The life of a Ryedale soldier who died during World War I could become the focus of a new book which details his many achievements.
Military historian Mike Morgan is trying to track down the relatives of 2nd Lieutenant George Ernest Kirby who fought in the Battle of the Somme but sadly lost his life at the tender age of 24.
Mr Kirby’s name is etched on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme – a war memorial to 72,191 British and South African men who died in the Battle of the Somme – as well as Malton War Memorial.
The appeal from the Whitby-based author coincides with the centenary of World War I.
He became intrigued with the story of Mr Kirby when he was browsing in an antique shop in Pickering and came across a pewter tankard which had an inscription reading, “University of Bristol Athletics Sports 100 Yards 1913.”
“Having an interest in matters military, I reasoned that this probably belonged to a very fit young man who may have become embroiled in the First World War,” said Mike.
“My hunch proved right – and in spectacular fashion.
“After contacting Bristol University, whose records not only provided me with his name but also that this young man was an extremely gifted athlete, winning the 100 yards in an incredibly fast time of 10 seconds, which would be respectable even today.
“Not only that, he was gifted academically, being both an Associate of the Royal College of Science and the Royal College of Music, or Medicine – as his university details do not specify which.”
Further research led him to discover that George Kirby signed up for the 10th Gloucester Regiment as one of Lord Kitchener’s first batches of 100,000 volunteers.
Mike said: “Sadly, he was killed, aged just 24, in the second part of the Battle of the Somme at the battle of Pozieres Ridge on July 23, 1916. His division was supporting a major Australian attack on a key village.
“The village was taken, with heavy casualties, but then subjected to strong German counter attacks and heavy shelling, which took George’s young life right at the forefront of the action in desperate, heavy fighting.”
Mike contacted researchers for the Malton War Memorial, which records his rank, name and fatality, who told him that Mr Kirby had lived at 56 Market Place, Malton, which is today the home of Hoppers newsagents.
Records from the 1901 census showed that he lived there with his father William Kerby, a watchmaker (surnames were often wrongly mispelt or repeated at the time), his mother Priscilla and seven siblings – William Jnr, Clara, Harry, Annie, Gladys, Florence and Albert.
Now Mike wants to speak to anyone who can help him find out more about Mr Kirby.
“I would guess that there must be some relatives of this family still living in the Malton or surrounding area,” he said.
“I would very much like to hear from anyone who remembers George Ernest, or his family, especially anyone who may have photos of this gallant and talented young man who never sadly returned to his beloved Yorkshire.
“If I get together sufficient material, it may be possible to turn this into a book or booklet and I can think of no better way to record the patriotic sacrifice of a real-life Chariots of Fire, 100 years on.”
Anyone with information or photos of George Ernest Kirby is asked to contact Mike on firstname.lastname@example.org