NEAL George Edwin


755 Serjeant George Edwin Neal, 1/6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry died of wounds 6 May 1915, aged about 35 years old.  He is buried at Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, France [1] and commemorated on the War Memorial in St. Andrew’s churchyard, South Church, Bishop Auckland and Shildon War Memorial.[2]

Family Details

George Edwin Neal was born in 1880 at Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire,[3] the son of Thomas and Fanny Neal.  There were 4 children, all born at Beverley:[4]

  • Annie bc 1878
  • George Edwin born 1880
  • Edith bc 1884
  • Minnie bc 1887

In 1881, the family lived at Beverley and Thomas was recorded as a confectioner.[5] In 1891, the family lived at Butcher Row, Beverley where Thomas was still recorded as a confectioner.  At this time, Thomas employed a domestic servant.[6]  By 1901, 20 years old George was employed as a blacksmith’s apprentice for Robert Stephenson of Barmston, near Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire. [7]  In 1901 George E. Neal married Rebecca Foster at Driffield, East Riding of Yorkshire.[8]  They had 5 children: [9]

  • Hilda May born 16 January 1904 at Huggate, Yorkshire
  • Ethel Annie born 11 July 1906 at Shildon
  • Thomas born 10 April 1909 at Shildon
  • Herbert born 19 October 1911 at Shildon
  • Harry born 28 March 1914 at Shildon

In 1911, George and Rebecca lived at Bouch Street, New Shildon, County Durham with their young family where 30 years old George was employed as a blacksmith by the North Eastern Railway Company at the wagon depot.[10]  George moved north to Shildon, sometime between 1904 and 1906.

Military Details

George Edwin Neal may have served with 2nd Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry as a regular soldier prior to joining the Territorial Force.[11] The local Territorial formations, dating from 1908 and the Haldane reforms, were brigaded into the Northumbrian Division.  These men were part-time soldiers who volunteered to protect the homeland.  The Durham Brigade of the Northumbrian Division consisted of the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry.[12]  The men from south west Durham joined the 6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry [6/DLI].  Their original enlistment was for home service only. [13] 

In May 1908, aged 28, George Edwin Neal enlisted into the Territorial Force, joining his local battalion, being given the service number 755.  At this time, he was employed as a blacksmith for the NER.  He lived at Bouch Street, New Shildon.  He stood 5’4½” high, had good vision, good physical development and was considered to be fit for the Territorial Force.  Private George E. Neal was promoted to Corporal in April 1910 and Serjeant in April 1911.[14]  He attended annual training at Ripon, Blackhall Rocks, Rothbury, and Scarborough.  Upon completion of this term, he re-engaged for the Territorial Force in 1912.[15]

At the end of July 1914, nearly half of the Northumbrian Division including the 5 Durham Territorial Battalions[16] were at camp for their annual 15 days training.  The Durham Brigade was at Conway, Wales.’  As the international situation deteriorated, the Territorials were mobilized.

Conway Camp [17]

3 August:  They were recalled to their peace stations, 6/DLI to Bishop Auckland.  The 1/6th Battalion was formed in Bishop Auckland in August 1914 as part of the Durham Light Infantry Brigade, Northumbrian Division which in May 1915 became the 151st Brigade of the 50th Division.[18]   Other battalions in the 151st Brigade were:

  • 1/7th Bn., DLI
  • 1/8th Bn., DLI
  • 1/9th Bn., DLI
  • 1/5th Bn., the Loyal North Lancs. joined June 1915

5 August, the battalions dispersed to the Tyne and Wear defences, 6/DLI to Boldon Colliery.  Serjeant George E. Neal was “embodied” and took up his position in the Territorial Force to serve for the defence of the country.  The battalion went to Boldon then Gateshead and finally were billeted at Ravensworth Park by 19 August.  Early in October they withdrew to winter quarters in billets at Bensham, Tyneside for further training which continued until April 1915.[19]

6/DLI Parade [20]

3 February 1915, Serjeant George E. Neal signed an agreement to serve outside the UK. [21] New terms of engagement were required for foreign service.  About 84% of the Territorials volunteered to go to France and some 92% of the Yeomanry volunteers. [22]

Between 16 and 19 April 1915, the 50th Division embarked for France.[23]  Serjeant George E. Neal left Folkestone, entered Boulogne, France with the battalion to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in Belgium.[24]

14 April – 2 June 1915: The Second Battle of Ypres [25]

22-23 April: The Battle of Gravenstafel

 “Although Germany had signed the clause of The Hague Convention [29 July 1899] which prohibits the use of asphyxiating gas, the unscrupulous leaders now made use for the first time of this treacherous weapon.” [26]

No history of St. Julien, a small village to the north east of Ypres, would be complete without a reference to the events of 22 April 1915, when poison gas was used for the first time by the Germans.[27]  About 4pm, a strange opaque cloud of greenish-yellow fumes rose above the German trenches heading for the French Colonial troops.  Many fell gasping for breath in terrible agony.  Terror spread through the ranks, especially among the African troops.  Panic followed spreading from the front to the rear lines.  German troops advanced protected by a heavy barrage and intense machine gun fire.  The French colonials fell back several miles towards Ypres and the Germans took Steenstraat, Het Sas and Pilkem.  The withdrawal of the French exposed the left flank of the Canadian 3rd Brigade who were obliged to fall back before they rallied and recovered part of the lost ground.

The 50th (Northumbrian) Division had just arrived in Belgium. The strength of the Division on landing in France was 572 officers and 16,858 other ranks.[28]  Steenvoorde, west of Ypres, had been allotted the Division.  The last units arrived 22 April.  The men would have expected a short period of training behind the line but that was not to be. 

At 10.40pm, news came in of a German attack near Langemarck/Bixschoote.  10 minutes later an order was received to have 6 companies of the York & Durham Infantry Brigade fully equipped, ready to move by motor-bus.  At 11.29pm, another order came requiring all units to stand by billets, fully equipped and ready to turn out immediately.  However, the Northumbrian Division did not take part in any fighting at this time.

24 April – 4 May: The Battle of St. Julien

24 April: the enemy’s guns opened fire and for the first time the York & Durham Brigade was shelled, wounding several men and the Northumbrian Division suffered its first casualties of the war.  The 4th Yorkshire Regiment [the Green Howards] and 1/4th East Yorkshires were detailed to move up to the line near Potijze Chateau.  The Germans occupied St. Julien by 3pm and were moving out of the village southwards when they were attacked by the 4/GH and 4/EY. 

“Casualties during this affair were severe but the counter attack was completely successful and besides preventing the Germans from making any further advance on the 24th reflected the greatest credit upon the 2 gallant battalions.”

5/GH and 1/5DLI moved forward from the Yser Canal to St. Jean to support the 3rd Canadian Brigade and both came under shell and rifle fire.

The night of 24/25 April was miserable with constant rain and heavy German shell fire.  The Northumberland Infantry Brigade and Durham Light Infantry Brigade were at Brandhoek and Vlamertinghe respectively and did not move until late in the day.  The Northumberland Brigade got to Weieltje by 4.30am, 25 April.  The DLI Brigade received a succession of orders, one countermanding the other but eventually 1/6DLI moved to beyond Ypres and relieved 7th & 9th Shropshires in the line.   1/7DLI & 1/9DLI bivouacked in Potijze Chateau grounds under shell fire.  1/8DLI marched to Zonnebeke via Vlamertinghe, Ypres, Potilze and Verlorenhoek frequently being shelled.  Then they were ordered to relieve the 8th Canadians at Boetleer Farm. They arrived there at 3am (25th).  The situation evidently was chaotic.

Sunday, 25th April was the first day 1/6DLI spent in the trenches.  However, in the evening, orders were received to march to Velorenhoek village.  The battalion now it came under the orders of the 85th Brigade. 

26 April, 1/6DLI was ordered to take up positions between Zonnebeke level crossing and Hill 37 and:

“attack, by fire, any bodies of the enemy who might attempt to cross their front.”[29] 

The whole operation was under direct observation by enemy balloons and as soon as the companies moved, an intense barrage was put down.  Fighting ensued.  Harry Moses concluded that the battalion had suffered severely – 2 officers killed in action namely Captain Monkhouse, Second Lieutenant Kynock and Major S.E. Badcock died of wounds, 8 officers were wounded – Captains Walton and Devey, Lieutenants Thorpe and Badcock, Second Lieutenants Nicholson, Kirkhouse and Leighton, and Major Mackay, the Battalion Medical Officer and casualties amongst the men numbered over 100.  1/6DLI was not relieved until 30 April.[30]

26 April, Serjeant G.E. Neal was wounded in action (GSW to the leg).  He died of wounds 6 May 1915.[31] Later research confirms that between 26/27 April, 1/6DLI lost 3 officers (those named above) and 52 other ranks were killed in action or died of wounds between 26 April and 6 May (the date when Serjeant G.E. Neal died).  The majority of these men, 49, died between 26 and 29 April. [32]

The Second Battle of Ypres; 24 April – 4 May: The Battle of St. Julien [33]

A further example of the ferocity of the fighting, is provided by the number of casualties recorded in the Diary of the “A” and “Q” Staff of the 50th Division to the morning of the 27th (inclusive).  They were:[34]

Officers [total 85]

  • Killed 26
  • Wounded 45
  • Missing 14

Other Ranks [total 2644]

  • Killed 332
  • Wounded 1,143
  • Missing 1,169

Captain B.M.S. Sharp described the scene:

“at dusk, through that hell on earth by now strewn with dead animals and bits of everything recognisable in the way of equipment, through St. Jean, now utterly destroyed and slightly more objectionable than even Ypres; church gutted, graveyard shelled and a heap of coffins and battered headstones.” [35]

Recognition of the efforts of the Canadians and the Northumbrians was evident: [36]

“The French colonial troops who were opposed to the main attack broke and ran – some of them ran 10 miles – and it was only by the determination of the Northumbrian Division and the Canadians, who held out against far superior numbers, that the Germans were prevented from walking straight through to Ypres.”             Lawrence Rowntree, Friends Ambulance Unit

Everard Wyrall, the 50th Division’s Historian concluded:[37]

“Thus ended the Battle of St. Julien, which will for all time will be memorable in the history of the Northumbrian Division.  Tried in fire, the Territorials had not been found wanting; their pre-war training, their courage, their tenacity and endurance, had all been put to the crucial test and they had emerged, praised and honoured by the Regular Army, by whose side they fought the common enemy.”

The Times reported on these events and the exploits of the Northumbrian Division:[38]

“Consider what is meant by the fight of these Northern Territorials.  Men only lately out from home, most of whom had never seen a shot fired in battle, were plunged suddenly into the most nerve racking kind of engagement.  They had to face one of the worst artillery bombardments of the war and the new devilry of the poison gas.  There was no time for adequate staff preparation, the whole was a wild rush, a crowding up of every available man to fill the gap and reinforce the thin lines.  They were led by officers who, a year ago, were architects, solicitors and business men…where we escaped annihilation…by sheer dogged fighting quality of our men and their leaders.  The miners of the North are a sturdy race in peace, both in work and sport.  The second battle of Ypres has proved them to be one of the finest fighting stocks on earth.” [39] 

Returning to Serjeant G.E. Neal, he served a total of 7 years and 1 day in the Territorial Force, a mere 7 days with the BEF before being wounded and a further 10 days before succumbing to his wounds.  He died at 6.30pm, 6 May 1915 at No. 11 General Hospital at Boulogne. [40]


Serjeant G.E. Neal was awarded the 1914-15 Star and the Victory and British War medals.[41]


Serjeant G.E. Neal is buried at grave reference VII.C.2, Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, France.[42]

Effects and Pension

Serjeant G.E. Neal’s widow Rebecca received his effects [43] and pension.[44]


The war memorial in St. Andrew’s churchyard, South Church, Bishop Auckland was unveiled 31 October 1920 by Brig. Gen. H.R. Cumming DSO (commanding DLI Brigade) and was dedicated by the Rev. J.N. Quirk D.D. Bishop of Jarrow.  It lists 306 names.[45]

The Shildon War Memorial at the entrance to St. John’s churchyard.  It was unveiled 13 October 1923 by Major General F.A. Dudgeon C.B., G.C.C. 50th Northumbrian Division and dedicated by Rev. H.B. Watts B.A., Vicar of Shildon.  It lists 255 names. [46]

The 50th (Northumbrian) Memorial, St. Julien, Belgium

Serjeant George Edwin Neal is not commemorated on the NER Roll of Honour but is on the Shildon War Memorial.  To date, I have found no connection with Bishop Auckland and/or St. Andrew’s Church.  Perhaps his trade as a blacksmith had taken him to Bishop Auckland sometime after 1911, although correspondence to his widow, Rebecca, from the Infantry Records Office at York was still addressed to Bouch Street, New Shildon.  By March 1920, it is evident that Rebecca Neal moved back to Beverley, Yorkshire.[47] 


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

[2] NE War Memorials Project.  Note: Serjeant G.E. Neal is not listed on the NER Roll of Honour.

[3] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.9d p.111 Beverley, 1880 Q2

[4] Army Form W.5080

[5] 1881 census

[6] 1891 census

[7] 1901 census

[8] England & Wales Marriage Index 1837-1915 Vol.9d p.661 Driffield 1901 Q4

[9] Dependant’s Pension card index

[10] 1911 census

[11] Army Form E.501 Attestation Form, Territorial Force 4 years’ service in the United Kingdom question 11

[12] “Faithful: The Story of the Durham Light Infantry” 1962 S.G.P. Ward p.266

[13] “Death of an Army” 1967 Anthony Farrar-Hockley p.169 & 170

[14] Statement of the Services

[15] Army Form E.611

[16] 5th DLI was part of the York & Durham Brigade

[17] Photo courtesy of Alan Stoker from the Tom Rowlandson collection, probably 1906 camp


[19] Ward p.320-321

[20] Photo courtesy of Alan Stoker from the Tom Rowlandson collection date unknown

[21] Army Form E.624

[22] Farrar-Hockley p.169 & 170

[23] Ward p321

[24] Military History Sheet

[25] The following references have been used and are recommended for further details:

“The Fiftieth Division: 1914-1918” (1939) Everard Wyrall 

“The Story of the Sixth Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry from April 1915 to November 1918” (1919) Captain R.B. Ainsworth MC

“The Faithful Sixth: a history of the 6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry” (1995) Harry Moses

[26] “Ypres and the Battle of Ypres” Illustrated Michelin Guides to the Battlefields 1914 – 1918 p.14 [reprinted G.H. Smith & Son 1994]

[27] “The Pill-Boxes of Flanders” [1933] Col. E.G.L. Thurlow p.18 reproduced in Gun Fire No.9 Northern Branch of the Western Front Association undated.  A good account is given.

[28] Wyrall p.40

[29] Ainsworth p.5

[30] Moses p.29

[31] Army Form B.103 Casualty Form – Active Service

[32] Officers Died in the Great War (ODGW) and Soldiers Died in the Great War (SDGW)

[33] “A Military Atlas of the First World War” 1975 Arthur Banks p.141

[34] Wyrall p.48

[35] Wyrall p.42

[36] “A Nightmare in Three Acts” Lawrence Rowntree published in Gun Fire No.10 Northern Branch of the Western Front Association undated

[37] Wyrall p.48

[38] 24 May 1915 The Times

[39] Moses p.34

[40] Statement of the Services

[41] Rolls dated 19 September 1919 & 9 March 1920

[42] CWGC

[43] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929 Record No.188370

[44] Dependant’s card index

[45] NE War Memorials Project

[46] NE War Memorials Project

[47] Army Form W.5080