In Memoriam: George Braithwaite

In Memoriam

In the past, it was common for institutions such as schools, railway companies, post offices and even private businesses to create their own war memorials. They remembered those staff who had fallen in the service of their country.

This year, as part of the Royal Armouries commemoration of the Armistice, we decided to research the history of our own families. We wanted to find out how the lives of our grand-parents and great grand-parents were shaped by the two world wars.

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Jenny Lamb, Team Administrator (Operations) at the Royal Armouries © Royal Armouries

Jenny Lamb, Team Administrator

George Braithwaite was my Great-grandfather.

I looked forward to having an insight into his ‘logistical’ war experience, but I was more interested in finding out about his attitude, impressions and general state of mind. My family still has his diary, so I was lucky to find out about this in his own words.

What was notable was the unrelenting “Keep Calm and Carry On” attitude of George’s diary. Stoicism is a defining family trait, so it is no surprise that George was the same. Yet to remain uncomplaining and even cheerful in such traumatic circumstances is impressive to say the least.

George’s brothers also enlisted and all three returned, unharmed, from the war. It feels absurd to describe them as ‘lucky’, but at this moment in time, they were.

We hope that we will never fully comprehend what their generation experienced, but while the chaos and carnage of war is still a reality for millions of people, the least we can do is try.

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George Braithwaite © Braithwaite Family Archive

In Memoriam: George Braithwaite

George Braithwaite
Battalion dispatch cyclist
The King’s Liverpool Regiment

George was born in Kendal in 1893 but the family are recorded as living in Crook in 1897. Sometime between 1899 and 1901, they moved to Sedbergh, where the family still have connections today.

George joined the King’s Liverpool Regiment on 4 September 1914, and arrived in France 6 months later.

He kept a detailed war diary. Despite witnessing unimaginable horrors, his (sometimes disconcerting) good humour prevailed. Here are just a few of his diary entries.

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A map of Ypres, hand-drawn by George Braithwaite © Braithwaite Family Archive

Friday 12th March 1915. Sunny.

“Last night while I was slumbering, the village had been severely shelled and one house had a direct hit, inside being full of men…Lt Cleary, my platoon officer was just commencing to dig a grave for a fellow officer who had been killed during the night, when a shell burst and blew away one of his legs and part of his side. So we had to dig a grave for him as well. This is a good start and we haven’t got to the front line yet!”

Tuesday 18th May 1915. Wet.

“The trench was in an awful condition, water up to one’s breast. I felt so tired I did not feel the cold water which appeared warm, and match sticks to prop my eyes open could not have kept me awake. I was absolutely out to the world. If the Germans had made a counter attack, I have no idea how we would have dealt with it. Shelling was terrific throughout the night.”

Wednesday 19th May 1915. Wet.

“During my journey across the open country, Jerry was sending over Coal boxes in blocks of four. These came dangerously close which forced me to jump into the communication trench. I had not travelled far when approaching a duck board which spanned the trench I was suddenly, and for no apparent reason, pulled back by a hand on my right shoulder. On looking back I saw no one and at that very moment an 8.9 shell fell on the other side of the duck board. Had I proceeded, I would have become another victim of this war.”

Friday 27th August 1915. Sunny.

“Spent a pleasant evening from 8-12 pm singing songs. First the Germans and then ourselves. What a war!”

Monday 25th Oct 1915. Very wet.

“Appointed Battalion dispatch cyclist. Carried and delivered the Battalion’s first dispatch to Brigade Machine Gun Corp.”

Tuesday 26th Oct 1915. Fine.

“Yes I am going to love this new life. It also means no fatigue duties, no parades, just carrying dispatches from Battalion to A, B, C and D coy, and all other units connected with the Battalion and when in the line, adjoining Battalions. How exciting. I have just been allocated a new cycle…”

Tuesday 15th June 1915. Sunny.

“Late evening I was sniping at the enemy from the back of the trench. One hour later one of the C company was passing the spot where I had been, and got one in the abdomen from an explosive. Terrible sight, insides hanging out.”

Thursday 1st June 1916. Sunny

“Had a pleasant ride to Sailly Labourse via Noeux Les Mines. Met a Sedbergh soldier Stanley Banks. Naturally we enjoyed a good talk, he is expecting leave and I asked him to call on my parents and give them the news as to my whereabouts etc.”

Monday March 5th 1917. 3” Snow

“Heavy fall of snow in the night hindering our traffic and line operations. Having made a nice fire, I find I have a few rats for company, quite tame. Expect to move in a day or two.”

Tuesday September 24th 1918. Showery

“Early this morning Jerry sent over 5-9 shells containing invisible gas. Many of comrades at Brigade Hq were gassed, including myself. First symptoms were blindness and sickness. When I realised I was affected and going blind, I immediately put the tube of my respirator into my mouth, which action saved my life, although at the time I did not know it.”

To discover more stories, visit the In Memoriam exhibition at the Leeds museum and at Fort Nelson.