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  • Photo first published in the Newark Advertiser Newspaper
Person Details
Newark on Trent
George was born in the 4th quarter of 1899 in Newark and was the only surviving son of Joseph a tailor and later munitions worker and Elizabeth Collett (nee Coombes) of 1 Harcourt Street Newark. Joseph and Elizabeth had 6 children but two died in infancy. Their daughters were Constance Ivy born 1903 , Winifred born 1905 and Gertrude born 1908, all born in Newark. In 1901 and 1911, George lived with his grandparents William, a grocer, and Annie Coombes at 1 Harcourt Street, Newark, along with his parents Joseph and Elizabeth Collett. In 1912 Elizabeth died at the age of 36 apparently causing him to leave school and go to work at the General Electric Company at Witton, Birmingham. His father moved with him and they lived at Holiday Road, Erdington. George’s effects of £144/6/2d were left to his father, by then a munitions worker (Probate, London 6/12/1916).
Educated at the Magnus Grammar school, he gave up his scholarship to enter paid employment with the General Electric Company at Witton, Birmingham aged thirteen.
18 Jul 1916
16
761391 - CWGC Website
3279
Private
Royal Warwickshire Regiment
Soon after war had been declared, George enlisted in Aston Birmingham and gave his residence as Erdington Birmingham. He was 14 but 5 foot 9 inches tall and persuaded the authorities he was 19½. He served in the 1/8th battalion, Warwickshire Regiment. He was killed in action on 18th July 1916 when his trench came under heavy bombardment, he has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. The following is an extract for the Magnus School, Newark , diary of the Great War: Friday 1 September 1916: Newark discovered that one of its bravest boys, George Collett, had been killed in action on 18 July 1916 – aged only 16. The military authorities knew he had been born in December 1899, in Harcourt Street, where his parents resided until his mother died, but decided to ignore his father’s request for him to be sent home as he was strong enough to withstand the rigours of the trenches and wished to remain serving his country. Educated at the Magnus, he gave up his scholarship to enter paid employment with the General Electric Company at Witton aged 13. When War broke out soon afterwards, he determined to join the Army. He was not yet 15 years old but 5 foot 9 inches tall when he not only volunteered but also persuaded the authorities he was 19½. Indeed the Army doctor who examined him commented that he was extremely well developed for someone under 20! George had completed his training and was in France before his father Joseph, a former Borough Councillor, discovered exactly where he was. Joseph asked the Army to send the boy home. George demurred. And in March Joseph received a letter from the military authorities stating that George ‘has been medically examined and found physically fit to bear the strain of active service, and as he has expressed the wish to remain with his unit in the Expeditionary Force, he is being retained.’ George wrote to Frances Hines, 17, a daughter of a butcher at 139 Barnbygate: ‘I think it is my duty to stop out here. I assure you that the wet, muddy trenches are no attraction – it is no delight to sit in two foot of water all night long. Nevertheless, why are we all sticking it so? Supposing all us chaps were to give in? Then the Boches would get through. We have seen and heard what the Germans did to the peasants when they advanced in the early part of the War. And we know they would do their work just as well on the English civilians provided they got through and overran England. That is the reason we have got to hold out. So you can see the reason why I am sticking it. There are plenty of chaps not much older than me doing the same.’ Private 3279 George William Collett of the 1/8th Royal Warwickshire Regiment is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial; his age is not recorded on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.
Quoting from the ‘ Boys Soldiers of the Great War’ by Richard Van Emden Another boy who slipped through the net was Private George Collett, a big and strong former grammar school pupil, who had enlisted aged 14 years. Instruction 1186 had permitted the wishes of the young lad to override those of his parents, enabling a boy of any age to stay in France, just no longer in the firing line. Removing George from the trenches would at least have come as some relief to his parents. They had sought to reclaim their son once, back in March 1916, when George’s father had written directly to the commanding officer, but his son did not want to come home. ‘I think it is my duty to stop out here‘ George asserted in a letter. Before the June instruction it had remained entirely at the discretion of the army whether George stayed or not, and the verdict had come down on the side of the young boy. The divisional doctor had examined him and he had been found physically fit to bear the strain of active service. As he has expressed the wish to remain with his unit in the Expeditionary Force he is being retained. The decision had then been endorsed and confirmed in writing to the parents by the war office. After 13th June, George if he was still ‘willing’ could stay in France but he should have been removed from the firing line. Nethertheless, there appeared no question of this, as George had subsequently gone over the top on 1st July (1916). He had survived, although at least 588 or around 75%, of his battalion were killed or wounded. His escape still did not precipitate a change. Barely a fortnight later, the battalion was sent back into the line. George was killed aged 16 years when the trenches were subjected to a heavy and prolonged bombardment. His body was lost, but his name is commemorated on the Somme’s Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. George Collett was one of Nottinghamshire's youngest Great War fatalities. Article published 6th September 1916 in the Newark Advertiser :- Born in December 1899, in Harcourt Street, where his parents resided up to the time of his mother’s death. Educated at the Magnus grammar school and on going to Birmingham was engaged at the General Electric Co., Witton. But soon after war broke out he joined the army. At the time he was only 14 years of age, but was 5ft 9in and so well developed, the doctors accepted his claim to be nineteen-and-half. Successfully withstood the rigours of last winter’s campaign and declined to return after his father reported his age to the War Office.
Remembered on

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  • Photo first published in the Newark Advertiser Newspaper
    George William Collett - Photo first published in the Newark Advertiser Newspaper