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imageGeorge Haslam was born in Preston in 1889 to John and Elizabeth Haslam (nee Nixon). His parents married in the Church of St. George in central Preston on the 6 January, 1880.

George had two brothers and four sisters; Henry (1881), Ellen (1884), Robert (1887), Alice (1891), Emily (1893) and Elizabeth (1900).

In 1901 twelve year old George was living with his maternal Grandmother Alice Nixon at 21 Elizabeth Street in Preston while the rest of his family were living just around the corner in Bispham Street.

By 1911 George`s father had died and George had moved back in with his widowed mother, brother Robert and sisters Alice, Emily and Elizabeth. His eldest brother Robert was a joiner as his father had been prior to his death. George, Alice and Emily were all employed as cotton weavers and Elizabeth was attending school.

The nearest church to George`s home was All Saints Church on Elizabeth Street and it seems George became a prominent member of the parish. At one time he was the joint secretary of the All Saints Band of Hope and was apparently one of the most active workers on behalf of the All Saints Mission.

George also played for the the All Saints Church cricket and football teams.
After the war broke out George left his job in the spinning department of Messrs Wilding`s Alexandra Mill and went to the recruiting office in Preston to enlist. He signed his papers on the 15 September, 1914 and was allocated the service number 2538 and posted to the 1/4th Battalion.

George confirmed that he was unmarried and had no previous military experience. His medical inspection revealed that he was 5` 5” tall and was in good shape physically.

The 1/4th Battalion spent the next few months in training and then on the 4 May, 1915 they sailed for France. They had only been in France for a few weeks when word came they would be going into action in the area around Festubert.

Extract from the Battalion War History;

Wednesday, 9th June 1915 – We moved up to the trenches along the RUE DE BOIS, RUE DE L`EPINETTE, through FESTUBERT VILLAGE and down LE QUINQUE RUE, for about 800 yds and relieved the 1/7th Black Watch.

FESTUBERT was the most badly smashed village we had yet seen, there were remnants of barricades still standing in the streets, most of the houses were heavily sandbagged and some had barbed wire round them. Where the church had been, now only recognisable by the Crucifix which still stood unharmed, we turned to the left.

Thursday, 10th June – The day passed away very quietly but there were two or three very heavy thunderstorms with torrential rains which rapidly converted the trenches, the communication trenches especially into quagmires. These trenches became very dirty, in no place being less than boot-deep and in many places thigh-deep in a pestilent liquid mud.

Friday, 11th June – The morning was finer, but the trenches still very muddy. The Battalion was relieved unexpectedly by the 1/7th Black Watch and the Battalion marched back along the Canal to billets near LE CORNET MALO in the wood to the south of that place.

Saturday, 12th June – The day was passed in resting and cleaning up.

Sunday, 13th June – Orders were received to return to the trenches we had left on Friday night and relieve the Battalions which had relieved the 1/8th K.L. Irish and ourselves then. Though no order had been issued we all knew that the Battalion was going up for an attack.

Monday, 14th June – The Brigade had been warned for an attack, and operation orders issued from the Brigade in the morning made this clear. The whole attack was timed for 6pm on the 15th June and was to be preceded by a 48 hours bombardment. The British bombardment was persistent and, from what we could see, effective, whereas the Germans only replied sporadically with some sharp bursts of shrapnel and some high explosive shells on the communication trenches from which B and C Companies lost a few men.

Sadly, George was one of the men from `B` Company who died on the 14th June after being hit by shrapnel.

The attack scheduled for 6pm on Tuesday, 15th June went ahead as planned although the 1/4th Battalion suffered terrible casualties in which 431 men were killed, wounded or missing. In the days following the attack the local newspapers in Preston reported on the action and printed extracts from letters sent by some of the men who had survived.

In a letter to his mother at 95 Bootle Street in Preston, Private Harry Hall described the events of the night of the 15th June. At the end of his letter he also informed his mother……”I am sorry to tell you George Haslam is killed. He was killed on Monday, June 14th by shrapnel. I helped to bury the poor lad”.

George was buried in Brown`s Road Military Cemetery in Festubert. According to his service papers his family did receive some of his personal possessions although there is no record of what these were.

His family later received his 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals which his brother Robert signed for on behalf of their mother Elizabeth.

Janet Davis
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