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George William
 1922 - 1940

Early Life

GEORGE WILLIAM BAINBRIDGE (known as ‘BILLY’) was born on the 5 September 1922 at Howe Street, Great Waltham, the first child of George and Kate Emma Bainbridge (née Wicks), who were married at The Registry Office, Chelmsford on the 10 December 1921.  George was a widower at the time of his marriage. Kate, already had one daughter, Dorothy Jean Wicks, born 3 February 1919, before she married George.

George’s first wife was Emma Mary Sorrell and they married in 1916 in Chelmsford had two children, Sydney Arthur George, born 30 April 1916 in Chelmsford and Vera May, born 10 May 1918 at Howe Street, Great Waltham. Emma died in December 1918 and her funeral was held at the Parish Church, Great Waltham on the 21 December. She was 24 years old and the family were living at 4 Regina Road, Chelmsford at the time of her death. George’s occupation was given as a ‘turret lathe operator’.

Kate and George had three further children, Barbara Marguerita, born 6 December 1926, Olive Beatrice, born 25 May 1928 and David Stephen (known as ‘Bobby;) born 20 May 1930.

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George was baptised when he was three months old, in the Parish Church at Great Waltham on the 12 November 1922.

He attended the village school. There is one record of Punishment in the School records of ‘misbehaviour’ on the 17 November 1932, when he was ten years old and he was given two strokes of the cane on his hand by M C Elliott, a teacher.

Military Life

George enlisted as a ‘Boy’, on the 22 June 1937 into the Territorial Army, the 5th Battalion Essex Regiment, Regimental No. 6012447, for four years’ service at Chelmsford. He gave his employment as a ‘Grinder’ and falsely stated the year of his birth as 1920 and aged 16 years, although he was actually only 14 years and 9 months old. He had blue eyes and auburn coloured hair and was 5ft 6 inches tall. He was attested for training as a Signaller and approved and posted on the 26 June.

On the 5 September 1937 he was found physically fit for service and promoted to the rank of Private. On the 22 February 1939 after serving 1 year and 246 days, he was discharged, having enlisted into the Regular Army (Cavalry of the Line) Para 204 (15) TA Regiment.

The Regular Army Attestation states he was 18 years old (he was actually 16 years old) and a labourer when he enlisted the following day, the 23 February 1939 at Chelmsford. By now he was 5ft 9¼” tall.

He was posted to the Mechanical Car Depot and on the 11 April transferred to the Royal Armoured Corps. He passed his 2nd Class Army Certificate of Education (Distinguished in Map Reading) on the 13 August. On the 4 October he was posted to the 51st, then on the 13th, to the ‘B’ Squadron, 1st Lothian and Border Horse Regiment as a Trooper. He was granted a weekend leave from the 18 – 19 November with the Royal Artillery (RA) and from the 10 – 16 December he was attached to the Armoured Fighting Vehicle Ranges (RFV) at Castlemartin in Pembroke, Wales. From the 21 December to the 2 January 1940 he returned to the RA.

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On the 11 January 1940 he embarked from Southampton with the British Expeditionary Forces arriving at Le Havre the following day.

The Regiment had been involved in holding the west of France with the 51st Highland Division. The 51st had held the rivers from the Somme on each successive day from the 4 June 1940 and had received word that the Germans had potentially cut off any further advance. The Lothians were ordered to reconnoitre the Durdent River and found German troops at Cany Bridge and in Veulettes and that the bridges between Cany and Veulettes had been destroyed. An attack at Cany by the Lothians pushed the Germans back for the loss of two tanks.

Death and Memorial

On the 10 June the Regiment was ordered to carry out a reconnaissance to find out the enemy’s position. At this point that there were very few maps available for use by the Regiment. In the case of B squadron, a private Dunlop Tourist map was available but it was unfortunately too small a scale. The map for the whole of the Squadron, which consisted at the time of 6 Light Tanks (the two lost at Remeling having never been replaced) and 14 carriers, was a single Michelin guide, held by the Squadron commanding officer. The country was a network of roads and lanes and, in view of the possible activities of 'Fifth Columnists’, signposts could not be relied on.

The only carrier left from B squadron carrier troop 6 was attached to the two carriers of Lt Robert Baird's troop (either 4 or 5 carrier troop) to make up a full troop of three carriers. The three carriers (with two maps between them) approached Cany from the D50, Route de Touffrainville. The leading carrier was commanded by L/Sgt Charlie Foley, a carrier commander from Lt Baird's troop; the second carrier was commanded by Lt Baird; and the third was commanded by the troop leader of 6 carrier troop, TSM Jimmy Hogarth. Foley was on the left, Baird on the right and Hogarth on the left as they travelled down the road. At the junction with the D925 from St Valery en Caux, the carriers negotiated a road block and also a dead horse. As they swept around the bend leading into Cany, and straightened up, they were fired upon from the first houses on the right. The Bren guns returned fire as the carriers executed a smart about-turn and returned to the road junction.

There they were met by Second Lieutenant Otter-Barry's No 5 troop (3 carriers); and Major WJ McCulloch (B squadron commander) and Captain Pat Turcan with squadron HQ and their 2 tanks with Captain Turcan commanding one tank and Squadron Sergeant Major Alfie Upton the other.

Since the information held was that the Germans were a light armoured motor bike column, the Major and Captain Turcan decided to send 2 tanks down to reconnoitre enemy positions at Cany. There was some discussion about who would crew the tanks. The Major would not be included because he was the B squadron commanding officer. Captain Pat Turcan therefore commanded his own tank Blue Bonnet with Trooper Billy Bainbridge as the driver and TSM Hogarth as gunner instead of Turcan's gunner, Alex Hogg. SSM Alfie Upton was supposed to go in the Major's tank Bannockburn as commander; however he was replaced by Charlie Foley with Cpl John C Stevenson as driver and Trooper Wright as gunner.

Charlie Foley's tank led on the right going in, with Captain Turcan's tank second, on the right. The tanks navigated the first road block and the dead horse. There was no movement from the first houses on the right going into the town. The tanks continued past a second roadblock just past the bridge and through out of town, where they turned around to come back the same way. The turning point was a small road to the left, just past an overturned German car. The turnabout meant that Turcan's tank became the lead tank.  The tanks dog-legged around the abandoned German car and started back into Cany.

Suddenly they were hit from the left with a burst of fire from a small mm shell, possibly 3.7mm equipment. Despite return fire, the second tank was hit and Billy Bainbridge, was killed immediately and as a result the driverless tank picked up speed and hit the house on the corner of the turn into town. Turcan managed to evacuate the tank using his own cupola. The gunner's cupola was stuck and he had to push aside the gun butts and evacuate the tank from the commander's cupola. Despite a broken left leg and shrapnel wounds in both legs, the gunner managed to escape, but was later captured at Veules-les-Roses on 12 June 1940.

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Major McCulloch, Billy’s Squadron Commander wrote to his mother on his release from a POW Camp in 1945, detailing Billy’s death. A shell had burst through the driver’s seat and hit the engine, causing it to set the tank on fire. Billy was killed instantly. McCulloch stated that “Billy was an excellent soldier, cheerful and efficient, and often acted as his own tank driver and it grieved him to think that such a young and promising life was cut down so early. However he played his sadly short part well.”

He was reported missing on the 16 June 1940 and his parents were informed of his death on the 13 September 1941.

Billy was buried at Cany-Barville Communal Cemetery in France. The Cemetery is on the west side of the town. It lies 150 yards from the church, on the left of the road leading right from the church on entering the town from the direction of Fécamp. The grave is between the mortuary and shelter near the entrance and the eastern boundary of the Cemetery.

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Billy is also remembered on the Great Waltham War Memorial

Billy was posthumously awarded the 1939-45 War Medal, the 1939-45 Star and Clasps in July 1948.

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