Lance Corporal, Drummer 5215
3rd South Lancashire Regiment
George Exell was born in 1883 in Chelsea and was the second oldest child of four born to Thomas and Annie nee Casey. George’s father was employed as a basket maker and seller of matches plus he was also a street musician. He was blind.
On the 1891 census the family were living at 46, Boundary Road in Hammersmith. They were in shared accommodation with three other families. George was then aged seven.
On the 22nd of October 1892 George’s father was brought under warrant to the West London Police Court charged with deserting his children who had become chargeable to the parish of Kensington. They had, along with their mother, been in and out of the Britten Street Workhouse several times. Detective Brown stated that the prisoner was often drunk and violent and he was sentenced to three months hard labour. George’s mother Annie had previous convictions for drunkenness and theft. On the 1st of July 1896 she too was before the court charged with stealing £4 from her husband. She made a lunge at her husband in the court, hitting him around the head and then struggled violently with the police. She had to be carried out of court to be secured. Annie was sentenced to six months imprisonment and the Q.C. described her behaviour as that of a perfect brute.
From Poor law records George was admitted to the branch school on the 24th of February 1893, his mother being in prison. In the margin written in red is the notation " adopted", but there is no further information given. George was sent out from the Exmouth training ship on the 22nd of January 1897 to the 1st South Lancashire regiment. The Exmouth was a land based training facility used by the military.
By 1901 Elizabeth Exell, George’s younger sister was resident in Beechholme (Kensington and Chelsea District School).
George had attested on the 23rd of January 1897 with the South Lancashire regiment.
His apparent age was given as fourteen. He was four feet eight inches tall and described as being of fair complexion with blue eyes and brown hair. He had the word “love” tattooed on his right forearm and a sailor on his left. His occupation was given as musician.
It states that he was educated in Chelsea and District School and also on the Exmouth training ship.
The whereabouts of his father were unknown. His mother was living in Notting Hill with George’s older brother Thomas. His younger brother James was resident in Beechholme.
His army records show that he served in South Africa and list his medal entitlement.
The South Lancashire regiments were known as the Prince of Wales Volunteers. The 3rd battalion, who were previously the 4th Royal Lancashire Militia, were raised in 1899 for service in South Africa.
They mobilised at Fulwood Barracks and sailed from Princes landing stage Liverpool on the City of Rome. They arrived in Capetown in January 1900.
Nothing much appears to have been written about the 3rd South Lancashire regiment in South Africa . The following is an extract describing some of their work.
The battle of Tugela took place between the 27th of February and the 15th of March 1900.
“On the 27th of February Barton’s Fusilier Brigade, the first of three brigades ordered to attack in turn from east to west, seemed to falter astride the spiky walls of the Pieters plateau. Earlier, they had been observed tramping off across the pontoon bridge and then vanished down the great gorge to the right, among the jungle growth of aloes and the towering red cliffs and the splintered boulders jostling in the Tugela. Soon after midday they reappeared as black dots two miles away on the first kopje of the Pieters plateau.
As at Cingolo and Monte Cristo, Botha had been outmanoeuvred and had left his flank at Pieters hardly defended, apparently because he thought the country was too rugged for Buller to cross the Tugela river and turn his flank. Moreover, from a long, high, bony platform across the river, Buller’s artillery could cover the attack with converging fire. For the first time Colonel Parson’s gunners could fully exploit Buller’s revolutionary new tactic for co-ordinating artillery and infantry, to send skimming over the heads of the creeping infantry, a creeping curtain of shell fire. Only a hundred yards ahead of them, the hillside foamed and thundered with rocks, earth and flying steel.
But once Barton’s brigade was actually astride Pieters plateau, Parsons gunners were too far away and too low to cover them. The Boers began to recover themselves. Botha recognized the danger to the whole line if the British turned his flank at Pieters, and had desperately thrown reinforcements into the breach.
At about three o’clock, small brown dots began to emerge on the rocks and scree of Railway Hill. It was Walter Kitchener’s brigade and the turning point. The men of the West Yorkshire and South Lancashire regiments attacking from the Pieters side, gradually squirmed and wriggled their way up the series of terraces . To observers from below it seemed the critical moment.
How were they to cross that ghastly open hillside? And then came the most extraordinary revolution, sudden, astounding, brilliant, almost incomprehensible. Across the railway the South Lancashires suddenly rose up out of the ground, stones rose up too ,and turned out to be infantrymen…and all began to run, not in stiff lines, but with the graceful spreading of a bird’s wings straight up the hill.
Closer to it was a stabbing, jabbing, flailing bayonet charge that won the nek of ground between Railway Hill and Hart’s Hill to the west. It also made the novel acquisition of some Boer prisoners, forty men, the first real bag of enemy prisoners for four months.”
George was entitled to the South African medal with Cape Colony, Orange Free State and 1901 clasps.
The rest of George's story is told on the Beechholme School’s World War One soldiers pages.