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Born: 6 April 1883, Staveley, Derbyshire
Died: 12 June 1959, Saddleworth
Address: 4 Dawson Street, Windhill
Parents: Thomas & Isabella
Spouse: Edith May, nee Elvidge
Occupation: Policeman
Rank: Cpl
Rolls of Honour:
Children: Arthur & Stanley
Regiment: Royal Marine Light Infantry
George Townrow
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George Townrow was born on 6 April 1883 in Staveley, Derbyshire, the son of collier Thomas and his wife Isabella. At the time of the census on 2 April 1911 George was a lodger, working as a coal miner in South Elmsall but that was all to change because on 10 July that year he signed up to become a policeman. The record of his recruitment gives us a number of details about him, He was 5ft 11¼in tall, with blue eyes and brown hair. And under peculiar marks, presumably tattoos, we read: ‘Crown Jewels, female, horseshoe & rose right forearm; female right upper arm, flag of empire on butterfly right forearm.” The form also states that he has spent six years in the Royal Marine Light Infantry and is currently a reservist. George was promoted from third to second grade on 1 August 1912, and to first on 16 August 1913. We are not sure when he moved to Windhill but six days after his second promotion, he married Edith May Elvidge, the daughter of farmer Walter Elvidge, who lived at 33 St Paul’s Terrace, Shipley. They were married at Windhill Parish Church and George’s address is given as Pretoria House, Windhill. The couple went on to have two sons – Arthur, born in 1913 and Stanley, born in 1918. George was in the first batch of local men called up and on 23 October the Shipley Times & Express reported: Police constable George Townrow, a reservist in Marine Light Infantry, called up on August Bank Holiday Monday. On furlough after taking part in the defence of Antwerp. Joined the Fleet Reserve at Chatham and crossed the channel on board HMS Cressey, which was sunk soon afterwards. He arrived at Ostend on 26 August then on to Dunkirk where he was supplied with khaki uniforms which ‘fitted where they touched.’ At 5.30, Sunday September 4, he was in position at Lierre on the outer ring of Antwerp forts with shells ‘falling thick and fast’ as they took up position. Churchill Winston Churchill, First Lord of Admiralty, arrived in a car to a ‘rousing reception’ and inspected the troops before the moved forward to relieve Belgian soldiers who had been in the trenches for seven days. The Belgians danced with delight at seeing the British troops and gave them whatever cigarettes and tobacco they had left, while shells continued to rain down on the area. At night, Townrow’s platoon was sent to support another company entrenched on the side of the canal. It was moonlight and as they went along they passed lots of places where roads had been ploughed up by shells. They were marched in columns of fours along the canal bank. All at once they heard someone on the other bank about 20 yards away cry out “Halt” and then utter something in German. The men of his platoon realised that they had been conducted right up to
the German lines and immediately they heard the voice they dropped as suddenly as if they had been shot. German bullets were soon flying over their heads and they were not long in replying. That their shots were taking effect was apparent in a very short time for the Germans who were concealed in the bushes on the opposite side of the canal began to shout and scream. All night they had to keep on the alert. They shivered with cold for they had no great coats, blankets or waterproof covers, and firing was going on nearly all night. At daybreak the Germans shelled the position for some considerable time and those of the enemy’s troops who were entrenched not far away kept on firing with a view to getting the English to reply. As the English kept perfectly quiet the Germans got the impression that the former had retired. That enabled the English troops to effect a retirement without losing a single man, which was a remarkable feat and only possible of accomplishment with cool headed officers. During the time they were being shelled Major Price Brown, who was not far from Townrow, was constantly looking through his glasses and the general remark from the men in the trenches was “He’ll be getting one yet”. In the end he did; his head was blown clean off his shoulders. A lieutentant had both his eyes blown out, and yet he never murmured. In fact under the most hellish fire the officers were as cool as cucumbers. On the Monday night the Belgians got home a bayonet charge and accounted for many Germans. From where the English troops were they could hear the Germans getting “what for”. The English were itching for a similar go but they did not get the chance. In every position they took up they got vigorously shelled by the Germans. So well did the enemy get the range that it almost looked as if they were being told the exact position every time the English and Belgians shifted and measuring it to an inch. First they dropped the shells in front then behind then right into the trenches. The work of the German artillery was simply magnificent.
On one occasion the trench on the left of him was blown in and several men were nearly buried alive. One man who tried to assist his comrades out got his hand blown clean off the moment he stretched it out. How any of them escaped alive was a marvel. It was so hot in the that place that one of the men said afterwards he was certain he had never been born to be shot or he wold have been dead before then. Cheerful Although PC Townrow says it was a veritable “hell with the lid off” to be under the German shell fire, the English and Belgian soldiers were always cheerful and constantly cracking jokes. Even while they attended to their wounded comrades the men would remark as a shell dropped near: “Here’s another Black Maria, all bob down.” And down they would go. On Wednesday morning at 3 o’clock they made some trenches and then cleared out of them. Thinking they were occupying that place, the Germans shelled the position and by 4.30 the trenches were completely demolished. The object of the officers was to induce the Germans to shell the empty trenches while the men got a better position elsewhere and the ruse succeeded. The Naval Brigade arrived on the Wednesday (October 7th) and that day the members of the Naval Fleet Reserve retired to Mostiel where they were served with tea for the first time for many a day. On the 8th they marched five miles to Hembrimen and on the same day the Belgians set fire to the tanks of petrol at the works of the Anglo American Oil Company at Heboken so as to prevent the Germans seizing the oil. The blazing oil ran into the River Scheldt and they saw for the first time in their lives a river actually on fire. During a march they passed thousands of people who were leaving Antwerp and making their way to places of safety. A Pontoon bridge consisting of large barges and planks was constructed across the Scheldt and after the soldiers had passed over they destroyed the bridge to impede the progress of the Germans. Blowing up bridges At the time they were engaged blowing up the bridges P C Townrow wondered, he says, what would become of the poor refugees. Eventually they reached Ostend with no more clothes than what they stood up in and which they had never had off for eight weeks. PC Townrow was given leave of absence for seven days. On 9 April 1915, George reported that not all the soldiers found the sea crossings to be to their liking: George Townrow, once a police constable based in Windhill, was now part of the Chatham Battalion, Royal Marine Special Service
Force, and knowledge of his movements were restricted as he revealed in a letter to one of his former colleagues. ‘There is a great deal which I could tell you but, as you know, I dare not. We left England on Saturday, February 6th on a troopship and are working in conjunction with the Fleet at ______. We have had some beautiful weather – quite hot at times. ‘On leaving old England’s shores the “youngsters” swarmed the rigging like monkeys, singing “A life on the ocean wave,” but before we had got far away they had changed their tune and a for days afterwards there were very few on board that song appealed to, the majority being prostrate with mal- de-mer. Concerts ‘When we had been six days out we had lost four horses out of seven, which were soon committed to the raging deep. What with the horses and the amount of human food that went overboard, I think the fish must have thought that we had some philanthropic society on board. ‘As soon as we reached a warmer clime we had a couple of concerts – which, by the way, were very good. There is invariably plenty of talent to be found in a crowd like ours and we had everything rendered from basso-profundo to ragtime. ‘I have been in several countries in Europe since hostilities commenced and expect to be in another before you receive this. I am not allowed to say what ship I am on, where I am or what I am doing. I expect you can about guess. ‘There are some people who know where we are to their sorrow; our casualties falling into insignificance in comparison to theirs. ‘I have only received two letters since we left and I have ordered the Times and Express so that I may be kept posted up with local news.’ Only a month later, the news of George was less cheerful although he continued to put a brave face on it. Wounded L Cpl Townrow of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, who was formerly a police constable at Windhill, is at present in hospital at Cairo, Egypt, he having been wounded in the fighting at the Dardenelles. Writing to his wife this week he says: ‘I am getting on champion but as my right hand is tied up the Sister is writing for me. There is nothing to worry about as I can walk about all right. ‘Give my best wishes and kind regards to all enquiring friends.” The last report we find on George’s war came on 5 January 1917 when the local paper reported that he had returned to Windhill. We know from the electoral registers that George and his family lived at 4 Dawson Street at least until 1922 but by the time of the 1939 Register they were at Saddleworth and George is described as police constable, retired. He was still there when he died on 12 June 1959.
“The blazing oil ran into the River Scheldt and they saw for the first time in their lives a river actually on fire.”