George Onions (2nd March 1883 to 2nd April 1944)


You wouldn’t think anyone called Onions would be brave would you? Here I am looking for the grave of soldier George Onions who is buried in a cemetery in Halesowen in Birmingham. Normally these VC dudes lie in graveyards attended by glorious churches but Quinton Cemetery is more a municipal affair with little character. I drove around in the car to get a feel for the place and though it’s geographically large only half has been dug up to bury the dead.


Little is known about George’s boyhood. A census from 1901 shows the 18-year-old to be working in Abersychan in Monmouthshire as an assistant to an analytical chemist. Aged 21 he moved to Australia and married Florence. Later he returned to Sale in Cheshire and joined the army. This part of his life is a blank but by the time the Lance Corporal was 35 he was fighting in the First World Ward in Achiet-le-Petit in North West France. On Friday 13th December 1918 various battalions had fought to make positive gains of territory. It was foggy though and the battalion George was in had somehow been split up from the others. The next day George and another soldier (Private Eades) were sent out to look for the battalion thought to be on the right flank. While out searching they found a long old trench which was unoccupied. Suddenly to their right they spotted about 250 German soldiers advancing toward them, probably sent to counter-attack positions made the previous day. George and Private Eades could have retreated silently and remained safe. However they positioned themselves so the Germans would be passing them. When they were about 100 yards away they opened fire. The Germans wavered and some hands were thrown up. George and his comrade ran ahead expecting to be killed in revenge however they managed to round up the Germans and take them prisoner. They marched them back to their base. Spotting the enemy had probably prevented many British soldiers from being killed in a surprise attack.


Returning home to Sale in Cheshire George was invited to a town hall to a cheering crowd and presented with a cheque for £100 and a gold clock. Later he was promoted to the rank of Major and saw service in the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Little is known about George’s life after the war. He had a wife and two children. When he was 42 he was convicted for fraud having asked someone to cash a dodgy cheque for him. Aged 52 he moved to Edgbaston and died in Edgbaston Hospital aged 61 a few weeks after being “involved in a motor incident” – presumably a car crash.


I had a photograph of the grave and, as usual, kept a look out for a red wreath. Eventually I found it and though there was a wreath on grave it was white and green. I did a few salutes and touched the VC. Ironic stuff - invincible in war but not on a British road. I threw some bread crusts across a path for the birds, did a salute to George and left.




Looking looking








George on the steps of Sale town hall…