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Drinkstone and Woolpit remember First World War hero

PUBLISHED: 13:23 17 October 2017 | UPDATED: 13:23 17 October 2017

Leonard George Rose

Leonard George Rose

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A war hero who was killed in action in Belgium 100 years ago during the First World War has been remembered at a fitting tribute ceremony.

Pictured at All Saints Church, in Drinkstone, are the grandchildren of George Rose, David Rose, right, and his sister Judith, centre, and David's wife Stella. Pictured at All Saints Church, in Drinkstone, are the grandchildren of George Rose, David Rose, right, and his sister Judith, centre, and David's wife Stella.

Sergeant Leonard George Rose (known as George by his family) was one of four brothers – three of whom were killed during the conflict – who served with the 8th Battalion Suffolk Regiment.

He was awarded the Military Medal for “bravery and devotion to duty” in silencing an enemy machine gun placement during the Battle of Boom Ridge, on the Somme, on February 17, 1917.

He was killed in action near Ypres, on October 12, 1917, aged 34, during the battle we now know as Passchendaele, shot through the head whilst taking cigarettes round to the men of his company whose isolated position had prevented them receiving food and supplies.

He has no known grave but his name is inscribed on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing.

The story of his life, military career and death was told at services on Sunday, October, in All Saints Church, Drinkstone – the village where he was born, baptised, educated and lived – and St Mary’s Church, Woolpit – the village to which he moved on his marriage in 1911, where he worked and where his wife and two children were living when he was killed.

His name is inscribed on both the Drinkstone and Woolpit war memorials.

His grandchildren, David and his sister Judith, travelled from their homes in Doncaster and Ipswich respectively to attend the commemoration of their grandfather’s life in Drinkstone.

An exhibition detailing Sergeant Rose’s life and military service has been compiled on behalf of the Drinkstone War Memorial Institute (Village Hall) by Robin Sharp, the Vice Chairman.

He said: “We’ve been remembering and celebrating the lives of each of the men listed on our Great War Memorial on the centenary of their death. George Rose is the twelfth of the 15 on our plaque. I agreed to research the backgrounds of these men and tell their stories, which we felt would be a fitting way to honour their sacrifice and keep the solemn pledge ‘We will remember them’.”

The exhibition is free to view and is on display at All Saints Church until Friday and then at the Village Hall.

Rita Burr, one of the volunteers who maintain the Woolpit Museum, added: “In Woolpit we, too, have been honouring the memory of Leonard George Rose and the other fallen servicemen.”

LEONARD GEORGE ROSE

L G Rose was born in Drinkstone on January 13, 1883, one of 14 children (according to the 1911 census) of agricultural labourer William Rose and his wife Kezia.

After attending Drinkstone National School he followed his father in working on the land.

On January 12, 1911, in Drinkstone church, George (as he was known by family) married Annie Armstrong, a native of County Louth, Ireland. The newly-weds moved to Woolpit Green where George found work as a horseman on Mabel Spink’s farm. Annie gave birth to two sons: David in 1911 and William in 1913.

After war was declared in August 1914, an appeal for 100,000 volunteers was launched. There was a huge response. Among those eager to join up at the recruiting office in Bury St Edmunds was Leonard George Rose and his brothers Sidney, Cecil and Walter.

Following training in England, the Rose brothers landed in France on July 25, 1915, and took part in several engagements and encounters with the enemy, including the Battle of the Somme, and the capture of the redoubtable fortress of Thiepval in September 1916. Sadly, Sidney was killed by a shell on October 29, 1916, and Cecil was killed on May 7, 1917.

In mid-February 1917, after the coldest winter of the war when temperatures dipped to -20 degrees, George took part in an attack on German positions during the Battle of Boom Ravine on the Somme.

The British force encountered many deep, muddy shell holes filled with icy water, which greatly hampered the advance. Fighting was fiercer than any the 8th Suffolks had previously known, but the objective was gained, thanks to individual determination and courage.

Among those showing outstanding courage that day was Sergeant L G Rose, who was awarded the Military Medal for “bravery and devotion to duty”. Apparently, the Battalion next to the Suffolks was held up by very heavy fire from the enemy, but Sergeant Rose appeared with a couple of Lewis gunners and soon the position was overcome.

Of this achievement George later modestly wrote: “This is what I am out here to do. Anybody else would have done the same, but I was lucky enough to be there at the time.”

By the end of July 1917, the 8th Battalion had moved to Belgium, prior to what was to be called the Third Battle of Ypres - or Passchendaele.

At 5.25am on October 12, a British attack was launched on the German-held village of Poelcappelle.

Regimental histories describe the conditions: “In a countryside which possessed scarcely one yard of soil without a shell-hole, the continuous rain of a fortnight had resulted in a series of lakes and ponds often so full of water, that men had to struggle to prevent themselves from drowning.

“In this morass, men lived and slept for three days and nights, lashed by a bitter wind and almost incessant rain; harassed by snipers and shell fire, unable to move by day owing to the close proximity of the enemy ... men were dying from sheer exposure.”

It was in these extreme circumstances that Sergeant George Rose was killed, shot through the head “whilst taking cigarettes round to the men of his company whose isolated position had prevented them receiving food and supplies.”

The message reporting George’s death would have been delivered to his wife Annie and children in Woolpit Green shortly afterwards.

A memorial service was held at St Mary’s Church, Woolpit, on November 4, 1917.

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