|Date of Birth||September 23, 1889|
|Place of Birth||Wisbech, Cambridgeshire|
|Next of Kin||Mrs. A. George (mother), Ringer's Lane, Leverington, Cambridgeshire, England|
|Trade / Calling||Grocer/CPR Clerk|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Valcartier, Quebec|
|Age at Enlistment||25|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||Yes|
|Date of Death||26/04/1915|
|Age at Death||25|
|Buried At||Roeselare Communal Cemetery, West Flanders, Belgium|
During the First World War between 3,000 and 4,000 Canadian soldiers became German prisoners of war. Lance Corporal Ernest Frederick George from Kenora, Ontario enlisted with the 8th Battalion in September 1914 and he died as a prisoner of war in Belgium seven months later.
Ernest was born in September 1889 in the town of Wisbech, a small inland port in the county of Cambridgeshire, near the eastern coast of England. He was the oldest son of Arthur Atherton George and Sarah Elson Ivey. Arthur and Sarah were married in London in 1888 and they had four children, sons Ernest (1889) and John (1891) and daughters Florence (1894) and Ethel (1897). They may have lived in London for a few years as their son John was born there but Ernest and the two girls were born in Wisbech. The family also used the name Hotson which was the surname of Arthur’s stepfather. When the 1911 census was taken Ernest was living in Wisbech with his parents and employed as a grocer’s warehouseman. The following year he immigrated to Canada and when the war started he was living in Kenora, Ontario and working as a clerk for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).
Britain declared war on 4 August 1914 and mobilization orders were issued in Canada three days later. Officers and volunteers were told to go to Valcartier, an area about 20 miles northwest of Quebec City that became the site of a large military camp. Ernest would have travelled to Quebec by train with the other volunteers and at Valcartier they underwent training, medical tests and inoculations. His medical exam on 8 September tells us he was 5’9″ with blue eyes and fair hair. He was declared fit for service and on 23 September he enlisted with the 8th Battalion, a unit made up of recruits from Winnipeg and northwestern Ontario. The battalion embarked for England in October, leaving from Quebec City on the SS Franconia. They were part of a convoy of 32 transport ships protected by a Royal Navy escort because of the danger from German submarines. The convoy arrived safely in Plymouth, England on 14 October.
The 8th Battalion was sent to Salisbury Plain in southern England where they trained for several months. The men were billeted in tents and huts and due to the cold, wet winter weather many of them became sick with severe colds and pneumonia. They were given a period of leave for the holiday season and their training continued in the new year. On 4 February 1915 the men were inspected by H.M. King George V and a week later they were on their way to France, landing at St. Nazaire on 12 February and disembarking the following day. The first rotations in the trenches began for some of the men on 22 February but training and work parties occupied most of their time until 4 April, when the battalion began its move to the Ypres Salient in Belgium. A week later they were in the Ypres area and on 14 April they went into the trenches near Gravenstafel for a two day rotation. After a short rest they were back in the trenches on 19 April and five days later the Battle of St. Julien started, part of 2nd Battle of Ypres.
On 22 April the Germans began an intense bombardment of the Allied lines followed by the release of 160 tons of chlorine gas near Gravenstafel Ridge. It was the first large-scale use of poison gas on the Western Front and it hit the French troops who were holding the line to the left of the Canadians. Two days later, following another violent barrage, the Germans released chlorine gas on the section of line being held by the Canadians, including the 8th Battalion. The units suffered heavy casualties from the poison and in the fighting that followed as German infantry advanced behind the cloud of gas. The Canadians held on until they were relieved the following day but they suffered over 6,000 casualties between 22 and 25 April, including 2,000 men killed.
Ernest was reported to be sick from gas fumes and taken as a prisoner of war on 24 April. He died two days later. For official purposes he was presumed to have died as a prisoner of war in the town of Roulers, Belgium and he is buried in the Communal Cemetery there. Roulers, now called Roeselare, is about 15 km east of St. Julien. It was occupied by the Germans from October 1914 to October 1918 and the communal cemetery was used for prisoner of war burials.
Ernest is commemorated on the Roll of Honour for the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. In England he’s commemorated on the 1914-1918 War Memorial in Wisbech (Wisbech Memorial) and the Leverington War Memorial (Leverington).
His brother John served with the British army and he survived the war. Their uncle Thomas Elson Ivey attained the rank of major in the British army and he became a prisoner of war in 1916 when the British surrendered at Kut in Mesopotamia. He died in a military hospital in London, England in October 1919. Thomas’s sister Sarah Elson George (Ernest’s mother) died earlier that same year in Wisbech.
By Becky Johnson
Photo of Ernest is from De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour.