George was the youngest child of William McPherson and his second wife Jane Little. William was born in Aberdeenshire but was living at Longtown by 1861. William worked on the railway his whole life starting as a labourer and ending as a “railway permanent way inspector“, this post meant that he had responsibility for a particular stretch of railway and the embankments alongside. In 1861 aged about twenty-one William was living on Albert Street just near to an Irving family. He married Jane Irving in 1863 at Arthuret, they had four children before she died aged only thirty. William married George’s mother, another Jane, six years later in 1877, and they had four sons John, William, James and lastly George.Jane’s family came from just over the border in Canonbie; her father had a small farm of thirty acres.
George attended the Grammar School from 1905 to 1906. He was in the Pupil Teacher’s class along with Arthur Hetherington and the brothers of Reginald Atkinson and James Batey. After leaving the Grammar School he attended Bede College, Durham and later became assistant master at Coxhoe Church School, Coxhoe.
George enlisted just days after war was declared on the 31st August 1914 at Stockton-on-Tees. The Durham County Advertiser reported “Close upon 200 recruits (independent of Territorials, reserve men etc.) have been enrolled from Coxhoe and the surrounding villages during the past fortnight, including three members of the scholastic profession in Messrs. Turner, Macpherson and Kirkup, from Coxhoe and Cornforth Lane Schools, railwaymen, a large number of miners and quarrymen, also painters, joiners, tailors, labourers, etc. the district has proved very loyal.” On his attestation papers George was described as 5ft 9″ tall with a good physique. The battalion moved to Halton Park, going on to billets in Maidenhead in December 1914 and then back to Halton Park in April 1915. Halton Park was used as a training ground for troops prior to going to the front. The battalion moved to Witley in July and on September 11 1915 they landed at Boulogne.
George’s fellow teacher Arthur Turner sent the following letter home which was published in the Durham County Advertiser, the ‘Mac’ referred to is most probably George.
COXHOE SCHOOLMASTER’S IMPRESSIONS
Writing to Mrs. Morcom, his former landlady on 30th? Private Arthur Turner, D.L.I., formerly assistant master at Coxhoe Church of England School, a well known cricketer says :
“Mac and I and Billy are all right but Rob (Kirkup) was wounded by shrapnel yesterday morning. We came into the firing area on Saturday and have been among it ever since. We were two days and two nights in the first line trenches.
The German trench was quite close and we could fire on them. Soon after we got to the trench the Germans attacked us. The firing has gone on heavily and these last few days has not stopped for a single moment. It is fearful and the shells burst with a most awful noise. Really it is terrible. War is a very terrible thing. I could not realise it when I was in England and even in France when we got so near but now since I have been among it, it is something very very terrible.
However we must stick it until we win and the German are driven back.
At present we are in a rest camp. Quite summer like. We wash ourselves and our clothes in a beck, although I have not had a go at washing clothes yet but will have to.”
The 15th Battalion Durham Light Infantry (DLI) was part of the 64th Division and fought at Loos and the Somme. The battle of Flers-Courcelette began on September 15 1916. George McPherson was part of B company, the 15th DLI began to move at 2am and marched to Flers. They advanced at 8.45 am but by 10am they were pinned down in shell holes and they remained there until dusk when they withdrew to Flea Trench. The battalion was relieved by the 20th battalion DLI the next day. The DLI war diary listed George as missing on the 17th. He was one of 209 other ranks who died over September 16/17. This battle marked the first use of tanks.
George’s brother William wrote on behalf of their widowed mother the following month asking for further information. George was later declared dead and his grave was located, he is buried at Flers. His personal possessions were not returned to the family until July 1920.
George is also commemorated on the Coxhoe village war memorial, Longtown war memorial and the family memorial in Arthuret Churchyard, Longtown. George’s brother William married James Herbert Batey’s sister Alice, James died in 1915.
George’s brother-in-law John Batey survived WW1 but was an invalid for the rest of his life. His son John Keith Batey also attended Carlisle grammar school. He was a gifted mathematician and he won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge. In WW2 he was recruited to work at Bletchley Park, and he was one of the team who cracked the codes on the enigma machines. After the war he had a distinguished career in the foreign office and civil service.