No.2016 – Private George Ackland – 14th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment (ex Dragoon Guards)
George was the son of Thomas and Mary Ackland of Newdigate Surrey England, having been born on the 16th June 1886, the youngest of five children. After completing his education George became a horse driver, though he soon joined the permanent army, serving with the 2nd Dragoon Guards. In 1911 his sister Mary, with her husband and children moved to Western Australia. This seems to have had an influence on George as in 1912 he requested to be discharged from the Dragoon Guards, short of his twelve years service. It appears his sister and brother-in-law secured him work in WA as normally future employment in the ‘colonies’ had to be proven before a soldier was released from service. Though in the event of any future conflict; George could be recalled to service, thus he became what is known as an Imperial Reservist.
On the 18th May 1912 George left England aboard the SS Armadale and soon arrived in Fremantle Western Australia where he reported to the relevant authorities. George lived for a time with his sister and brother-in-law in Fremantle and began work with the WA Police Force. George Ackland was appointed a probationary constable in the WA Police force on the 19th September 1912. He served in the Fremantle & Perth districts and on the 21st November 1913 he was appointed Constable. George remained in the Perth district until July 1914 when he was transferred to the West Perth Police Station. In 1914 George married Mary Jane Morley in Fremantle and they took up residence in Glyde Street, East Fremantle.
This marriage was put on hold in August 1914 when the Great War broke out in Europe. The Imperial Reservists were called up for service all over Australia and they were ordered to report to the military authorities in their respective states. The military were being kept busy with the recruitment of men for the Australian Imperial Force but when the Imperial Reservists reported for duty from all over the state they were collected together at Fremantle Park. This Park had been the site of the camp of the 86th Regiment of the Citizens Military Forces but this was transformed to add the Reservists.
From August to October 1914 George and the other Reservists resumed their training at Fremantle Park. This park was only a short walk from the Ackland’s residence in East Fremantle so George was close to home during the first months of training. During this time the Reservists also instructed the 86th Infantry in various military drills and tasks as many of the young members of the 86th though too young to enlist in the AIF, were used to guard German internees on Rottnest Island.
It was initially assumed that the WA Imperial Reservists would embark from Fremantle with the Western Australian soldiers of the AIF, but they instead received orders to proceed south to Albany and it was here on the 1st November 1914 that they boarded the HMAT Miltiades and set sail for England. The Miltiades sailed via Egypt and reached Plymouth England on December 22nd 1914.
After their arrival the Reservists all went their separate ways to their Regimental bases. Most of the original units had already been in France since August 1914 so the Reservists were either sent across to join their Regiments or added to new Regiments being formed in England. George reported for duty at the Dragoon headquarters and was assigned to a Regiment, reportedly the 2nd Dragoons. News would have soon reached George of his wife having given birth to a son on the 10th April 1915, and this boy was named George Henry Ackland, after his father.
It was evident early in the war that the cavalry could not compete against heavy artillery and machine guns and their use became limited. Many men of the cavalry therefore transferred across to the infantry. George originally joined the Royal Sussex Regiment but was then transferred to the 14th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. This Regiment had been formed in Birmingham in September 1914 and was also known as the 1st Birmingham Pals. On the 26th June 1915 it came under command of the 95th Brigade, 32nd Division and landed at Boulogne France on the 21st November 1915. They soon transferred to the 13th Brigade of the 5th Division BEF and served in 1916 at the Somme fighting at High Wood, Guillemont, Flers, Morval and Le Transloy. In 1917 they served at Vimy Arras and the Third Battle of Ypres in September 1917 at Polygon Wood, Broodseinde and Poelcapelle.
In November 1917 the Division was moved to Italy and served on that front till April 1918 when they were returned to France. George saw action at the Nieppe Forest near Hazebrouck, which was also where the 1st Division AIF was located and George may have served near his fellow Western Australians in the 11th Battalion AIF. On the 12th April 1918 George and his Regiment received orders to capture the village of Merville. Their advance took them through Tannay-Le Foret, but new orders were soon received to dig a line short of their objective. While waiting for the advance to resume the Germans launched a heavy artillery barrage on the 14th Warwickshire’s, which included gas shells. George was evacuated to hospital as a result of gas poisoning.
After spending time in hospital in France; George was soon sent back to England to recuperate. He was released from hospital and returned to the family farm at Newdigate. He was still planning for his future in Western Australia and after being sent to his Regimental base he applied for a free passage back to Australia as the Imperial Reservists were entitled to this as were the members of the AIF. While he waited for indication of a passage on a ship he remained at his family home in Newdigate Surrey. He stayed with his sister at Brookleg Farm but soon fell ill and on the 8th February 1919 he died quite suddenly, the official cause being acute capillary bronchitis though no doubt the seriousness of the condition was exacerbated by the damage done through his gassing. He was so close to returning to WA after serving through the war and being reunited with Mary and little George; the son he had never seen. George Ackland was buried in Newdigate Churchyard Surrey. Mary and little George were devastated by the loss of their husband and father. Mary put the following verse in the West Australian on the 5th May 1919.
In 1920 Mary and young George travelled to England to meet the Ackland family, returning to Australia in 1923. In 1927 Mary remarried to a Hugh Forcus in Fremantle. Hugh was a Military Medal winner with the 44th Battalion (Reg. No.485), however this marriage did not last and in 1935 she married for the third and last time to a Percival G Potter in Perth. After young George came back to Australia he completed his education and in World War Two he served in the Australian Army. He had married and had two daughters, but unfortunately he died in 1948 aged 33. Mary outlived her son and husband, dying in 1968.
Brooklag Farm Newdigate