Lieutenant George WILLIAMSON
Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment
Date of birth: 26 September 1883
Date of death: 12 November 1914
Died of wounds received in action aged 31
Buried in the Ypres Reservoir Cemetery. Plot I A 83.
George was the only son of an American couple, Charles James, merchant, and Martha Lauretta Williamson, of Trevorian, 90 West Hill, Wandsworth. His mother was the daughter of Job Long of New York.
After the death of his father, his mother married again in 1903, the second wife of Thomas Skinner, later the first Baronet. Thomas Skinner was born in England but went to Canada where he was one of the founders of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He was, also, a member of the London Advisory Board of The Bank of Montreal; Governor of The Hudson Bay Company; and Head of Thomas Skinner and Co. proprietor of The Stock Exchange Year Book.
The following is from “Memoirs of the Harvard Dead in the War against Germany”
Report on the Class of 1905, which was written in 1915.
“George Williamson, the first graduate of Harvard to give his life in the war was thought to have been the first graduate of an American college so to have fallen,
“George was educated at St Paul’s School, Concord, New Hampshire, and graduated at Harvard in 1905. His college friends, for whom a classmate has spoken, recall him as witty, of good talents, exceptionally liked, and brilliant enough to maintain a good academic standing without much study.
“The nice fact that at the sophomore dinner of his class he responded to the toast of "The Grind" suggests that he was not too hard a student: after-dinner speeches of this kind are generally assigned on the lucus a non lucendo principle. Williamson's college interests are further indicated by the fact that he was a member of the Institute of 1770, the Polo, Hasty Pudding, and Fly, Clubs, and on the editorial staff of the Harvard Advocate. In the sketches — they were hardly stories — which he contributed to that journal, the English background of the young editor provided a refreshing bit of contrast with the familiar stock-in-trade of our college journalism. Read, even today, his contributions to the Advocate have qualities both of poise and of liveliness to which one responds with genuine liking.
“Graduating at Harvard in 1905, Williamson went at once to England where he matriculated at Oxford University, in October, as a member of Christ Church. While at Oxford he joined the Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment, of which he was a lieutenant in the Third Reserve Battalion. He became a student of the Inner Temple in 1906, and left Oxford at Easter, 1907. In January, 1910, he was admitted to the bar, and on 9 November 1910, married Hilda Isabel Gordon of Montreal, where he entered upon the practice of his profession. When the war came, four years later, he was a member of the Montreal law firm of Smith, Markey, Skinner, Pugsley, and Hyde.
“Early in August he was summoned by cable, to join his regiment, and proceeded at once to England. The first battalion of the regiment was in India; the second had already gone to France. After about two weeks of training with his own, the Third Reserve Battalion, Williamson left England for the front, 8 September. The retreat from Mons had ended, and the Allies had resumed the offensive.
“Of what befell him from that time forth there is no occasion to resort to other words than those of a private letter which formed the basis of a sketch of Williamson's military service in the Harvard Graduates' Magazine
“George went through the battles on the Aisne and on the Marne, and wrote several very cheery letters to his family at this time. Officers of his battalion who have since come home, including his captain, bear testimony to his splendid behaviour during this trying time when they were constantly under shellfire, and he apparently was exactly the same as ever, cracking jokes and cheering his men by his bearing.
“When the regiment arrived on the present lines, George, according to his captain, who has since also been wounded and come home, greatly distinguished himself on one occasion when the trench his section were holding was attacked by the bayonet,
and George's lot succeeded in throwing back the enemy after desperate hand-to-hand fighting.
“On November 8, George's company advanced in the early morning to relieve the defenders of a certain trench, George's section were on the left of the company and advanced along the outside edge of a wood. The enemy had worked around further
to the left and opened fire with machine guns, enfilading George's men. These latter took cover in the wood as fast as they could, and George might easily have saved himself by doing the same. lnstead. however, he stepped out of the wood and took a look round to make certain that all his men had got safely to cover, and thereupon was wounded all down the left side, including one in the lung. He kept going, however, long enough to get his men safely into the trench, and then actually walked along and reported himself wounded to the Captain.
“He had to sit till nightfall in the trench, and then was moved seventeen miles in a motor ambulance to a hospital at Poperinghe. He and the doctors all thought he would recover and he wrote on the 10th to his mother giving the date of his probable arrival in England, and making light of his wounds. On the night of the 11th he grew rapidly worse and died early the following morning. He was buried nearby and his grave is marked.
“His wife, and their only child. Hazel, born 12 August 1911, made all haste to reach Europe from their home at 764 Sherbrooke Street, Montreal when the news of his wounds came to them there, but were still on the ocean when he died.
The two following press dispatches dated London, November 24, 1914, announced the death of George Williamson:
"The first graduate of an American college to be a victim of the war is Lieutenant George Williamson, who belonged to the Duke of Wellington's Regiment.
Mr. Williamson's name is in today's casualty list as among those dying from the result of wounds. He was graduated from Harvard in the class of 1905. Lieutenant George Williamson came from Montreal, which accounts for the fact that he fought in the ranks of the British Army. After leaving Harvard, Lieutenant Williamson went to Christ Church College, Oxford University, where he matriculated. He remained in that institution only a short time, going to the Inner Temple in London to prepare to be a barrister. He was admitted to the bar in 1910 and was practicing at the time the war broke out. Lieutenant Williamson was married."
"Death won in a grim race when George Williamson, one-time Harvard man, since Lieutenant in the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, died ‘from wounds' in England or France. For at the time of his death his wife and daughter were on the Atlantic, aboard the steamer Baltic racing to the bedside of her wounded husband.
“This was the news from Montreal today. Williamson was graduated from Harvard in 1905; and his friends in Boston and hereabouts read today for the first time of his two months' heroic fighting in the trenches, his wound at last, and now his death.
“News of his wound had come a week ago, and Mrs. Williamson, who is a daughter of J. Alexander Gordon of Montreal left at once for New York, where she caught the fast liner Baltic for England. Her desperate hope was that she might see her husband before he died; for his wound was known to be serious. She sailed from New York Wednesday, and would thus land in England perhaps two days after her husband's death.
Lieutenant Williamson died in the Fourth Clearing Hospital. He was a reservist, and had been in Montreal four years when the call came that took him to England. He was twenty-nine years old, a member of the firm of Smith, Markey, Skinner, Pugsley & Hyde of No. 179 St. James Street, Montreal, and one of the best known young men in the city."
S. N. H. says of him: "George Williamson was the first Harvard man to be killed in the European war. His splendid behaviour under fire and heroic end may best be described by quoting directly from a letter that the Secretary has received from England. 'George arrived in England in August in response to a summons by telegram and went at once to the training camp of his regiment (the Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment, in which he was a lieutenant).
“The first battalion was in India and the second had gone to France with the expeditionary force. George did about a fortnight's training with the Reserve Battalion and went out with a draft on September 8. This was just after the retreat from Mons had ended and the Allies had resumed the offensive. George was all through the battles of the Aisne and on the Marne and wrote several very cheery letters to his family at this time. Officers of his battalion who have since come home, including his captain, bore testimony to his splendid behaviour during this trying time when they were constantly under shell fire, and he apparently was exactly the same as ever, cracking jokes and cheering his men by his bearing. When the regiment arrived on the present lines, George, according to his captain, who has since also been wounded and has come home, greatly distinguished himself on one occasion when the trench his section were holding was attacked with the bayonet and George's lot succeeded in throwing back the enemy after desperate hand-to-hand fighting. On November 8, George's company advanced in the early morning to relieve the defenders of a certain trench. George's section were on the left of the company and advanced along the outside edge of a wood. The enemy had worked around further to the left and opened fire with machine guns, enfilading George's men. These latter took cover in the wood as fast as they could and George might easily have saved himself by doing the same. Instead, however, he stepped out of the wood and took a good look round to make certain all his men had got safely to cover and thereupon was hit five times all down the left side, including one in the lung. He kept going, however, long enough to get his men safely into the trench, and then actually walked along it to the centre and reported himself wounded to the captain.
“He had to sit till nightfall in the trench and then was moved seventeen miles in a motor ambulance to a hospital. He and the doctors all thought he would recover and he wrote on the tenth to his mother giving the date of his probable arrival in England, and making light of his wounds.
“On the night of the eleventh, he grew rapidly worse and died early the following morning. He was buried near by and his grave is marked.' (His death took place in the Fourth Clearing Hospital, and he was buried somewhere in Belgium).
“In college Williamson was a member of the cricket team and an editor of the Advocate. His clubs were the Fly, D. K. E., Institute of 1770, Hasty Pudding and Polo. After graduation he studied law in London and eventually returned to America to practice law in Montreal. On November 9, 1910, in Montreal, Canada, he married Hilda Isabel Gordon, who survives him with one child. Hazel, born August 12, 1911.
“Although he knew only a comparatively few men in his Class, his friends valued highly the warmth of his friendship, the independence of his character, and the brilliancy of his intellect. The Class is proud to have lost in such heroic fashion the first Harvard man to fall in the Great European conflict."