The outbreak of hostilities between Britain and Germany on 4th August 1914 found the British Army woefully short of the manpower needed to fight a continental war. Within days, Field Marshal Earl Kitchener's appeal for volunteers to enlist in the Regular Army began to appear in posters and newspapers. The response was phenomenal, with 300,000 enlisting in August alone, and 1.2 million by the end of the year.
The eagerness of young men to volunteer to join in the fight against Germany reached across the British Empire. As recruitment of the Accrington Pals neared completion in East Lancashire, George Joseph Beaumont, a 22-year old clerk from Berlin (soon to be renamed Kitchener), Ontario voluntarily enlisted into the ranks of the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.) on 22nd September 1914 at Valcartier.
Within two weeks of his enlistment into the C.E.F., Beaumont was one of 83,000 Canadian servicemen distributed between 33 steam transports bound for England. After disembarking at Devonport, the Canadians were cheered through the streets of Plymouth by crowds thronging the sidewalks. The English winter of 1914-1915 was less welcoming. Heavy, unrelenting rain saturated tents and personal possessions and soon made quagmires out of the Canadian camps on Salisbury Plain. Bustard Camp, where Beaumont was stationed with the 1st Brigade, 1st Canadian Division, soon acquired the obvious nickname. Indiscipline was rife during these miserable winter months.
In January of that bleak winter, Beaumont was encouraged to apply for a commission in the British Army. It is not clear whether or not he travelled to France with the 1st Canadian Division in the following month, but in April 1915 he was instructed to join the 11th East Lancashire Regiment at Caernarvon in Wales having been appointed to a commission with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. The Accrington Pals had left their home town to train at Caernarvon in February, and were now beginning to take shape under the command of a Regular Army officer, Lt.-Col. Arthur Rickman.
As the battalion's training continued in Britain throughout the remaining months of 1915, the Pals grew increasingly restless at their absence from the fighting. Despite news of appallingly heavy casualties from battles at Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge and Loos, they were dismayed when in December they were sent not to the Western Front but to the Suez Canal Zone. In the event the unwelcome diversion was shortlived for in late February 1916 the battalion was ordered to France to take part in the planned offensive on the Somme. The tragedy of 1st July 1916 is well-known, the Accrington Pals losing 584 out of 720 in front of the village of Serre. Practically all of the battalion's officers who had gone into the attack were either killed or wounded and it seems likely that Beaumont had been fortunate enough to have been left behind to form part of the battalion's reserve. As one of the few surviving officers, he was promoted on the following day to full Lieutenant.
Over the weeks that followed, the battalion was gradually built back up to strength and, although its new recruits largely came from outside of Accrington, the spirit of the Pals lived on. The battalion returned to the Somme in October, but took no further part in the offensive which finally came to a halt in mid-November.
On 11th January 1917 the battalion was brought out of the front line sector for a period of rest, recreation and training. Beaumont however was posted as Chief Bombing Instructor to the 31st Divisional School of Instruction where a course began on the 15th. The hand grenade used in the course bore the name of its inventor, an engineer from Birmingham in England by the name of William Mills.
At around 3pm on 18th January - the fourth day of the course - Beaumont was instructing George Dimery, a young English officer from Leeds serving in the 15th West Yorkshire Regiment (Leeds Pals). Dimery was throwing live bombs from a specially-prepared cage breastwork, with Beaumont standing about 3 yards behind him. The remainder of those on the course waited behind a sandbag shelter some distance to the rear. The bombs they were using had been checked and charged by L/Sgt. Robert Driver, an experienced bomber serving with the Accrington Pals. Five bombs from the box had already been safely thrown, two of them by Dimery himself. On Beaumont's whistle, Dimery withdrew the pin from his third bomb and brought his arm back to throw. At least two eyewitnesses saw the bomb explode in his hand within around a second of the pin being pulled. Dimery - amazingly still on his feet - turned around aghast to see Beaumont lying on the ground unconscious with terrible wounds to the head. Beaumont was rushed to a Casualty Clearing Station, but died there of his wounds on 24th January. Shortly afterwards, the telegram that Beaumont's parents had lived in fear of receiving was delivered to their door. It read simply: "Deeply regret to inform you Lt G J Beaumont 11 East Lancashire Regt died of accidental wounds January twenty fourth. The Army Council express their sympathy."
Dimery was hospitalized with severe wounds to his right eye, right hand and right hip, but died of a gangrenous appendix at The London Hospital on 4th April. A Court of Inquiry held on the day of the accident concluded that neither officer was to blame and that the cause of the accident was the premature explosion of the bomb for reasons unknown. A plausible explanation was later put forward by Lt.-Col. R. O. Sheppard, Assistant Director of Ordnance Services, XIII Corps H.Q.
George Joseph Beaumont was buried at Varennes Military Cemetery, 7 miles north-west of Albert. George Wentworth Dimery was buried at Moor Allerton (St. John) Churchyard, close to his family's home in Shadwell Lane.
© Andrew C Jackson 2002
Compiled from TNA documents WO339/39491 and WO339/87704, and with the kind help of Stephen Davies, Bob Goddard, Kelly Bernstein (Cambridge Public Library) and Susan Hoffman (Kitchener Public Library).