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George McEwen (also spelled McKeown) was born in Wanganui, New Zealand.

In 1891, George is found aged 24, living with his parents and siblings at 36 Kirk Street, Manchester. George was the only family member born in New Zealand, his mother and father were Irish and the rest of the children were born across the UK and Ireland.


On 27th August 1914, George enlisted in the Army Special Reserve at Manchester. He was given the service number 3288 and posted into the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. He was 39 years 3 months old and had been working as a painter.

At his medical examination, George was described as being 5ft 5in, weighing 112lbs with grey eyes and black hair. He had a tattoo of a horses head on his left arm.

This was his second time in the Army, having already completed a full term of service in the 1st Battalion, Manchester Regiment (service number 3319). He had seen action during the Boer War in South Africa and was awarded the Queens South Africa medal with Belfast and Relief of Ladysmith clasps.

On 3rd October 1914, George was punished for being drunk and causing a disturbance in the billets. He was fined 7/6- and was confined to barracks for ten days.

On 29th November 1914, George set sail for France, to join the 1st Battalion as a reinforcement.

George had not yet arrived with the Battalion on the 3rd December 1914 when H.M The King visited the Brigade at Hazebrouck. It is noted in the War Diary that the Battalion was formed up on either side of the street and gave three cheers for the King as he passed by.

On 4th December George McEwen, along with 457 other N.C.Os under the command of 2/Lieut. Horace Gray Gilliland joined the 1st battalion at Hazebrouck.

The 5th and 6th December 1914 were spent at Hazebrouck refitting. At about 09:00AM on the 6th, three bombs were dropped by a German aeroplane, hitting a house within C Company’s billets. This resulted in ten soldiers being killed and a further eight wounded. There were also eight civilians, two of which were children killed in this bombing, and several others wounded. The Prince of Wales who was visiting the battalion billets that day expressed his sympathy with the Regiment.

The battalion remained at Hazebrouck until 21st December. During this time they were issued their winter clothing, continued their training, had rifle and grenade demonstrations, made practice attacks and conducted several route marches. On the 12th December they were ordered at 07:00AM to be ready to move at two hours notice, but nothing transpired on this occasion.

On 20th December at 16:25PM the battalion was ordered to stand by and be ready to move at once.

21st – 22nd December 1914 – Givenchy.
On 21st December at 07:00AM the Battalion, with 2nd Brigade moved by motorbuses to Zelobes (1/2 mile west of Vieille Chapelle). From Zelobes they marched to Le Touret, arriving about 12:45PM.

Orders were received that the battalion, along with the Northamptons, should make a night attack in order to regain some trenches that had been taken by the Germans on the night of 19th – 20th December near an orchard by LA QUINQUE RUE. It was noted in the War Diary that the information of the enemy’s disposition was somewhat vague.

The battalion left Le Touret at 15:30PM followed by the Northamptons and were led by a guide (an officer of 2nd Gurkhas) to a spot from which it was decided the attack should commence. The men carried 170 rounds of ammunition each.

By 18:45PM the two battalions were deployed ready to advance. A and D Coys in the front line, supported by C and B Coys at 100 yards distance. The Loyal North Lancashires took the right of the line and the Northamptons the left. The whole frontage covered about 300 yards.

At 19:00PM the order to advance was given by Major Powell and the whole line moved forward with fixed bayonets, the companies now being closed up and in two ranks.
After crossing two lines of trenches occupied by the 58th Infantry, with heavy rifle fire they charged and occupied the front line of the enemy’s trenches. After a short halt the attack was continued and another trench about 100 yards further on was captured. The battalion advanced further and was reorganised on a road by the orchard. During the advance 2nd Lieut Ellis was seriously wounded and about 20 men killed and wounded.

A line was occupied, and a reconnaissance conducted about 20 yards to the rear of the orchard. Tools were sent up to the newly held trench an hour or so later. It is written that the night was very wet and cold and the men only had minimum rations.

The line was held throughout the night, but they did suffer some casualties from bombs that were thrown from a German trench running obliquely to their right flank.

Shortly after day break a very strong German attack developed from the direction of LA QUINQUE RUE and by 10:00AM the line became untenable chiefly owing to the enfilade fire from the right flank which was very exposed.

After suffering very heavy losses and putting up a very stubborn defence, the retirement of the line commenced from the left and about 300 men succeeded in reaching the Rue de Bois.

The Battalion was collected and reformed on Rue de L’Epinette, the Machine Gun detachment cooperating with the Northamptons went up in support and a line was held by them roughly on the line when the attack had started on the night before. At about 15:00PM the battalion was withdrawn and went into billets at La Couture.

The battalion loses from this action were heavy. Captains Smart and Graham killed. Captains (De Cantect), Lieutenant Batty-Smith, 2nd Lieutenant Gilliland were all missing. Captain Hay was slightly wounded.

There were 408 other ranks killed, wounded or missing in this action. Private George McEwen was initially reported as missing, and then as being presumed dead.

His sister, Mrs Louisa Wolstenholme of 34, Shirley Road, Cheetham Hill, Manchester was his nominated next of kin, and was notified that there were ‘no personal effects’ recovered. Louisa later took receipt of the 1914/15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal in recognition of her brothers service.

George also had an older brother, named John who is not on the 1891 census above. In 1914 and again in 1919 his address was given as being Christie Hospital, Manchester. It is not known whether he was an in-patient, or staff.

His younger brother was also serving with the 1st Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment with George at the time of his death at Givenchy. This was 3052 Private Bernard McKeown.

Bernard was home on a furlough of sick leave sometime after his brothers death, and confirmed to their family that George was not missing, he had been killed.

Bernard himself was killed later in the War. He died whilst serving with the 9th Battalion on 22nd March 1918.

Private George McEwen is remembered on the Le Touret Memorial.

Rank: Private
Service No: 3288
Date of Death: 22/12/1914
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 1st Bn.
Memorial: LE TOURET MEMORIAL, Panel 27 and 28.

Paul McCormick
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