George was the eldest son of Albert and Harriet Riches ( nee Riches). He was born in Fressingfield, Suffolk in 1891. He had three brothers, William born in 1896, Albert in 1904 and James in 1905, and two sisters, Christina born in 1895 and Kate in 1907. His father is recorded as being both a miller and a carter. His family lived in Fressingfield but George spent much of his childhood living with his maternal grandparents, George and Sarah Riches. In 1901 he was living with them in Claxton Norfolk. By 1911 they were living in Foxhole, Saxlingham Thorpe where both he and his grandfather were working as farm labourers.
On 9th November 1913 George married Ellen Poyntz (also spelt Points) at St. Mary’s Church Saxlingham. Ellen was aged 18 years old when she married and her family lived on The Street in Saxlingham. Her father was a carpenter. George was 23 years old. Their first child Kathleen Ellen was born on 11th January 1914 and their second child, Ronald George on 28th September 1916.
George enlisted on 17th January 1916 when he was 25 years and 6 months old. He was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 9 stones 11 pounds. His physical development was described as being good. He joined the 2nd Battalion of Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment).
He was posted with the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force to Basra in Iraq. He disembarked from HMT Maunganui on 2nd October 1916.
On going to Mesopotamia George was given a booklet printed by the YMCA which described the country and its people, provided some useful arabic word and hints on how to keep healthy.
During the next few months his regiment was involved in several battles with the Turks. It took part in the capture of Baghdad in March 1917. Baghdad became the centre for operations in the area. There were two stationary hospitals and three casualty clearing stations in the city.
Conditions in Mesopotamia were bad with bitter cold winters but scorching hot summers. At times temperatures reached almost 50 degrees Celsius in the shade. The troops were also plagued with mosquitoes and flies and the number that died from illness rather than wounds was great. Many men suffered from heat stroke.
James Tolley of the Royal Army Medical Corps. described some of his work “ They detailed me for duty of heat stroke cases- plenty of heat strokes, unconscious more or less. And you did what you could to try and relieve it you see. And I’d put them in a bath of water and then I used to put ice in the nape of the neck and the groin.”
On July 21st 1917 George was admitted to 1078 Casualty Clearing Station suffering from heatstroke. His medical notes say “On admission the patient’s temperature was very high but was reduced by sponging. The patient then improved till July 26th when his temperature again rose and the patient died.
George is buried in Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery which was begun in April 1917. The cemetery includes graves moved there after the war from other small or outlying cemeteries.
This cemetery has suffered greatly in recent years as a result of the recent war in Iraq.
At some time after he joined the army Ellen moved to live in Church Street, Fressingfield, Suffolk. Whilst living there she received a letter from the Regiment saying that all George’s effects, along with those of some other soldiers, had been lost at sea in September 1917. These included a silver ring, clothes and a charm. One presumes that the ship they were being brought back in was sunk.
Ellen Riches eventually married Charles Baker, who had also served in the war and they lived in Saxlingham Nethergate. They had a daughter Mabel.
Census records: 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911
UK soldiers who died in the Great War 1914-18
Papers from Saxlingham Nethergate Church Chest now deposited at Norfolk Record Office
Saxlingham Parish Records. Marriages transcribed by Mary Muir
British Army WW1 Service Records.
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards 1914-1920
Mesopotamia- Kate Clements. www.1914.org/podcasts/podcast-18-mesopotamia
Pamela Crutchfield., Granddaughter of Ellen Riches and Charles Baker. Many thanks for the photographs and memorabilia.