Private, London Regiment, 19th Bn.
Service no. 611750
Died of illness in early 1919, after discharge, aged 26
Buried in Southwark 6 March 1919
Chris Burge writes:
George Wedderburn was born on 30 August 1892, the first child of George Wedderburn and Clara Wilmott of 5 Chapel Street (since renamed Mowll Street), Stockwell. George was baptised on 18 October 1892 at Christ Church, North Brixton, with the given names George Robert Henry. George Snr, originally from Newcastle, worked as a stable groom for the Waine furnishing company at 131-139 Newington Butts, close to the Elephant and Castle. Clara was born and raised in Lambeth. When George’s younger brother Joseph Alfred was born in 1896, the family were still in Chapel Street and George’s father was described as a ‘comedian’, a hint of another side to the lives of the Wedderburn family.
By 1901, eight-year-old George was one of four children and the Wedderburn family were living at 14 Buff Place, Camberwell. George’s father was described as a horse dealer. Three families making a total of 17 people were living at the same address. Although close to Camberwell Green and the surrounding amenities, Buff Place was one of a group of side alleys described by the social surveyor Charles Booth in 1899 as comprising ‘shoddy three storey buildings’.
In the 1911 census, George was now one of eight children. His parents were both 37 and the children’s details were set out in the clear hand of their father: George, 18; Joseph, 15; Robert, 13; Clara, 10; James nine; Isabella, seven; Samuel, four; and Gladys, two. Their father was still working as a domestic groom, while Joseph was a newsboy and George Jnr was a labourer. Large families were the norm, but in this case the family of ten were crammed into just four rooms at 21 Ely Place, South Lambeth, was one of a group of turnings off Dorset Road that were all marked as a poor area when visited ten years earlier by Booth.
Towards the end of 1915 with conscription looming, it was clear that both George and his brothers Joseph and Robert would not escape service. In the case of George, only his discharge papers have survived. They tell the story of a man broken in mind and body, revealing that before the war George had wholly, or in part, earned his living as a variety artist, performing for around five years in various Moss Empire theatres. His family later said he was known to perform comical songs and dances in a double act with his father.
George’s Army life began at the end of November 1915 when he chose to attest under Lord Derby’s Group Scheme in which men enlisted under the promise that unmarried men in their group would be called up first. He joined the reserve of 19th London Regiment, a Territorial Force unit whose administrative base was in Camden Town, near St Pancras Station. George was given the service number 5116. Perhaps it was no coincidence that music-hall artists brother Henry Arthur and Ronald Gladstone Moon joined 19th London Regiment at the same time. Brixton and the surrounding area was popular with variety artists for its good transport links. Henry Moon gave a Brixton Road address when he attested in Lambeth on 30 November 1915. His service number was 5100, and his brother Ronald’s was 5121.
George was given compassionate leave to marry Mabel Jane Wright on 28 May 1916 at St Paul’s, Lorrimore Square, Southwark, which was close to Mabel’s home in Lorrimore Road. After this, George returned to his unit and within four months was sent to France.
He landed at Le Havre on 13 August, spent nearly a month at the infantry base and finally reached the 1/19th London on 23 September 1916. It was the height of the Somme offensive and his battalion, which had already suffered heavy casualties attacking High Wood, were briefly out of the front line. Back in the Line, intense shelling buried men alive or dead. In October the battalion withdrawn from the Somme only to be sent north to the Ypres sector. Trench conditions were always at their worst in winter and sporadic shelling invariably added to the casualty lists. George was admitted to a Field Ambulance on 14 January 1917 with a high fever and was in hospital in Boulogne a week later before being transferred to England on 30 January.
George’s health deteriorated to the point that on 8 June he was sent to convalesce at Summerdown Camp near Eastbourne. His condition worsened and by August 1917 he was transferred to the 1st London General Hospital after displaying the classic symptoms of neurasthenia, an illness now renamed dysautonomia, an imbalance of the autonomic nervous system. It may have been what is commonly known as shell shock. After 32 days George was moved to the Tooting Grove Military Hospital where he stayed for 148 days and was described as ‘nervous and excited at the least thing’. In February 1918, George was moved again, this time to the 4th General Hospital at Denmark Hill were he stayed for 51 days, still suffering from neurasthenia. Finally on 29 March 1918 George was transferred to the Maudsley Neurological Clearing Hospital, Denmark Hill and appeared before a medical board on 19 April 1918. The board found him to be permanently unfit for service and awarded him a pension, but only for six months. He was discharged on 10 May 1918 after spending 41 days at the Maudsley, free to return home to Mabel at 81 Lorrimore Road, Kennington. When completing his discharge papers, George wrote ‘Variety Artiste (if possible) Gardening or Farming’ in the section asking about what kind of work he desired.
It is not known if George had found employment by the time his pension expired, but there was a new beginning when he became a father in 1918. Following family tradition, George and Mabel named their son George Bruce Wedderburn.
George Wedderburn died in early 1919, he was laid to rest in Southwark [where?] on 6 March 1919. The authorities refused Mabel’s claim for a war pension.
Mabel was still living at 81 Lorrimore Road in 1945 when her son George Bruce Wedderburn was a ‘service voter’ at the same address in the 1945 election. He had been in the Army since 1939. Mabel was living in Norwich when she passed away in 1984, aged 89. George Bruce Wedderburn died in Norwich in 1998, aged 79.