George Gladwell – One Man’s War


GEORGE HENRY GLADWELL, R.F.A. 1894 – 1965artillery badge

His accounts of the First World War with his illustrations


Two large volumes of bound typewritten notes about George Gladwell’s war experiences and reflections in World War I, along with family birth, marriage and death certificates were recently passed to the Society by Richard Gladwell at the kind request of his late wife, Mrs. Greta Gladwell. We are indebted to them for their thoughtfulness in donating these items to our archives.

Included amongst these documents were the remains of a shattered small pocket Bible that was kept in George’s breast pocket whilst he was on active service on the Western Front. He owed his life to this Bible when a piece of shell shrapnel was deflected into his arm, but despite a horrific injury, he recovered and, having moved to America, lived to the age of 71.

George’s notes have been transcribed into chapters by the Society and made available to read and download via the links on the right hand side of this page, in the section marked ‘Table of Contents’.

GEORGE HENRY GLADWELL, R.F.A. 1894 – 1965 2014 07 episode 1.pdfGeorge was born on 11th April 1894 and was baptised in the same year in St. Peter’s Church, Stutton. His parents, Richard and Elizabeth Gladwell (née Keeble) were married in 1890 and had 11 children although not all survived into childhood. They lived in and ran the King’s Head pub in Stutton. Two articles have been already published in the Journals from Frederick (Journal 1 page 12) and William Gladwell about growing up in the King’s Head, but George was very much the older brother and by the time which William reminisced about, (Journal 7 page 16), George had already left home.

George was the eldest son, and Frederick, the third son, was the father of the present Richard Gladwell who still lives in Stutton.

Bonar Gladwell was the youngest sibling and was to become well-known in the village as a builder and carpenter. (see Journal 9 page 18!) Eventually he lived in Manningtree Road at “White Gate” (subsequently rebuilt and renamed) opposite the King’s Head.

George left Stutton School aged 13 in 1908 and we can assume that he worked for his father or other people around the village as a general helper. By the time of the 1911 census, he had moved to Plumstead in South East London and was living with his employer who had a greengrocery business and he was employed as a general assistant. Plumstead was close to the Woolwich Barracks and at the age of 18, his employer gave him a reference of good character to join the Royal Field Artillery and his job description was that of “Carman”. When War was declared, George Gladwell was a serving soldier in the 29th brigade of the Royal Field Artillery which in 1914 had 3 batteries; the 125th, 126th and the 127th, each comprising 6, 18 pounder guns. (He was a member of the 127th battery.) There would have been about 800 men in the brigade, including officers, and they were attached to the 4th Infantry division.

He stayed with this battery throughout his service until wounded in 1918, completing the war as a corporal and carrying out the roles of a horse minder, gunner and orderly to his battery CO. However, his primary fighting role was to work as part of the range-finding and gun direction team. The whole brigade was able to move at short notice – all guns, ammunition and equipment wagons were horse drawn, so that as the infantry front line moved, its artillery support moved with it.

George spent four years on various campaigns on the Western Front including the battles of the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele, with three short periods of leave back home. Just two months before the end of the war when the fighting was at its height near Arras, he was injured. Shells were bursting all around them and, as he was putting his water bottle back after giving a dying Canadian soldier a drink, a piece of shrapnel hit his chest. However, with his pocket Bible safely in his breast pocket, it was deflected and his bicep was removed rather than his heart. (The tissue-like paper of the Bible was fused into a solid mass by the heat of the metal). He was subsequently shipped back to England and spent several months recuperating in hospital pondering his future.

Back in the spring of 1915, George became his major’s orderly and he regularly passed through the village of Brielen in Belgium en route to the Divisional HQ.

Amongst the few villagers still there, a girl called Marthe caught his eye. She was apparently a model of domesticity, a bright and capable girl and who, along with her grandmother, Lucie, provided a brief “home from home” for the soldiers. They would supply coffee, clean clothes and maybe a chair by the fire, a welcome respite from the horrors of the battlefield. George was a reticent suitor but eventually was credited with “being in love” and they began to correspond. (Initially, this was achieved by giving their mail to soldiers passing to and from the front). Later in 1915, following the advice of the troops and a predicted over-run of the village, Marthe and her grandmother managed to leave Belgium and they emigrated to New York via Bordeaux. Despite keeping in touch for the Duration, at the end of the War George decided he had a higher calling and went to a theological college to study, telling Marthe that he couldn’t marry her.

After two years he decided that, after all, perhaps he could, and luckily for him, she was still waiting for him. He went to New York in 1921 on the SS Saxonia and records show that Marthe R Assel was married to George Henry Gladwell on 27th October 1923 in Manhattan. George and Marthe made their home in New York but they did come across by sea for four holidays during the 1930s and 50s and stayed with Bonar at his house. He died in Manhattan on 1st October 1965 aged 71.

Marthe died in Manhattan seventeen years later on 1st May 1982 aged 91.

George’s account of the first month of the War follows this introduction to coincide with the anniversary of 4th August 1914.

TABLE OF CONTENTS (requires PDF reader)

  1. Introduction
  2. War Declared
  3. Back With the Unit