22 January 2015

17165 CSM George Barlex

George Barlex was born in 1885 and grew up as one of eight children in Coverdale Road in Barking. When war broke out, George was working as a 'fire hose maker' and lived with his wife Ann at 58 Oban Road in Barking.

He enlisted early in the West Ham Battalion and was quickly appointed Sergeant, eventually becoming Company Sergeant Major for A Coy. 

George's younger brother Rupert also enlisted in the Hammers and, side by side on-board the Princess Victoria, they entered the combat area in France in November 1915. Their cousin James Barlex had also volunteered to the West Ham Battalion. All three lads were from Barking and their fathers had worked their whole lives side by side in a local rubber factory. James hadn’t gone to France, despite enlisting early in the Hammers and beginning the initial training in and around the Borough. For some reason, as a rough handed rubber worker himself, military wisdom had instead made him an instructor at the Army School of Cookery!

George and Rupert served the war alongside each other up until the November attack on the 'Quadrilateral' during the Battle of the Ancre - a thicket of barbed wire well defended by vicious machine guns. This was the Hammers last action on the 1916 Somme battlefield where sadly George was killed and Rupert was captured on that foggy morning. 

Rupert remembered how  "after a time, we were moved into one big camp. This was a huge corrugated iron shed. The Shed was not well roofed and large icicles, quite six foot long, were hanging from the roof. When we awoke in the morning, we found the one blanket supplied to us frozen hard... Through the terrible treatment which we received the strength of the camp was reduced by quite sixty per cent within a few weeks through deaths and illness...."

He goes on to describe witnessing French civilians shot at the roadside by the Germans for leaving crusts of bread for the starving POW's. Witnessing the capture and beating to death of two escaped prisoners and of himself being beaten unconscious on a number of occasions. Despite suffering from blood poisoning and other illnesses as well as severe hunger, he was "compelled to work at the point of a bayonet" but "had to stop several times through pain", and remembered one instance when "a German Officer was near. I was kicked and hit in the ribs until I lost consciousness. When I recovered consciousness I was compelled to continue my work..."

While Rupert survived the war, George's body was never found on the battlefield outside Beaumont Hamel and today only his name remains on the memorial at Thiepval.