Peasants to Puddles
My Family History - By Nicky Rowberry
George Albert Rock - Private 34144
This page is dedicated to the memory of George Albert Rock who died on 22nd January 1918 in Wales.
George Albert Rock died on 22nd January 1918 in a hospital in Wales. He was unfortunately one of the casualties amongst the millions of men who lost their lives in World War 1. It seemed sad for him to have died and all but these bare facts remembered, so I've tried to find out at least a little about his life before his untimely death aged 47.
George Albert Rock was born on 14th September 1870 in Westhide, Herefordshire. He was the first child of Philip Rock and his wife Mary Ann Mayo. His father Philip worked either as a sawyer or an agricultural labourer and was born in Westhide too. By 1871 the family was living in Ballingham, Herefordshire, but by 1881 the family (with 3 more children) was living in Bishopstone and George Albert was at school. Although he was only a child, George and his sister Jane were still expected to do seasonal work when the need arose, as this entry from the Bishopstone school log book for 1881 shows - they were absent from school to go "singling swedes" meaning to thin them out.
Their mother Jane was also out at work, with the result that her daughter Jane's attendance at school became irregular, perhaps because she was required to stay home and look after the younger children?
By 1891 the rest of the family were living in Hampton Bishop, but George was lodging in Hereford and working as a blacksmith. He must have moved to Wales shortly after, as on Christmas Eve 1893 he married Jane Ford in Abersychan, Monmouthshire; he was 23 and she was just 19. Their first child was born the following year and they went on to have 7 children in total. By 1901 George and his family were living in Cwmsyfiog near New Tredegar, with 4 children and a couple of lodgers. George was working as a coal hewer, probably at the New Tredegar coal mine.
1902 was a bad year for the family with the 2 oldest children Philip & George junior dying within a month of each other. By 1911 George & Jane had 3 more children and the family were living at 17 Caroline Street in Williamstown in the Rhondda Valley. George was still working in the mines and the family still had a couple of lodgers, perhaps to bring in a little extra money. The habit of taking in lodgers seems to have been a regular one as the only reference I've found for the couple in the newspapers, was when both George & Jane appeared as witnesses when one of their lodgers was charged with stealing a gold watch in 1910. (The Glamorgan Gazette 16 Sept 1910 Page 3).
When war broke out in 1914 George Albert was one of the first to enlist; his attestation papers show he signed up on 2nd September 1914. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website confirms that he was a Private in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. I can't reproduce the CWGC photo of the cemetery, but to see his page please click here
You can now look at the Medal Roll cards from the first world war online. These show a soldier's name, rank and what medals they were entitled to. Due to copyright issues, I don't think I can reproduce the image of the medal card, so instead I've transcribed it.
|George A.||R W Fus||Pte||34144|
|VICTORY||J/2/102 B14||4531||Dis'd 22.11.16|
|15 STAR||J/2/26||19|| |
| || |
|Theatre of War first served in||(1) France|
|Date of entry therein||3.12.14|
The index card indicates that he would have been entitled to three medals. The British Medal was awarded to servicemen who served in a theatre of war between 5th August 1914 and 11th November 1918. The Victory Medal (Allied Victory Medal) was awarded for service in any operational theatre over the same time frame. The Star was awarded to all those who served in any theatre of war against Germany between 5th August 1914 and 31st December 1915.
At the beginning of December 1914 George was posted to France. He remained there until March 1915 when he returned "home" - whether this means he actually got to go home and see his family, I don't know. In August 1915 he was sent to Gibraltar, where he spent the remainder of his military service. He suffered a few minor ailments, before being diagnosed with "general paralysis of the insane" in August 1916. He was discharged on 22nd November 1916 as permanently medically unfit and sent back to an asylum in Wales. He died in Glamorgan County Asylum on 22nd January 1918 aged 47 (although his death certificate gives his age as 41). Cause of death was given as General Paralysis of the Insane. What caused this paralysis is unclear. His character had been described as "very good" and that he was well behaved in his records and he had done his bit by signing up and going to France and then Gibraltar; perhaps it was a form of shell shock or PTSD.
George was buried in the St Sannan Cemetery in Bedwelty, Wales alongside his wife Jane who died the same year. I've yet to find him on any War Memorial in the area, so if anyone knows of one with George listed, please get in touch.
I'm lucky enough to have the photo below of George, but it's nice that his military records also give a description - he was 5 foot 4, weight 133lbs, fresh complexion, with grey/blue eyes and brown hair (although by the time of his discharge this was described as going grey).
The final piece of documentation I could find for George was his entry in the Army Register of Soldiers' Effects. It lists the amount of money in his account at the time of his death and the amount, including the War Gratuity, that was eventually paid to his next of kin - in this case to his daughter Mary and son William. For George Albert the total amount came to just £10 10s - not much to show for the ultimate sacrifice.
I've already been lucky enough to have been contacted by one of George's great grandchildren, but if there are any other descendants out there who would like to add to George's story, please do get in touch. E-mail: email@example.com
In researching George's final days, several sites have been invaluable, so I've included links to some of them here.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
The National Archives at Kew:
The British Newspaper Archive:
Welsh Newspapers Online at the National Library of Wales:
If any of the above is of further interest, please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
© Nicky Rowberry 2023
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Peasants to Puddles - My Family History. By Nicky Rowberry