George Ernest Finlayson, Private 44958, 1st/5th Bn., Northumberland Fusiliers
Killed in action 26th October 1917 in Belgium, aged 20
George Ernest Finlayson, known as Ernest, was born on 21 November 1896 in Cork, Ireland, the son of Catherine and James Finlayson, a cook and confectioner from Scotland.
In 1901, the family lived at Burton Place, Cork, but they moved to Macclesfield before 1907, when Ernest was enrolled at St George’s Church of England School, as the register shows that he had previously attended the Daybrook Street School in Macclesfield. Ernest left school on 3 February 1911, and the 1911 census shows fourteen-year-old Ernest employed as an apprentice engineer and living at 72 Hobson Street with his parents and sisters Mabel (13) and Kathleen (10).
In 1915, after Ernest enlisted, the family moved to Oxford; they later moved to 36 Vicarage Rd, Henley-on-Thames.
Ernest’s death was reported in the Macclesfield Advertiser on 9 November 1917:
PRIVATE E FINLAYSON
Information reached Macclesfield yesterday that Private Ernest Finlayson, Northumberland Fusiliers, had been killed by a German sniper. He was about twenty years of age and was the only son of Mr and Mrs J Finlayson, who removed from Macclesfield about two years ago. The deceased was formerly employed by Mr W R Brown, ironmonger, Mill Street, Macclesfield, and enlisted in the autumn of 1915. He trained with the Welsh Cycling Corps, and about twelve months ago was transferred to the Northumberland Fusiliers, being shortly afterwards drafted out to France. His parents have not yet received official notification of his death, but a letter from a comrade unfortunately leaves no room for doubt. Deceased was home on furlough in September, and had a very happy time… [He] was connected with the St George’s Street Baptists, and Mr Finlayson was a prominent Band of Hope worker. His son was a fine specimen of young manhood, and a well disposed youth in every way.
A photograph and more information were printed in the Macclesfield Advertiser the following week:
PRIVATE E FINLAYSON
Last week we announced that Mr and Mrs J Finlayson, late of Macclesfield… had received the painful news that their only son… had been killed… The letter announcing the casualty was sent by a comrade (Private J Hope) and was dated November 2nd. He states that he was beside Private Finlayson when he fell victim to a sniper’s bullet… Private Holt adds that he was also hit, but that his pay book saved his life…
Private Ernest Finlayson would have been 21 years of age on the 21st of this month… He joined the Welsh (Reserve) Cycling Corps at Stockport, and after a few weeks’ training there was transferred to the Army Cyclists’ Corps, Chiseldon Camp, Wiltshire… He was educated at St George’s School… and was connected with the Baptist Church and Sunday School, being at the time he responded to the call of duty a member of the Young Men’s Bible Class…
Private Finlayson was home on furlough in September, and a Macclesfield friend, who is now serving in the RFC, and had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with him, writes: “I was greatly shocked to hear of Ernest’s death… I little thought when I shook hands with him at Oxford that it would be for the last time…” Private Finlayson’s last two letters home are marked by that spirit of cheerfulness which was so characteristic of him. In the course of the former he states: “The people here are very kind and speak English quite easily. We are billeted in barns again, and in a very nice village indeed. Yesterday we were on the move, and although we had a hard day I stood it very well, and haven’t felt the effects at all. We started on our march about 7am, and entrained at 12. We were in the train until 10pm and then marched till about 3am, when we reached our billets… It was great fun marching in the dark. A drum and fife band led us, and when it wasn’t playing we sang song after song… The country round here is very flat, but it is the best we have been in… There are plenty of trees… We are still ‘somewhere in France’, but getting near to the Belgian border.”
In his second letter he says… “I was delighted to receive your parcel and letter of the 17th. It was a jolly fine parcel, and everything was intact. I shall have completed my two years’ service this week, and must see about my proficiency pay. I think the two years have passed over very quickly…”
Private Ernest Finlayson has no known grave and is commemorated on panel ref. 19 to 23 and 162 on the Tyne Cot Memorial, West Vlaanderen, Belgium. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Private Ernest Finlayson, and he is listed on the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.
Locally, Ernest Finlayson is commemorated on the Macclesfield Park Green, Town Hall and St George’s Street Baptist Church war memorials. Elsewhere, he is commemorated on the war memorial at St Frideswide’s Church, Botley Road, New Osney, Oxford.
Ernest is also named in Ireland’s Memorial Record: WWI roll of honour.
Census (Ireland): 1901
Census (England & Wales): 1911
National School Admission Registers and Log-books: St George’s Church of England School, Macclesfield
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Lives of the First World War website
Ireland’s Memorial Record: WWI (Find My Past)
Macclesfield Advertiser: 9 and 16 November 1917