wastage 7.”

There is nothing in George Adaway’s surviving service papers to show he was involved in such an incident.  Medical science might later recognise that lung scarring due to gas exposure could lead to a susceptibility to tuberculosis attack, but at the time of his medical board George Adaway was found to have contracted TB as a result of “constant and lengthy exposure in all weathers while serving on the Western Front“.

Ultimately, perhaps what really matters is that one old soldier has gained the recognition he deserves.

Footnote1: The impact of the War on the Adaway family is not restricted to death of a son.  Three of George’s brothers are known to have served in the Great War. Daniel Adaway 180094 Royal Engineers and Pte. 47751 Northants Regt., Albert Victor Adaway Private G/27344 Middlesex Regt. and William James Adaway F/2225 Middlesex Regiment.

Footnote2: My thanks to @wadesw19 for drawing my attention to the newspaper article from 1917 and the re-use of his transcription.

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