Tribute to the men whose names appear on First World War section of Garstang memorial
George William Ronson was born at Garstang in 1895, one of eight children of Ben and Alice Ronson.
His father was a canal bank ranger, and during the late 19th Century his mother ran a fish and chip shop in High Street, Garstang, in premises now occupied by Lloyds Bank.
Ben died in 1901 and Alice re-married in 1908. Her new husband was James Hunter Reynolds, a one-time window cleaner in Garstang; George was therefore his stepson when the war started.
According to the 1911 census, George, at 15, was working as an “errand boy at a chemists”. The business would certainly be Thomas’s Chemists, Market Place.
By that time, the family had moved out of the shop and further down the High Street to a whitewashed property on a site now occupied by a floristry business.
On December 21, 1914, at the age of 18, George enlisted at Garstang Town Hall and joined the Coldstream Guards.
He was the only Garstonian to join the regiment, whose standards of recruitment were very selective. Recruits had to be at least six feet tall and the training regime was severe. Many volunteers found the regime far too difficult and went into other regiments instead.
Thomas H Richardson, who ran the Eagle and Child Hotel, High Street, was recruiting officer for Garstang in 1914 and his signature appears on George’s attestation form (the form completed when an individual enlisted).
Training a soldier in the British Army at this period would have taken about eight or nine months, so George probably landed in France during the autumn of 1915.
In October that year the Coldstream Guards had just participated in the latest Allied attempt at rupturing the German defences on the Western Front. This was the Battle of Loos.
On this occasion the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) used poison gas against the enemy for the first time. It was hardly a success, as, in places the gas was blown back onto British trenches.
It’s not known if George took part, but it can be safely said that his training, skill and good luck steered him through the worst period of the conflict in Europe because the Guards took part in the Battle of the Somme in the second half of 1916, the third Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Cambrai in the latter part of 1917, the Battle of the Somme in March 1918 before taking part in the so-called ‘Advance to Victory’ in the late summer that year.
As the British Army made its way across the wasteland of the earlier (1916) Somme battlefield, the Germans did everything to hold them up before they reached the relative safety of their newly-constructed Hindenburg Line.
As the BEF pushed the enemy across the Somme, the British Third Army, in Artois, advanced steadily across what had been the battlefields of Spring 1917, east from Arras.
It was during this episode of the war that Lance Corporal George Ronson met his death.
On August 21, 1918, the BEF went over the top again and a week later George fell in action. He died on August 27, 1918, in the second Battle of Arras.
The fighting stopped here on August 30. His body was recovered from the battlefield and was eventually buried at Croisilles British Cemetery.
During the war George was awarded the Military Medal, one of only two servicemen from Garstang to be given this decoration for “bravery in the field”. The other serviceman to be decorated with the Military Medal was William Thomas, a member of a Quaker family who ran the chemist’s business where George had worked.
William Thomas is another of the 19 men listed on the First World War section of the Garstang War Memorial.