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George Knight Young

George Knight Young, Stk 293, 10th Battalion Royal Fusiliers

George Young was typical of one type of volunteer who joined the 10th Battalion when the War Office began a scheme to attract ‘young men from City (of London) firms’ who wanted to join with their friends.

He was a fine amateur singer who had just gained a place at the Guildhall School of Music to begin a professional career. Aged 20 he was working as a salesman in a silk merchant’s shop. An early volunteer, probably in the first two days after Major the Hon Robert White opened the recruitment office in Throgmorton Street, Young was not a natural soldier, a gung-ho hero or seeker after a commission, he just felt he should do his duty.

His mood, as recorded in the letters he wrote home, swung between unbounded enthusiasm and a deep depression and loathing of the situations he found himself in. At one extreme he claimed that spending the day on cookhouse fatigues chopping wood, peeling carrots, potatoes, turnips was ‘really good fun’. Later in his training he complained that practicing drills in preparation for an inspection was a monotonous process and Colchester was a boring place. As a good singer he was quickly involved in concerts when the battalion was training at Colchester and Andover.

He greeted the move to France on 31 July 1915 in heroic mode. ‘We are all very glad and naturally rather excited. However when we get there rest assured we shall do our upmost for the cause of what we believe to be right and good.’ However, a week later his first letter from France reflected what he described as his confused impressions. He wrote about ‘the superb callousness of the French people, the dull, drab monotony of the surrounding countryside and the whole experience make it extremely difficult to realize our situation’.

By November the senior commanders were concerned that troops had little to entertain them when in rest camps. Lord Gleichen, the Divisional Commander, proposed the founding of a concert party. At first skeptical; ‘they want us to dress as pierotts or something, which of course I shall not do’ Young was one of the first nine members of the Barn Owls. He was perhaps a little concerned at the reaction of his parents when he wrote home assuring them that the General thought that by being in the concert party they were more valuable than if they were in the trenches.

A letter in January 1916 reported that by entertaining 400-500 soldiers every night the concert party was doing a tremendous amount of good for the morale of the army. He reveled in the success of the Christmas show but after the Barn Owls became further detached from the area occupied by 10RF and his friends Young became more morose and critical of the dirty, untidy conditions caused by what he described as the slovenliness of the concert party members.

A letter home on 28th April told his parents that his position in the Barn Owls had become intolerable and that after a great deal of thought he was back in no3 Platoon of A Company, 10th Royal Fusiliers. He assured them that the battalion was not in the front line and was unlikely to be some for some time. In this he was wrong as on 1st May the battalion moved up to the trenches near Berles au Bois. The Germans had registered their guns and mortars on the position and the battalion suffered regular bombardments, losing a small number of men each day until on the morning of 4th May there was a bombardment along the whole trench line; 6 men were killed and 51 wounded. This was the first time the battalion had lost more than a few individuals in one event. Among those killed was George Knight Young who had been in a forward position.

An uncertain soldier who nevertheless did his duty George Knight Young typified many of those who volunteered early in 1914. Although he had the option of a cushy billet in the Barn Owls the pull of his battalion, his friends and his duty drew him back into the trenches, where he died.