Looking at the photos of 32-year-old George Eardley I always think he appears far too kindly and meek to even join the army but he did and was awarded the Victoria Cross for extraordinary bravery.
He was acting sergeant in the 4th Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry and fighting in the Second World War. On 16th October 1944 he with his platoon were east of Overloon in the Netherlands and they were ordered to flush German soldiers out of some orchards. The Germans held a strong military position and were preventing the platoon from advancing with heavy gunfire from machine guns. The onslaught had been sudden and the veil of bullets so plentiful many were cut down dead in seconds.
George spotted one of the machine gun posts, ran at it - surely a suicidal act - and tossed in a grenade. The solder manning the gun was killed. George was under heavy machine gun fire from other quarters but somehow made it to a safe point. From here he spotted a second post which was spraying bullets. George charged across 30 yards of open ground and killed all the enemy in it. The platoon moved forward however there was another machine gun suddenly pumping out hundreds of bullets. George ordered his own section to lie down and take cover. He crawled forward and destroyed the post with a grenade and gun. The platoon’s advance resumed.
This was astonishingly brave by any standards. One man against three machine guns. This wasn’t the first time George had been brave. On 1st August 1944 he was on a reconnaissance patrol in Beny-Bocage in Normandy. Somehow he was separated from the others when a machine-gun opened up. George pretended to be hit and lay still however when attention was diverted from him he stalked the machine-gun post and destroyed it with a combination of Sten gun fire and two grenades. He was awarded the Military Medal for this deed.
At the time he won his Victorian Cross he was a private and acting sergeant and later became the company sergeant-major.
When he visited Buckingham Palace to be presented with a Victoria Cross in February 1945 King George VI said he was so glad to meet a VC recipient who was still alive as so many had died. George had two glass of sherry with the King (the King had just one as he was on duty.)
Returning to civilian life in 1950 George qualified as an electrical engineer and worked for Rolls-Royce. He needed to be brave one more time though: in June 1964 he was involved in a terrible accident at a level crossing at Nantwich. The train crashed through the barriers that were not functioning properly and struck the car. George’s wife Winifred was killed and he had to have his foot amputated on the site without an anaesthetic. Although crippled he returned to work with Rolls Royce.
Afterwards he married Nancy Barnett, his former teenage sweetheart and they had a daughter. He died aged 79 in Congleton where there’s now a stature of him tossing a grenade. He was cremated at Macclesfield Cemetery and his ashes scattered in the Garden Of Remembrance.
Though there’s no grave to see I thought I’d visit the place where the brave man was cremated. I went round the back of the crematorium and looked at the chimney that hopefully sent a bit of George up to a second life in a more harmonious place.
George is on the left in the far photo…
At the rear of the crematorium…
George in later life, the stature of him (tossing a grenade) and the medals (VC on left)…