George Branch had already served nine years as a career soldier in the Norfolk Regiment before he was placed in the Reserves and returned to civilian life with a job at the Metropolitan Gas Works. He was not destined to be in civilian life long because two months later war broke out and, due to him being in the Reserves, he was immediately mobilised and recalled back to his regiment.
On 21st August George was in France marching toward the Front with the Norfolk Regiment. Records show that many of the Reservists struggled to keep up with the pace of the regular soldiers because they were now out of shape following their return to civilian life and their huge backpacks hampered them further. The cramped cobbled streets were not kind to their feet either as they marched through French industrial towns. George Branch and his comrades were billeted overnight in factories amid confused reports about the Germans whereabouts. It seemed the enemy were much closer than intelligence had led the Norfolks to believe. The Norfolks were attacked on the afternoon of 24th August near the village of Elouges and they initially held their ground and repulsed the enemy’s attempt to surround them. In doing so they suffered heavy casualties from enemy shrapnel and the order to withdraw was given. In the ensuing confusion the wounded were left behind, as were some of the forward units who never received the message to withdraw, and it would appear that George was one of those who, if he was still alive at this time, would have been very vulnerable to the overwhelming numbers attacking him.
Like so many men who did not return to their lines, and whose whereabouts were uncertain, George Branch was officially listed as “missing” which left his family fraught with anguish. The picture was very confusing. Had he been taken prisoner? Or had he been slaughtered? His wife, Nina, upon hearing no news of her husband, began writing to all the POW camps in Germany in the hope that someone might reply and state he was being held as a prisoner with them. It took almost a year before she received a reply. Drummer S Holmes, was being held in Saltau, a German POW camp, and had seen one of the letters from Mrs Branch, dated 9th July 1915, and he duly replied to her.
“Your inquiry of July 9th to hand, and duly note contents. I regret very much to say your husband was killed at Mons on August 24th, having been shot through the brain. He died instantaneously. He was in my section of the platoon, and I knew him well. I thought it was better for you to know the truth and set your mind at ease. I sincerely sympathise with you in your great loss.”
There was a delay of over a year before the War Office informed George’s next of kin that he was no longer missing and instead presumed killed in action. Officially his date of death is August 28th, but the letter from Drummer Holmes suggests a date four days earlier, and it is this date, which should be considered nearer the truth. The reason for this is that the Norfolk Regiment War Diary suggests the battalion suffered severe casualties near the village of Elouges on the 24th, and this is where George is buried, but on the 28th it appears the enemy did not trouble the regiment at all.
Mrs Branch had lost one of her sons within a few weeks of the start of fighting. She would endure the rest of the war worrying about her two other sons, William and Herbert, who were also fighting at the front with the Norfolk Regiment.