This coming weekend I will be making a presentation on my grandfather's World War I military service in the British Army. It is going to be at a meeting of the East Coast Chapter of the Western Front Association at historic Fort Mifflin near Philadelphia Airport. For information on Fort Mifflin, hit the title above. The presentation is entitled "A British 'Grunt' in the Great War: The Service of Private George T. Matchett." Complete details on the day's program below.
My maternal grandfather, George T. Matchett, was born April 15, 1892, to a father of the same name, George Thompson Matchett, a dock labourer, and mother Margaret K. Rowlands Matchett of 177 Beaufort Street, Toxteth Park, Liverpool, Lancashire, England. My Grandad told the story that he was so weak and puny when he was born that the doctor hesitated to make out a birth certificate immediately. Therefore, his birth was not recorded for a whole month; his birth certificate reads that he was born May 15, 1892. My grandfather would live to age 94, eventually dying January 18, 1987.
In 1914, he volunteered for the Lancashire Hussars Yeomanry Regiment: given his liking of horses, it made sense for him to join a cavalry unit. At the beginning of the war in 1914, my grandfather was in the Lancashire Hussars Yeomanry regiment and he spent time in camp in the first year of the war at Rufford Park near Ormskirk and Kirkby Lonsdale, Lancashire. I have a dogtag marked somewhat erroneously "T. G. Matchett 782 Lancs. Hrs. Y."
A year into the war, my grandfather was issued with a bicycle instead of a horse. The substitution was due to the fact that the slaughter of horses was so immense that all the agricultural horses had been rounded up, enforcing the total mechanization of British farming. Even this was not sufficient, so when no more than a tiny residue of horses remained, which were necessary to draw heavy munitions, bicycles were issued for the cavalrymen’s use.
Horseman, Passed By
Before the war, my English grandfather went
to Canada and became a cowboy on the prairie;
as war loomed, he returned home, enlisted
in the Yeomanry, ready to cry out "Hussar!"
as he waved his sabre, riding over the Huns
in their Pickelhaubes. I see him fresh and
bright-eyed with the cavalryman's leather
halter, neat pockets packed with brass bullets.
But it was, after all, the new, twentieth century,
horsepower on the way out. The high command
reconsidered, horses being shredded just as men,
and they issued the cavalry boys bicycles instead.
Later, Grandad ferried supplies to the Macedonian
front. I never got clear: did he ride a bike then?
Christopher T. George
For the rest of the war, he served in the Lancashire Fusiliers infantry, as a private. His Great War medals show on the rim that he was service no. 209450. G. T. Matchett was in the Lancashire Fusiliers 12th batallion as part of the British Expeditionary Force sent to Greece and based in Salonika (present-day Thessalonika). He told me he was involved in troop transports and supply into Macedonia while fighting the Bulgarians. In a somewhat self-deprecatory and low-key statement he told me that in ferrying these supplies to the front, "Some horses were killed, a few men as well."
He contracted malaria while in Salonika, symptoms of which would recur during his life from thence forward, as is characteristic of this mosquito-borne disease. His elder brother Billy Matchett (1889-1974) was a music hall comedian who entertained the troops, while his younger brother Harry Matchett served with a rifle company during the war.
WFA East Coast Chapter Spring Seminar
Fort Mifflin, Philadelphia, PA
9 May 2009
9 AM – Registration, Coffee and Doughnuts
10 AM – Christopher George, A British 'Grunt' in the Great War: The Service of Private George T. Matchett
11 AM – Tim Mulligan, World War I German Naval Records at the National
Archives: Access and Research Possibilities
Noon – Lunch On Your Own
1:30 PM – Tour of Fort Mifflin and Eighteenth Century Weapons Demonstration
3:00 PM – Program Ends
Registration Fee – $25 Per Person
Mail Checks Payable To: WFA East Coast Chapter
3116 S. 17th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19145
Directions from North: South on I-95, take Exit 15 Island Avenue/Enterprise Avenue. At end of exit ramp, you will be on Enterprise Avenue. At stop sign turn left onto Fort Mifflin Road. Follow road, through short tunnel, to the first left turn. See sign on right. After left hand turn, follow signs straight into the Fort. Free Parking is on left.
Directions from South: North on I-95, take Exit 13 - Valley Forge/West 291. Bear right and follow sign for Island Avenue. At traffic light (Hilton Hotel on left corner), turn left onto Island Avenue. At stop sign turn left onto Enterprise Avenue. At stop sign, turn right onto Fort Mifflin Road. Follow road, through short tunnel, to the first left turn. See sign on right. After left hand turn, follow signs straight into the Fort. Free Parking is on left.
Information Contact: JLaMonica@DCCC.edu or (610)355-7147
Saturday, May 02, 2009
Posted by Christopher T. George at 5:11 AM