Private George Albert Copeland was born in Astbury, Congleton in 1898 (Cheshire BMD) and it was there that he was living in 1911 with his parents George and Harriett, née Hancock. Their address was given as “cottage near lime works, Astbury”. He was one of 14 children, only six of whom were alive in 1911. His father, George, was a coal miner who had been born in Biddulph. Following the death of Harriet in 1913 it would seem that George returned to Biddulph where he married a widow, Ethel Cooper, née Holland. When George Albert enlisted, at the age of 18 years five months, the family were living at 12, Sheppard Street, Biddulph and were still at that address in 1917 as correspondence sent from the War Office confirms. The surviving war records show that before his enlistment George was working in the colliery.
George enlisted at Biddulph on December 12th 1915. His service records have survived, however, the quality is very poor because of fire and water damage. With records inconclusive, George appears initially to have served with the 3rd battalion North Staffordshire regiment. This was a training unit based at Wallsend. At some point in 1917 he transferred to the 8th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. This battalion was attached to the 110th Brigade, 37th Division.
The 37th Division had been in France since April 28th 1915, and the reinforcement draft to which George attached, joined the 8th Leicestershire regiment in the field in June 1917. About this time the battle of Scarpe was taking place and the division were in action here, an offensive which resulted in the capture of Monchy-le-Preux, an important enemy stronghold, followed by actions at Arleax in the Arras Offensive.
Transferred to Belgium the division were to serve in the Ypres salient in July and it was here that the Third Battle of Ypres opened. The battlefield became a morass, where men and horses had to fight, live and sleep; this mud was so deep it could easy drown both. The 8th Leicestershire would find these appalling conditions a nightmare when ordered to attack on July 31st at Pilkem Ridge, followed shortly after with actions at the Menin Road Ridge.
Thirty days of rain, the worst summer for many years compounded the miserable time in the salient for George and his pals. Even bringing up the tea became unbelievably difficult and marching out of line to a back area proved a challenge. The division bravely continued with battles at Polygon Wood, Broodseinde and Poelcapelle - all with minimal gains and terrible losses through until October 1917. The final goal of the Third Battle of Ypres was in sight on October 26th when the fight for Passchendaele began. Now almost to the top of the ridge and on looking back, with the ruins of Ypres in the far distance, was a sea of mud.
George would never see the final push, for on October 28th 1917, Private George Albert Copeland fell on the field at Ypres. Another Biddulph family would receive the dreaded Form 104-82 informing them of their sad loss. Without any known grave George is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.
He is remembered on the St. Lawrence board and cross as well as on the Biddulph town memorial.
Elaine Bryan and Michael Turnock.