Remembering the Martham boy fought in the WW1 trenches and was killed at the age of 19

George Utting during his schooldays George Utting during his schooldays

Tuesday, March 4, 2014
11:16 AM

Wounded by a gunshot to the left shoulder, 18-year-old George William Utting was posted back to Blighty and spent a month recovering.

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George Utting enlisting for war in NorwichGeorge Utting enlisting for war in Norwich

Two months later in December 1916 he was sent back to the battlefields in France - and was killed in action just a few short weeks later on February 17, 1917.

George was the great uncle of Terry Smith, of Freethorpe, who said: “He was just an ordinary lad with an ordinary background, just one of thousands who volunteered for Kitchener’s Army amongst the euphoria and misplaced excitement of the time, when none of these mostly young lads and men, many leaving small quiet villages such as Martham for the first time, really had no idea of what they were letting themselves in for.

“Then, when after sometimes not much more than six months training, they were given uniform and equipment and sent to the carnage which was the Western Front.”

George William Utting was born in 1897, one of six children born to Alfred and Helen Utting, who lived at The Smee, Martham.

George Utting proudly wearing his WW1 uniformGeorge Utting proudly wearing his WW1 uniform

He attended Martham Primary School and the village Methodist Sunday School and when the Great War broke out he was 17 years old.

He enlisted at Norwich on September 17, 1914 and was posted to the 9th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment in October of that year.

He was sent to France with the battalion on August 30, 1915 where they were soon in action in an attack on the quarries west of Hulloch where they suffered heavy casualties from shelling and sniper fire. From there the battalion spent most of November in and out of the trenches around Ypres, in Belgium.

George was eventually wounded by gunshot to the left shoulder in an attack on a German strongpoint known as the Quadrilateral near Leuze Wood (Lousy Wood to the infantry) on September 15 1916 where the battalion suffered casualties totalling over 430 dead and wounded.

George Utting - in hospital recovering after being shot; the teenager was killed just weeks after this picture was taken.George Utting - in hospital recovering after being shot; the teenager was killed just weeks after this picture was taken.

He returned to England on September 20 1916 and hospitalised at Great Moor in Stockport, until October 23 1916.

When he returned to France in December 1916 he was posted to the 8th Norfolk Battalion which, the following month, moved to the front line near Miraumont and where the fruitless trench warfare - depicted in so many films and documentaries, took place.

At midnight on February 16-17 1917 George and his whole battalion were on the front line at Theipval gravel pits, moving to assembly points for an attack on a position called Boom Ravine, between Courcelette and Miraumont.

It had been a cold, frosty night and by the time the battalion was forming up at around 5.30am a thaw had set in, making conditions extremely slippery and hazardous.

Alfred Sillett WW1Alfred Sillett WW1

The Germans though had been alerted, it is thought by two captured deserters from another regiment, and they started a tremendous barrage of shells and it was during this bombardment George was killed, one of several 8th Norfolk soldiers that day posted as missing. He had not reached his 20th birthday.

Terry is lucky – he has photos of his great uncle – one taken of his class at school, and he wonders whether anyone can shed light of the other pupils. Did others pictured here suffer a similar fate?

George is also pictured outside the recruiting office where he is seen smoking a clay pipe.

His great nephew observes: “His young looks seem to 
have deserted him in the photograph taken in hospital after he was wounded, he seems to have quickly grown from a boy into a man with much on his mind.”

George Utting is commemorated on the impressive Thiepval Memorial to the Missing which has almost 73,000 names of soldiers who died on the Somme battlefields between July 1915 and March 1918 and who have no known grave.

“Having myself visited the battlefields of the Somme and Flanders it is hard to imagine what these lads went through with everything now so quiet and peaceful. Although you do not have to look far to be reminded of what happened there over a century ago.”

Terry has also turned up an interesting old photo postcard which he says: “By its rather worn condition looks as though it was something he treasured and kept in his pocket for some time. The postcard picture is a very early street view of Martham with the Kings Arms public house prominent.

He speculates: “It was possibly left at home when George was on leave after being injured in 1916.”

The postcard is postmarked Martham 1914 and addressed to Mr George Utting, Brittania Barracks, Norwich and it reads: “Dear George, I am glad to hear that you have all arrived at Norwich safe, write as soon as you can, as I am going to send Edmund some cigarettes. I will write you both a letter next week. From Maud. Xxxx”

Terry has assumed that Maud was George’s girlfriend at the time, and it looks like Edmund, who is probably Maud’s brother, joined up the same time as George. Edmund and Maud are probably both on the school photograph.

George is also commemorated on the 1914-18 war memorial in his home village of Martham.

“I have several mementoes of George’s early life but unfortunately his medals were given away locally, for whatever reason, a long time ago.

“If anyone can shed any light as to their whereabouts I would be pleased to hear from them.”

If anyone can help with Mr Smith’s questions he can be contacted on 01493 700004 or email terence.smith578@btinternet.com.

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