George was the son of David and Hannah Savage. In 1901 the family had lived at 24, Stringer Street, Biddulph but by 1911, David and Hannah and seven of their eight surviving children had moved to 16, Welsh Row. David was an ironworker and hailed from the West Midlands. Hannah and their children had all been born locally at Biddulph.
George put his name forward at the very first recruitment meeting at Biddulph. It must have been a very exciting evening. The meeting took place in the Public Hall and the local newspapers reported that “long before the doors of the Public Hall were thrown open the streets in the immediate vicinity were packed with a dense crowd of people, and so great was the crush that many were unable to obtain even standing accommodation in the Hall. The attendance would be between 500 and 600, and a public gathering of such numbers, and permeated with such boundless enthusiasm, has rarely been experienced in the annals of Biddulph.”
This response had not been anticipated and although at least 100 men wanted to sign up, the “lack of any organised method for securing the signatures of the large number of men anxious and willing to join” meant that arrangements were made for the Public Hall to open up the next day to cope with the demand. The hall was decorated, the platform having “a profuse display of flags and bunting, from which the Union Jack hung conspicuously in the centre, and previous to the entrance of the platform party the audience whiled away the time in singing God save the King, Rule Britannia and other patriotic songs.”
Perhaps this lack of organisation was the reason why George and another Welsh Row young man, Abraham Millward, went over to Macclesfield to enlist on August 31st 1914. As his birth was registered in 1897, George may not have been seventeen years of age. George perhaps felt that it was the thing to do; following his colliery mates who had already taken the King’s shilling. His service records suggest that he initially enlisted in the Cheshire Regiment (12867), as had Abraham (12825), so perhaps they were close pals as well as neighbours.
Goodbyes said to his parents and siblings at Welsh Row, Mow Cop, he was soon to start basic training at Codford and Bournemouth; drilling, bayonet practice and musketry. In May 1915 more intensive training was undertaken at Wokingham. They were attached to the 25th Division and with final preparation for war completed in June at Aldershot, George and his pals crossed the channel arriving in France on September 28th 1915.
The divisional concentration area was at Nieppe and the next few months found the soldiers acclimatised to trench life and defending their part of the line on the Western Front. In May 1916 Vimy Ridge was the first major action untaken by the battalion. Though they fought valiantly these attacks came to nothing and they lost many men. After this action the 8th South Lancashires were ordered to withdraw to St. Pol – a safe back area to rest and retrain. June brought the battalion to Warloy, a back area of the Somme district. Now they were part of the 75th Brigade; the battalion first became involved in the Battle of the Somme on July 2nd and 3rd in the Martinsart area. With constant shelling and terrific machine gun fire it was soon apparent this unsupported and costly attack would inevitably fail. Again the battalion withdrew.
George and his mates throughout the summer and into autumn were in and out of the trenches and at times were used to carry heavy loads, during darkness, to the front area. Water cans, bombs, Lewis gun and rifle ammunition. Still on the Somme, it is believed that on October 1st 1916, the battalion were in an attack on the enemy at the Zollern Redoubt and Hesslan Trench. During the move forward a fellow soldier fell wounded; George bravely picked up his mate to carry him to safety, but before they could get back to the British lines George was sadly killed carrying him.
His service records survive and include a letter (from Joseph Higginson and dated 1920) from the Mow Cop & District Branch of The National Federation of Discharged & Demobilised Sailors & Soldiers. This was addressed to the Officer in charge of records of the South Lancashire Regiment:
When 15454 Private George Savage (late 8th Batt South Lancs Regt) of 16, Welsh Row, Mow Cop, Stoke-on-Trent was killed in action Oct 1st 1916, his mother received a letter from his officer stating that he was killed whilst carrying a wounded comrade in.
On behalf of his parents I appeal to you to look up this man’s record and see if he was recommended for a distinctive decoration or mentioned in despatches. After being in conversation with an eye-witness of this man’s heroic death I am compelled to admit that he deserved one of England’s highest awards.”
No further correspondence survives in his service records.
Private George Savage has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, the Biddulph memorials and he is also remembered on the St. Thomas, Mow Cop memorial.
Mike Turnock & Elaine Heathcote.