George Gordon Naylor was born on 22 April 1886, the son of stonemason George Naylor and his wife Susannah.At the time of the 1911 census he had followed in his father’s footsteps and was working as a stone mason.We are particularly fortunate to have a detailed account of George’s war starting with an article that appeared in the Shipley Times & Express on 25 March 1915:“Pte George Gordon Naylor, son of Mr and Mrs G Naylor of Ivy Cottage, New Street, Idle, paid a short visit home during the weekend.“Pte Naylor is the only Idelian who has become a Highlander and his kilt attracted much attention.“He joined the colours soon after the outbreak of hostilities and is in the Cameron Highlander Regiment.“He is an elocutionist of no mean order and was a popular member of the old Parish Church Harriers.”The novelty of kilt was still apparent two months later:Enthusiasm“L Cpl George Gordon Naylor, the first Idelian to wear the kilts, has spent the Whitsuntide holidays in the district and during his stay has rendered good service to his King and country in the way of recruiting.“He put much enthusiasm into the work and got quite a number to sign on.“L Cpl Naylor has proved himself an exceedingly smart recruit. That is the reason why he has been given his first stripe.“Those capable of judging declare that there are greater things in store for such a promising youth.
“His regiment, the 7th Cameron Highlanders, is camping on Salisbury Plain. “L Cpl Naylor was a prominent member of the old Idle Trinity Harriers and he has won himself a good name as an elocutionist.”On 30 July we read that in a letter home “he describes in detail what happened from leaving the camp in England to arriving at the scene of operations.“He speaks of the wonderful organisation which is evident in connection with the army and of the excellence of the arrangements for the transportation of British
troops.“As transports leaves our shores laden with troops there are many things which make one realise as he has never done before that there is no gainsaying the fact that ‘Britannia rules the waves.’“Speaking of his experience in France, L Cpl Naylor remarks on the quaint uniforms worn by the French soldiers – red trousers and blue greatcoats fastened back at the corners.French Tommies“The French Tommies carry their rifles in a funny style, he says, and they smoke cigarettes while on duty.“As the Gordons were entering one town the French soldiers who happened to be about marched with swaggering gait to the music of the pipe band as it gaily played ‘Cock of the North’ headed by Pipe-Major Findlater, V.C., the Dargal hero.“In the South African engagement where this hero won the V.C. he still went on playing his comrades on to victory although shot through both ankles.“In his last letter L Cpl Naylor says you cannot find any young men in the ordinary occupations as you pass through France; they are all soldiering. And the women are doing their work, even on the railway trains and engines.German airman“He and Pipe-Major Findlater are staying in the same barn. One evening a German airman came scouting over them and spotted their ammunition waggons. German shells started dropping in a few minutes and an old woman and some cattle were killed whilst a number of soldiers were wounded.“L Cpl Naylor was near the second
shell which fell but escaped unhurt. At the time the batteries from which the shells were coming were five or six miles away.”On 1 October the paper reported:Hideous contrast“L Cpl George Naylor, in a letter to a friend, speaks of the terrible nature of the war and adds that in one place the sun was shining beautifully and the sparrows chirping in the trees and nature seemed to be at her best when suddenly there came a hideous contrast and a German shell whistled over them.“Every house in the village where they were billeted had been shelled and not a single building had been left standing. The Belgians had to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.”And he finished 1915 with another description of life at the front:“In a letter to his parents L Cpl George Gordon Naylor, who has been at the Front since June, says he is in the best of health.A bit rough“It is a bit rough out there, he goes on, but he does not mind the rain and the frost, so long as he can escape the shells and the bullets.“He is in the trench leading up to the firing line and keeps meeting his old friends.“The tin he gets his dinner out of was filled with soil the morning he wrote as a result of a shell bursting close by.“They get very little bread to eat but are given plenty of biscuits which are as har as iron but full of nourishment. They are wearing long Wellington boots.“He is now training as a bomber thrower.”
On 14 January 1916 the Shipley Times & Express took advantage of George’s leave to publish a long interview with him on the day he returned to France. It gives a fascinating insight into life at the front:“For a long time George has been in the thick of the fighting and although he has had many thrilling experiences and hair-breadth escapes, he is anxious to do a little more to help to bring Germany to her knees.‘We have taken up the war against Prussian militarism and its attendant cruelties with a great hope,’ he said. ‘We realise that justice and freedom cannot be got without great sacrifices.‘We are fighting the Germans as foes of freedom and if the young men at home fully realised what a hard struggle we are engaged in, there is not a single man who would hold back for a moment.’“He had seen enough of the Germans, he said, to convince him that they are no fools at warfare. In fact, he thinks that man for man, Germans are little, if any, inferior to the British as fighters and in the struggle against the Huns he has adopted the old motto, ‘never belittle your foe.’Hill 70“He took part in the great advance when Loos was captured and in the attack on Hill 70. He witnessed fearful and heartbreaking scenes at that great engagement.“Not only would the British have been driven from Hill 70 but would also have been driven out of Loos had it not been for the bravery of a mere handful of Britishers who stuck to their guns like heroes.“At the retirement from Hill 70, when the counter-attack was made by the Germans, two companies of the Gordon Highlanders
were ordered to stick to their posts, even if they had to be sacrificed.“These few men, however, held back the Germans until most of the British were able to retire safely.“At the critical point in the fighting the situation was saved by a brave young British officer who appeared on the scene with a machine gun.“ ‘Where can I put my Dicky Bird?’ he said nonchalantly although the ping of bullets cold be heard all round him.“He got a good position for his gun and did splendid work as the Germans were advancing but ammunition soon ran out. He kept at his gun in order to give the Germans the impression that he was saving his ammunition until the psychological moment.“While he was doing that, George and few others were crawling about amongst the dead to collect ammunition so as to ‘keep the pot boiling.’“Luckily, the Germans thought the English had something up their sleeve and did not care to venture too near. As the foe retired for a short distance the officer behind the machine gun made good use of what ammunition had been got together by the men under his command.“L Cpl Naylor remarked that when at the front he read with surprise in the Express the remarks of ‘Wanderer’ in regard to parsons and he was delighted to see the reply the vicar of Idle to what ‘Wanderer’ had said.
‘Take my tip for it,’ he observed, ‘the best men at the Front and the bravest men at the Front are the doctors and parsons.“You can often see parsons standing at the side of a grave in which several bodies have been placed and although shells are bursting dangerously near and bullets are flying in all directions, they never flinch a hair’s breadth but go on with the funeral service as if nothing exceptional was happening.“One doctor who was almost fagged out, crawled up Hill 70 in the early hours of the morning and rendered what medical aid he could to the wounded and the dying. He realised that in so doing he was placing himself in a very perilous position but he didn’t mind that – he was so anxious as the doctors are to a man, to do his best for the boys.Clinging to a tent pole“A parson who had been badly wounded in the shoulder was so heroic that he refused to undergo an operation until he had conducted his usual service and he actually stood and preached to us one of the best sermons I even heard in all my life.“While he was preaching he had to hold himself up by clinging to a tent pole. The sermon he gave that day I shall never forget.“When one saw the small little cross over the graves of the peer and the peasant, the rich man from the castle and the poor man from the cottage, each of whom had borne the brunt of battle, it made one proud to be an Englishman, said L Cpl Naylor.“Amongst those he had met at the front were Herbert Thornton, Westfield Lane, Idle, and Albert Holdsworth, Albion Road, Idle.”
We pick up George’s description of the war on 3 March 1916. The use of aircraft in war was still in its infancy and attracted a great deal of interest at home and at the front where many young men would have seen planes for the first time.“Pte George Gordon Naylor of Idle sent a description of an aerial battle from France: ‘I have just been watching an aeroplane fight with a German who dared to come over the British lines,’ he wrote.‘Our aircraft guns fired behind him and kept him from flying straight back. Then one of our aeroplanes started machine gun fire at him and he began to climb higher. ‘Meanwhile our aeroplanes were coming from all directions until we had five around him. Two or three went over the German lines to keep him from escaping. He had no chance whatever of escape.’
“In his letter, Pte Naylor also described the effect the war was having on the local population: ‘I passed a village the other night and could scarcely recognise it as a place where human being had ever lived except by little things that had been blown out of the houses when the civilians had left them‘We found a haystack with half a dozen machine guns inside it which had belonged to the Germans. The haystack had been propped up with a number of iron bars. I wonder what tales those bars of iron would tell of the fall of Britain’s sons?’On 4 August 1916 we learn that George is in hospital in Boulogne suffering from scarlet fever.“Judging however from a letter he wrote on Sunday he is progressing wonderfully.“At the time of writing Cpl Naylor
had been laid up for about a fortnight. He has had to rough it since he went to France and on several occasions has very narrowly escaped being shot.”And on 27 July, he is again being nursed:“L Cpl George Gordon Naylor says in a letter to Cllr John Garnett of Idle that his eye-sight, his chest and his lungs have been much affected by German gas but adds that after having been blind for five days he is recovering his sight.”George returned to Idle after the war but no doubt as a result of the illness and gas attacks he had suffered during the war, he died on 5 June 1920, aged 34. He was buried at Idle Church three days later and his grave is marked by a Commonwealth War Graves Commission stone, which gives him the rank of Second Lieutenant.