George Eyton Houldsworth

The following biography was written by Victoria Doran. George was an insurance clerk and therefore a typical member of a Liverpool Pals Battalion; he is one of the many Merseyside Pals who died on 30th July during the Battle of the Somme.

GEORGE EYTON HOULDSWORTH 

Houldsworth Family Grave, St. Bridget's Church Yard, West Kirby

Houldsworth Family Grave, St. Bridget’s Church Yard, West Kirby

Although George Eyton Houldsworth was born in West Kirby, he had left it as a small child, and was in reality a Liverpool lad. Whilst he was serving in the army his parents returned to West Kirby where they remained for the rest of their lives. George was the elder of the two sons of George Houldsworth (1868-1938) and Catherine Ellen Jones (1870-1951). He had a younger brother Eric (1897-1959) also born in West Kirby but no sisters. Both George and Eric were baptised at the same time in Wallasey on 12th April 1900 whilst the family were living at 11 Kent Road, Poulton, Wallasey.

Catherine Ellen Jones was born in Bethesda, Caernarvonshire, the daughter of a grocer in a quarrying community. Her father died whilst she was in her early teens and her mother remarried (to another Jones) and had further children. Some Jones connections lived in West Kirby, and this may be why the Houldsworths chose to live there for a short time after their marriage in 1892 in Toxteth, and again from 1915 onwards.

George senior was the youngest of the 8 children of William Houldsworth (1826-1868) and Ann Johnson (b1829). William Houldsworth was born in Yorkshire and, with at least one sibling, moved to Liverpool to work as a stone cutter in quarries. He died when George senior was only about six months old. Ann Johnson was born in Liverpool, the daughter of parents from agricultural backgrounds in Lancashire. Before her marriage she worked as a dressmaker, but once widowed worked as a laundress. In 1875, when George senior was just 7 years old, she remarried Charles Prince a widower who was a blacksmith and several years her senior. They had been neighbours for many years. Unfortunately Charles Prince died in 1892, and she then kept herself by working as a charwoman.

From this unpromising background, George senior managed to acquire sufficient education to work as a clerk for Standard Marine Insurance Company, rising eventually to the post of chief accountant of the same company. From the Everton Minute Books (to be found on www.evertoncollection.org.uk) we know that he was a competent amateur footballer playing for Everton Reserves in the 1887/1888 and 1888/9 seasons. During the first season Everton was still an amateur club, but the following year they started employing professionals. George Houldsworth made the first team a couple of times in the first season, but only whilst a large part of the first team were suspended under suspicion of being professionals. A more regular member of the Everton first team at the time was one Eyton Jones. It is probable that this was Robert Eyton Jones, the older brother of Catherine Ellen Jones, thus explaining how George junior’s parents met, and also George junior’s middle name. After his retirement George senior was a leading light in the West Kirby community, becoming Chairman of Hoylake Urban District Council, prominent in local Masonic circles and a leading bowler amongst other achievements.

George senior’s siblings had varying success in life, his brother Robert moving to Southport and eventually became a very successful shrimp merchant. Several other relatives also moved to Southport, most then later emigrating to Melbourne, Australia. Very likely earlier Houldsworths only worked in heavy dirty jobs for lack of alternative opportunities. At the time of the 1901 census George senior and his two sons were living with his mother in Delph Cottages, Anfield, but Catherine Ellen was at a retreat in Manchester. By 1911 the whole family were again together, now at 45 September Road, Anfield, and George junior had followed his father and become insurance clerk. Catherine Ellen’s widowed mother Catherine and her half sister Olwen Danvers Jones were also part of the household. The family moved again to 61 Rocky Lane, Anfield before the outbreak of war in 1914. 

Following Lord Kitchener’s famous appeal for volunteers on 7 August 1914, Lord Derby had the idea of Pals Battalions; that is recruiting men who worked together to serve together. He called a meeting at St George’s Hall on 28 August to publicise the idea. The meeting was so packed that Lord Derby had to make 2 addresses in two different rooms within the building. Those willing to enlist were asked to attend St George’s Hall on 31st August.

St.  George's Hall, Liverpool

St. George’s Hall, Liverpool

It was reported that by 8.00 am on the 31st the plateau of St George’s Hall was packed, with queues forming along Dale Street and the surrounding area. The men were from the white collar occupations in cotton, shipping, insurance, accountancy etc. By 10.00 am 1,050 men had been recruited, forming the 17th Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment. Lord Derby asked the remainder to return on 2 September. In total 4 new ‘Pals’ battalions were formed in Liverpool in a very few weeks with over 3,000 men. The idea was copied in other towns and cities. George Eyton Houdsworth must have been up early on the morning of 31 August as he was one of those who managed to enlist that day. He was 5 ft 5 in tall, sandy haired with blue eyes.

liverpool-pals-badge.jpg

The Cap Badge Worn by members of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Battalions of the King’s (Liverpool Regiment) or Liverpool Pals. It was made of silver and awarded to the Pals by their founder, Lord Derby, in 1914. 

Following enlistment he will have initially been stationed at an old watch factory at Prescot. It was reported that they had very little by way of uniforms, and initially only one rifle for every ten men. On 30 April 1915 the 17th Battalion moved to Grantham, Lincolnshire. Then on 7 September 1915 they moved to Salisbury, Wiltshire to complete their training. Whilst at Salisbury, George incurred seven days confinement to barracks as punishment for being absent for 24 hours from midnight on 26 September 1915 to midnight on 27 September. From the precision of the times noted in his military record, it looks as though he may have overstayed a leave by a day. It was about this date that his parents moved from Liverpool back to West Kirby, so he may have been visiting them in Grosvenor Avenue. 

On 7 November 1915, the 17th Battalion landed at Boulogne as part of the 89th Brigade of the 30th Division. They saw no serious action until the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916. George, however, incurred another three days confined to barracks on 21 Feb 1916 for remaining in bed after reveille whilst on active service. On the first day of the Somme, the 17th Battalion under Brigadier F C Stanley attacked toward Montauban. They were some of the few who met limited opposition that day, and achieved their objectives without many casualties. Their next serious action was on 30 July when they made one of the ultimately five attempts to take the village of Guillemont. This unsuccessful attempt resulted in nearly 500 of the ‘Pals’ being killed, including George. It became known as the ‘blackest day for Liverpool’.

George’s parents had realised he must have died by 25 August 1916 when a brief report appeared in the Deeside Advertiser. However they only received confirmation from the War Office a few days after 13 Sep 1916 when George senior had sent a telegram asking them to reply to his business address at 14 Brown’s Buildings, Exchange. This was because the regiment still had George’s parents’ address as 61 Rocky Lane, Anfield and sent the telegram there. Whether this was army incompetence or whether George had failed to inform the army of his change of address is, of course, unknown. But it must have been a period of unnecessary anxiety and hope for his parents. 

George is buried in Guillemont Road Cemetery, and is commemorated on his parents’ grave in St Bridget church yard, as well as Grange Hill War Memorial and the plaques in St Bridget and St Andrew churches in West Kirby.

Guiilemont Road Cemetery

Guillemont Road Cemetery

Notes
Birth: 4 Apr 1893 at West Kirby (calculated from age on attestation)
Death: 30 Jul 1916 at Guillemont, Somme, Picardie, France; killed in action
Addresses: 11 Kent Road, Poulton, Wallasey (00 baptism), 20 Delph Cottages, Anfield (01), 45 September Road, Anfield (11), 61 Rocky Lane, Anfield Liverpool (on enlistment)
Occupation: Insurance Clerk
Unit: 15th Platoon ‘D’ Company 17th (Pals) Battalion King’s Liverpool Regiment
Number and Rank: 15818; Private
Medals: 15 Star, Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: Guillemont Road Cemetery, Guillemont, Somme, Picardie, France; St Bridget Churchyard
Sources: GH, WK, CWGC, SR, MC, DA, family, Census: 01, 11, BR, PR

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