Sergeant George Thomas Springbett MM. died 17-09-1916 aged 34.
A detailed description of George Thomas Springbett’s life can be found on the Winchester Training College roll call of the fallen 1914 - 1918 website at https://wtcfallen.com/springbett/ I have used this reference extensively through this document, also I've used information from Ancestry.co.uk and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
George Thomas Springbett was born on the 9th April 1882 to George Hayter Springbett and Anne Ellen Springbett in Rushall, his father George Hayter Springbett was a Farm Bailiff.
At the time of the census in 1891 George Thomas is aged 9 and living with, his father who is 37 and mother is aged 39, his 3 sisters, Eleanor 12, Margaret 10, and Annie 7 and his 2 brothers, Sydney 5 and Christopher 3, they are living in the Farm House in Rushall. George and his siblings are all scholars, George’s Father is a Farm Bailiff, and according to the census the farm house they live in is close to the rectory in Rushall.
By the time of the 1901 Census, George is living with the Saxby family at 7, Limes Terrace, Crayford, Kent, he is 19 years old and is a boarder, his occupation at this time is “School Master, Assistant”. By this time George’s family has grown, George now has a new sister Elsie born in Rushall in 1892 and a new brother Albert who was born in Upavon in 1895. The Family have moved now to Upavon where George’s father is now a farmer. Looking at Kelly’s Directories Georges Father became a farmer in about 1896 and in the 1898 Kelly’s Directory he is recorded as a Farmer living at College Farm.
In 1904 George went to Winchester College where he did a 2 year course to become a Teacher, during his time there he was a member of the local Volunteer force, where he learnt to shoot a rifle and George won the silver medal for the highest aggregate score in the club shooting competition. In 1906 George left College having attained the Board of Education Certificate (First Class), the Board of Education Certificate in Principles and Practice of Teaching (with distinction), and the Diploma of the Incorporated Phonographic Society. The latter qualification would have allowed George to teach shorthand and possibly also typewriting.
After qualifying as a Teacher, George was employed at Keeton’s Road School in Southwark, London.
On 28th July 1910 George Thomas Springbett married Lizzie Grace Shoobridge at St John’s Church in Deptford, London, George is described as 28 years old, a school master, and son of George Hayter Springbett, a Farmer, Lizzie is described as 26 years old, a school mistress, and the daughter of John Shoobridge, a Railway Station Master
By the time of the next census in 1911, George was living at 43 Tyrwhitt Road, Brockley, in south London, with his wife Lizzie Grace. Lizzie was described on the marriage certificate as a schoolmistress but by the time of the census no occupation was given. This was the general practice at this time, that once she was married a wife would give up her career and remain at home.
We know from his attestation papers that George continued his involvement with the Volunteer Force when he moved to London as there is a note of him having a free discharge from the Royal West Kents in 1909.
On 5th February 1913 George and Lizzie had a daughter, Joan Margaret who was born in Lewisham. With reference to the 1939 Registers, Joan became an Elementary Teacher in Deptford, she eventually married a Wilfred Thorpe in Bromley in Kent in March 1965, and died in Gravesend in Kent in 2001.
George enlisted in the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kents) 11th Battalion, on the 8th November 1915, in Lewisham. He is recorded as being 5ft 9in tall with a chest measurement of 39 ½ in when fully expanded, with a range of 3 ½ in. He weighed 168 lb with good physical development and had been vaccinated in infancy. He had a sallow complexion with brown hair and eyes.
The following day, the 9th November 1915, he was promoted to Lance Corporal and then to acting Corporal in December. On 10th January 1916 he became acting Sergeant, he was then made Sergeant later the same day. In January 1916 George’s Battalion moved to Aldershot. In May 1916 they landed in France. By the beginning of September 1916 the Battalion was billeted in Brucamps in the Somme area. On the 11th September the Battalion marched to a rendezvous point south west of Fricourt in preparation for the attack at Flers-Courcelette due to begin on the 15th. This was planned as a large scale renewal of the Somme offensive after weeks of fighting at Pozieres, High Wood, Delville Wood, Guillemont and Ginchy. It is a historically significant battle as it was the first in which tanks were deployed.
Sir Douglas Haig’s Second Despatch on the Battle of the Somme described what happened prior to the 15th September and the events of the day .
“A methodical bombardment was commenced at 6am on the 12th September and was continued steadily and uninterruptedly till the moment of attack. At 6:20am on the 15th the infantry assault commenced, and at the same moment the bombardment became intense. Our new heavily armoured cars , known as ‘Tanks’ now brought into action for the 1st time, successfully co-operated with the infantry, and coming as a surprise to the enemy rank and file gave valuable help in breaking down their resistance. The advancement met with immediate success on almost the whole of the front attacked. At 8:40am tanks were seen to be entering Flers, followed by large numbers of troops. Fighting continued in Flers for some time, but by 10 am our troops had reached the north side of the village, and by midday had occupied the enemy’s trenches for some distance beyond.”
The 11th Battalion of the Royal West Kents’ War Diary describes the part they played in the events of the day.
“6:20am – The Battalion took part in the attack on Flers, being supporting Battalion to the 15th Hampshire Regiment. In this action for the first time TANKS were used in the attack. During the action Lt Col A.F. Townshend was mortally wounded…Brigade re-organised at GREEN DUMP and Battalion occupied CARLTON TRENCH.”
We have no evidence to tell us what happened to George on that day, but we can assume that he was wounded and transferred to the Casualty Clearing station at Etaples, where he died of his wounds on the 17th September 1916. He is buried in the Etaples Military Cemetery, Plot X, Row E, Grave 3A. His headstone carries the quotation, chosen by his widow;
“Thou Gav’st Thyself for Me. I Give Myself to Thee”
On the 8th December 1916, the London Gazette recorded that George had been awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field.
Lizzie Grace, his wife, returned to live in her family home at 47 Albyn Road, St. John’s, London. It was from there that she wrote to ask for his medals. Lizzie died in Northfleet, Kent on 12th May 1974 aged 90. George is commemorated on the London County Council Memorial Roll and on Upavon War memorial.