Private George Exford
PO/12829, HMS “Queen Mary.” Royal Marine Light Infantry who died on 31st May 1916, aged 31
Remembered with Honour
Barrow Hill Memorial
Staveley Parish Memorial
Portsmouth Naval Memorial Pnl 22
Sergeant Robert Exford
240398, 1st/6th Bn., Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment) who died on 28th June 1917, aged 22
Remembered with Honour
Barrow Hill Memorial
Staveley Parish Memorial
Maroc British Cemetery (II. E. 19)
GEORGE OSMAN EXFORD was born in Sandiacre on 23rd November 1884, the eldest child of coal miner Robert Exford and his wife Jane Emily (Mettam). For many years, when George was growing up, the family lived in the Chesterfield area and his brothers and sisters were born in Walton, Hasland and Brampton. George attended the Brampton Board School and won a 3 year scholarship to the Chesterfield Grammar School. On leaving school, he was employed for a time as a junior clerk at Messrs Woodhead’s.
In 1901, the family were living at 48, Derby Road, Hasland and 34 year old father Robert was employed as a stationary engine driver. By this time, the couple had 8 children; 4 sons and 4 daughters. Eldest son, George, was 17 years old and was then working as a labourer at the local iron works whilst his much younger siblings Arthur Constantine, Charles John, Beatrice Mary, Robert Willis, Ivy Emily, Doris Annie and baby Edith were all at home.
ROBERT WILLIS EXFORD had been born in Walton in 1895, the fourth son and fifth child of the family and had attended the Derby Road School as a boy, also winning a 3 year scholarship and continuing his education at Dronfield Grammar School.
George enlisted in the Marines at Nottingham on 5th January 1903, aged 18, and signed on for 12 years. He was just under 5’6” tall with a fresh complexion, brown hair and dark grey eyes. He served on HMS “Powerful” in January 1905 and HMS “Ariadne”in 1907 before being promoted to Corporal in January 1908, the rank at which he served on HMS “Essex” and later, in 1909, on HMS “Superb.” In December 1909, whilst serving on the “Superb”, George was reduced to the rank of Private although his records do not show any reason for this.
The rest of the Exford family had moved to Barrow Hill around 1908 where they had a small terraced house at 49, Devonshire Cottages “over the bridge” which was opposite the Devonshire Works where father Robert worked as a stationary engineman at the blast furnace. George’s records show that his religion was Church of England and the family would have attended the recently built Parish Church of St Andrew at the top of the hill.
Tragedy struck the family in March 1910 when their son, Charles John, was killed at the age of 19 in an accident on the Devonshire Works tip. Two other children had also died as babies.
George was a “splendid athlete” and a well-known footballer as a member of the “famous Lillywhites” (R. M. Portsmouth Division) team with which he won many medals. At the Army Athletic ground, Aldershot, on Monday 28th March 1910 in front of 20,000 fans including the Prince and Princess of Wales and Princess Mary, the Royal Marine Light Infantry beat the 87th Royal Irish Fusiliers 2-0 to win the Army Cup. According to a local newspaper report, “Cpl Exford received a telegram on the morning of the game informing him that his brother had died in an accident, he bravely put this distressing bad news aside and played in the match.”
By 1911, 22 year old Arthur Constantine was also working at the Staveley Company’s furnace in the offices as a clerk and 16 year old Robert Willis was an office boy. At home with their mother were Ivy 14, Doris 13, Edith 10, Alice 4, Marjorie 2 and Harry 1. With 10 people living in 5 small rooms, the cottage would have been somewhat overcrowded.
George is listed in the 1911 England Census at the Royal Marine Barracks, Alverstoke, Hampshire as a Private with the Royal Marine Light Infantry. In June of that year, he embarked on HMS “Exmouth” where he served for just over a year and then, on the 15th April 1914, after a short period with HMS “Albemarle”, George embarked on HMS “Queen Mary,” Royal Navy’s newest Battlecruiser. George was so impressed by the ship that he had sent a picture home on which he had written, “A beauty isn’t she? And as good as she looks, can knock spots off anything afloat.”
On the day that war was declared, HMS Queen Mary was at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands where the fleet awaited instructions. As the first stroke of 11pm boomed out from Big Ben in London, the war telegram, which meant, “Commence hostilities against Germany”, was flashed to the ships and establishments under the White Ensign all over the world.
Although his 12 years’ service time with the Royal Marines should have expired on 3rd January 1915, George decided to remain with the Royal Marines for “the duration of the war”.
On Wednesday 13th January 1915 HMS Queen Mary left the squadron to undergo a scheduled refit at Portsmouth. During his leave, George married 26 year old Elizabeth Way on Friday 22nd January at Alverstoke.
The Derbyshire Volunteers had been re-organised into the Territorial Force in 1909. In 1914, Robert Willis Exford was a Lance Corporal in the Staveley and District’s “F” Company, part of 1/6th Battalion in the 139th Sherwood Foresters Brigade.
The battalion spent 3 months at Harpenden until ‘fitting-out’ was complete and then disembarked at Le Havre on 26th February 1915 with 548 Officers and men on the roll. The 46th Division was the first complete Territorial Division to arrive in France. The early months were spent in the Ypres salient and the Division suffered heavy casualties during the Battle of Loos in October of that year.
Robert was wounded at Hooge in July 1915 with a bullet wound through his shoulder but quickly recovered and soon resumed his increased duties as a Sergeant. He was involved in some severe fighting at the Hohenzollern Redoubt in 1915.
On the 31st May 1916, H.M.S.Queen Mary put to sea with the rest of the Battle Cruiser Fleet to intercept and neutralise the German High Seas Fleet. (Battle of Jutland: North Sea). The British Fleet ‘Ran to the South’ in order to parallel the German fleet. The British ships were still in the process of aligning themselves when the Germans opened fire.
H.M.S. Queen Mary was hit twice by the German battlecruiser, Derfflinger, during the early part of the battle. One shell hit forward and detonated one or both of the magazines and the second started a fire in the working chamber which led to the magazine. The magazines exploded and ripped through the aft section, sinking the ship.
Her wreck was discovered in 1991 and rests in pieces, some of which are upside down, on the floor of the North Sea. Queen Mary is designated as a protected place under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 as it is the grave of over 1200 officers and men.
George Osman Exford was killed as a direct result of enemy action along with 5 other local men; Arthur Humphries, Walter Thompson, Thomas Holmes, William Gratton and William Fletcher.
His parents, Robert and Jane must have been devastated to lose a second son in such a short time and would have been very anxious for Robert who was still serving with the Sherwood Foresters in France.
In July that year, Robert took part in the diversionary attack at Gommecourt and in 1917 was involved in the Operations on the Ancre, the Occupation of the Gommecourt defences, the attack on Rettemoy Graben and the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line.
On the 27th June, the Battalion war diary reads: “- Bn relieved 2nd Bn S F in right sub sector St Pierre.” The Battalion remained there holding the line until the 30th June and it was during this time that Sergeant Robert Willis Exford was injured when a piece of a bomb, thrown at long range from the German trenches, exploded in the part of the trench he was holding. He was “badly wounded and was carried down after being dressed, but died soon afterwards” on 28th June 1917, aged 22.
An officer wrote to his parents that Robert had “proved himself over and over again to be one of the best NCO’s in the battalion, always so patient and brave in the most trying circumstances. A platoon commander, he held a position of great responsibility: in action he would command perhaps thirty or forty men, all of whom trusted him and were ready and often had to trust their lives to his hands. Although I know that his death will be a terrible blow to you, I think you must be very proud when you realise that he had reached a position of honour and respect in his country’s service.”