Private Griffin is remembered on the local memorials as Ernest Griffin and George Ernest Griffin. After much research another soldier by the name of Ernest Griffin has been located who was born in Longton. As the Longton soldier has no apparent links to Biddulph, it has been concluded that George Ernest and Ernest Griffin are the same man. Perhaps his friends in Biddulph and Brindley Ford knew him as Ernest while the folks of Brown Lees decided to honour him with his full name, George Ernest.
Staffordshire BMD record a birth for George Ernest Griffin in 1895 in Biddulph. His parents George and Mary Jane, née Capewell, had married earlier the same year in Walsall before moving to North Staffordshire. George worked for the Biddulph Valley ironworks and lived in the Office House for the works. The 1901 and 1911 censii show them living at that address. George Ernest would seem to have been their only child and in 1911, aged 15, he was working as a forge worker at the Ironworks.
Whilst working at Robert Heath’s Works, Ernest Griffin enlisted on September 11th 1914 at Biddulph, joining the North Staffordshire Regiment. It appears he originally served in 2/5th or 3/5th battalion with a regimental number of 3352 as shown on his medal card and service records, before transferring to the 1/5th Battalion. Basic training commenced at Butterton Hall camp and after six weeks the new recruits were ready for further instruction. Headed by a pipe and drums band the men proudly marched from Butterton to Newcastle railway station to begin a journey to Luton.
More intensive training was carried out in the Luton, Harpenden and Bishop’s Stortford areas. On completion of training the soldiers had their medical for field service on June 25th and then the 1/5th North Staffords prepared to embark at Southampton. They crossed the English Channel on August 18th 1915 and on arrival at Le Havre, Ernest and his mates travelled inland for assembly with the 137th Brigade, 46th North Midlands Division on September 26th. This division served in the Ypres and Hooge area until October when they were ordered to the Loos area of the Western Front.
The Battle of Loos was being fought north of the mining town of Lens. On the afternoon of October 13th battalions of the 137th Brigade, 46th Division were ordered to retake the Hohenzollern Redoubt, the trenches of Big Willie and Fosse Alley. It was disastrous; exposed to machine gun fire and shelling from the redoubt many of Ernest’s pals soon fell. This was indeed a black day for Biddulph and Staffordshire with the loss of over 200 men.
Ernest survived unwounded from this attack, but sadly eight of his Biddulph pals were lost that day. The division was soon to be withdrawn from the Loos battlefield to recover. On December 4th 1915 he was not so fortunate, for he was shot in the right arm and legs. However a report in the Chronicle of March 3rd 1917 said he suffered from frost bite. He was initially treated at the 1st Field Ambulance before being taken the following day to 32 Casualty Clearing Station. On December 9th 1915 Ernest was transferred to the large, 1000 bed, 2nd Canadian Hospital at Le Tr&eacutr;port on the French coast where he underwent surgery.
Ernest’s mates in the 1/5th battalion were en-route to Egypt on December 22nd. For Ernest a journey of a different sort began as he returned to Blighty; for England was his destination for six months of further medical care, rest and recuperation. It is unclear where in England he stayed, however, by July 11th 1916 he was fit for duty again on the Western Front. Crossing from Folkestone to Boulogne on July 21st, Ernest re-joined D company of his battalion who were now serving on the Somme. The men of 1/5 North Staffords continued to fight bravely and the New Year found them in the Arras area when on January 2nd 1917 Ernest was again hospitalised. This time he had contracted diphtheria and trench fever; he spent a month in no. 12 Stationary hospital at St Pol.
He was discharged from hospital on February 7th with light duties, but sadly within a week of returning to duty with his battalion twenty-one year old Private Ernest George Griffin became one of the fallen. On February 13th 1917 he died on the battlefield.
The Chronicle in an article dated March 3rd 1917 reported on the death of Private Griffin of Office House, the only son of George and Mary Griffin. The following details were included in the article: that he enlisted soon after the outbreak of war and trained at Butterton and Harpenden before volunteering for active service. He was invalided home in December 1915 suffering from frostbite in the legs and feet and after recovery stayed in England until July 11th 1916 when he returned to France. The report also stated that: “Private Griffin had only left hospital after suffering with trench fever a few days previous to being killed in action on February 13th 1917.”
George Ernest Griffin is at rest in the Bienvillers Military Cemetery near to Arras. He is also remembered on all of the Biddulph memorials and also the Brindley Ford and Brown Lees memorials.
Michael Turnock & Elaine Bryan.