Last WW1 fatality

It’s almost the 100th anniversary of the death of the last Yorkshire Regiment soldier to die in the First World War.

Our special exhibition tells the story of the soldiers, like George Fensome, who fought on, long after the famous November 1918 armistice had passed.

Remember all the commemorations at the end of last year marking that centenary anniversary? It all seems a long time ago. Imagine being a soldier at the time; thousands of them were still fighting, or being sent to fight. In Russia.

Private George Fensome died whilst on active service in Russia on 31 August 1919.

The tragic tale of George’s accidental death on active service is a poignant reminder of the fragility of a single life amidst the wider devastation of war.

George Alfred Fensome was born in 1897 and lived in Luton, Bedfordshire, with his father George and mother Maria. The 1901 census shows him as having an adopted sister, Sarah Francis Hamson, aged five. By the time of the 1911, census the family had grown to include five more girls, Queenie 9, Annie Maria 6, Lilly May 5, and 8 month old twins Georgina and Doris. George was a 13 year old schoolboy. They all lived at 14 Brache Street.

Before the start of The First World War, George was employed as fitter’s assistant at the Luton Gas Company. He joined the army in October 1916 and eventually transferred to the 6th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment. When this happened is unclear but may well have been near the end of the war when soldiers were being drafted for service from various units for service in North Russia.

George was with ‘B’ Company. They had suffered the appalling conditions of the campaign and saw action at the battle of Bolshie Ozerki in March and April 1919.

George’s parents received a letter from him on the 8th of August, telling them he would soon be home.

It was the 31st August 1919, the day before the ship was due to sail for Britain.  The 6th Battalion war diaries tell us that they were on the move by train to HQ at Bakaritza for their evacuation. On arrival at the station it appears George started to get off the train, presumably fell or slipped, and was killed.

“Isaka Gorka – Bakaritza B Coy Pte Fensome accidentally killed whilst alighting from a moving train.”

The letter the War Office sent to George’s parents only mentions his death as being accidental and gave no information as to what had happened.

George and Maria had lost their eldest child, their only son. They appealed in the local paper, The Beds and Herts Tuesday Telegraph on the 16th September for more information about what had happened to him. We don’t know if they ever found out.

George was 21 years old. He is commemorated on the Archangel Memorial.

George Fensome is one of several soldiers specifically profiled in our special exhibition, Hostile Environment: The British in Russia.

His grainy photo – the only one we have been able to find of him – is placed, alongside others who served, on a large circular map in the centre of one of the galleries.

His information is contained within his own special personnel file, and his name included in a list of the 27 soldiers from the regiment who died serving British interests in Russia.

They came from all over the country, but served in the Yorkshire Regiment.