Date of birth: 1897
Date of death: 01.12.1917
Area: Outwood, Wakefield
Family information: Son of John and Elizabeth Ann Shakespeare
Service number: 36652
George Henry Shakespeare was employed at Low Laithes Colliery when, on 3rd February 1917, he enlisted in the army. On completing his initial training he posted to the 5th Battalion, Essex Regiment, which was deployed in Palestine.
The 5th Battalion was the 1/5th Battalion, a Territorial Force, which was based at Brentwood when war was declared on 4th August 1914. The battalion was attached to what was to become the 161st Brigade, 54th (East Anglia) Division.
On 21st July 1915 the 1/5th Battalion, Essex Regiment, sailed from Devonport bound for Gallipoli. After sailing via Lemnos, on the 12th August 1915, the 1/5th Essex Regiment landed at Sulva Bay on the Gallipoli Peninsular. For the next four months the battalion was involved in operations around the Sulva Bay area. However, on 4th December 1915, they were evacuated to Alexandria in Egypt. All units of the 54th Division initially concentrated at Sidi Bishr, but in April 1916 moved to occupy the No 1 (Southern) Section of the Suez Canal defences.
After the victory at Rumani, in August 1916, the British Army began to construct a railway and supply roads along the coastal plain. By early 1917 a sufficient force had been gathered and lines of communications established to attack the Turkish Forces in Palestine. On 26th March and again on 17th April, unsuccessful attacks were made against the Turkish line between Gaza and Beersheba, resulting in heavy casualties.
On 27th October, an artillery bombardment signalled the commencement of the third attempt to break the Turkish line, between Beersheba and Gaza. On the 31st October the Allied forces attacked and captured the town of Beersheba, where they found all the water supplies intact. Before dawn on the 2nd November the 1/5th Essex and the 54th Division attacked the Turkish held trenches in the sand dunes, between the town of Gaza and the sea. Attacking on a 5,000 yard front, the assault was successful, with the 54th Division advancing over two miles. During the morning of the 7th November the 54th Division attacked the town of Gaza from their positions in the sand dunes. With other Divisions attacking from the west Gaza was captured by 9.00 hrs and many prisoners taken.
On 25th November the 1/5th Essex moved from their bivouacs, near Ramleh Station, to the outpost line at Sarona. Here they encountered considerable Turkish activity on the right flank. After a successful raid on the Turkish trench south of Nahr El Auja, on 28th November, the battalion came under intermittent shelling from the enemy artillery. On the 30th November, during one of these Turkish bombardments, Private Shakespeare received serious shrapnel wounds and died the following day.
George Henry Shakespeare is now buried in Ramleh War Cemetery, which is near the Ben Gurion Airport in Israel. In December 1917 Field Ambulances and later Casualty Clearing Stations were posted at Ramleh and it was these medical units which began the cemetery. Later, graves were brought in from the battlefields and from Latron, Sarona and Wilhema Military and Indian Cemetery. The Ramleh War Cemetery contains 3,300 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, of which 964 are unidentified.
George Henry Shakespeare is also remembered on the Wrenthorpe Colliery War Memorial, in the grounds of St John’s Church, Wakefield.
George Henry Shakespeare was born on 5th March 1897, the third son of John Shakespeare and his wife Elizabeth Ann, formerly Carpenter. He was baptised shortly afterwards, on 31st March, at St Mary Magdalene Church, Outwood. His father was a coal miner and the family lived at Lambert’s Buildings, Newton Hill. On leaving school George Henry followed in the footsteps of his father and two older brothers and found employment at the local colliery.