On the 1881 census nine year old George was living in Church Road, Aston, with his father, five brothers and three sisters. Thomas, his father, was then a spade tree maker, aged 41. His siblings were Mary Jane (aged 17), Thomas (16), Walter (12), Laura (10), Alfred (7), Albert 5, Ernest (3) and Annie (1). He married Florence Langford in 1898 and their first child Lily was born in 1900
George Ravenhill joined the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers in May 1898 at Birr in Ireland. He served nearly six years in India and then saw active service in the Boer War (1899-1902). The war broke out on October 12 1899 when Boers invaded Cape Colony and Natal. He gained the Queen's and the King's medals, with clasps, for the Relief of Ladysmith, Transvaal and Cape Colony.
On December 15 1899 General Sir Redvers Buller , British Commander-in-Chief in South Africa, led an advance on the Boer defence line along the Tugela River established by General Botha. Buller commanded five infantry brigades and had artillery support from the Royal Artillery and the Royal Navy. The whole force numbered about 21,000. This was a step towards the relief of the besieged town of Ladysmith which had been cut off since November 2. George Ravenhill was serving in 6th Brigade commanded by Barton.
The British attack was to be three pronged and frontal. Both flanks were repulsed. On the left flank men commanded by Major General Hart were ambushed in a blind loop (the open end of a loop like a salient) in the river 7 km upstream from Colenso. This was a mistake caused by inaccurate British maps. They could not cross and were fired upon from three sides. In the centre of this loop was Colonel C.J.Long, who commanded two batteries of twelve 15 pounder field guns and six naval 12 pounders and had advanced these heavy guns into the bend in the river. The guns had been escorted forward by A and B companies of the Royal Scots Fusiliers,including Private George Ravenhill. It appears that Long had exceeded his orders and pushed his guns further forward than Buller had instructed. The gunners came under very heavy rifle fire from trenches on the opposite river bank and the guns were abandoned as the teams of horses could not be brought up to the guns. For his part in the action Private George Ravenhill was awarded the Victoria Cross. His citation reads;
At Colenso, on the l5th December, 1899, Private Ravenhill went several times, under a heavy fire, from his sheltered position as one of the escort to the guns, to assist the officers and driver's who" were trying to "withdraw the guns of the 14th and 66th Batteries, Royal Field Artillery, when the detachments serving them had all been killed, wounded, or driven from them by infantry fire at close range, and helped to limber up one of the guns that were saved.
Private Ravenhill was wounded in the shoulder during the action.
MR. C. B. HARMSWORTH (Worcestershire, Droitwich)
"I beg to ask the Secretary of State for War if he is now in a position to say what action, if any, is proposed to be taken by the War Office to relieve George Ravenhill, V.C., who is, or was recently, an inmate of Erdington Workhouse, of the necessity of taking advantage of public charity."
"The case is still under investigation. As soon as a decision has been reached, it shall be communicated to my hon. friend."
Following this George Ravenhill fell foul of the law;
FROM THE BIRMINGHAM DAILY POST-AUGUST 25th 1908;
John Small, foreman at Bromford Mills, spoke to missing the iron from near the entrance gates of the works, and George Ward, marine store dealer, of Bright Street, Aston, said he bought the iron from Ravenhill and Galeford on the 24th of August for 5s.7 ½ d which was the market price.
Toye, giving evidence of his own behalf, said he had no idea the iron was stolen. The other prisoners merely asked him to give them a lift with the iron, which they said they had found in the brook. Toye was discharged and Galeford, who had been in trouble before, was sentenced to three months hard labour.
In the case of Ravenhill, Detective Inspector Jackson stated that he could not say much in the man’s favour. He had been keeping company with Galeford for the past month. One day he told witness that he was still looking for work and asked him to help him. Witness said he would if he would keep away from bad companions, otherwise he could not recommend him.
Ravenhill told the Bench he believed he was entitled to a pension of £50 per annum. If he had had that he should not have been mixed up with this affair, but he had heard nothing from the authorities regarding his claim.
The Bench said they had no other course but to send Ravenhill to gaol for a month, they had tried to help him but he would not help himself.
George Ravenhill forfeited his Victoria Cross as a result.
THE TIMES – DECEMBER 16 1908
SALE OF VICTORIA CROSSES
Messrs Sotheby’s sale yesterday included two Victoria Crosses, one of which was awarded to Lieutenant George Symons, June 6 1855….£31; and a group of three medals awarded to Private George Ravenhill, the Victoria Cross, December 15 1899, and two Africa medals - £42. Private Ravenhill was one of the band of who went out to save the guns at Colenso under the concentrated fire of the Boers, and he was one of the few who returned. Both lots were purchased by Messrs.Spink.
(Note: George Ravenhill’s V.C. is now in the Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. It is possible that the sale was on behalf of the War Office who had retrieved the medal)
On the 11th September 1914, aged 42 years and 7 months George Ravenhill re-enlisted into the Army. He and his family were living at 29 Rock Hill, Chipping Norton at this time and their fifth child Arthur was born there in 1915 and William a year later. He served initially with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry before transferring to the Hampshire Regiment, and then the Duke of Cornwall's Light infantry, before being discharged on medical grounds in 1916.
George Ravenhill probably joined the 10th (Service) Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment which Sailed from Liverpool on 7 July 1915 and going via Mudros landed at Gallipoli 6 August 1915. On the 6th October 1915 it landed at Salonika, Ravenhill's campaign medal record ( he was given the British, Victory and 1915 Star campaign medals) shows him serving in the Balkans. He then was most likely posted to the 8th (Service) Battalion Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry which had arrived in the area on 13th November 1915. He was discharged back to the Chipping Norton address in Rock Hill. At some stage he returned to Aston in Birmingham, his last child, Laura being born there in 1919. He died of a heart attack aged 49, leaving a wife and five children in needy circumstances, sharing a one-roomed tenement.
Shortly before Ravenhill’s death, King George V declared that the VC should never be forfeited. ‘Even were a VC to be sentenced to be hanged for murder’, wrote the King, ‘he should be allowed to wear the VC on the scaffold’. His name was returned to the Register.
FROM THE BIRMINGHAM GAZETTE TUESDAY 19 APRIL 1921
Ravenhill, although his death was sudden, had been far from well for some time. He was a well-built man, and stood six feet high. When the present war broke out he again offered his services, and was discharged with a disability pension after being in the army about three years.
He leaves eight children. Of the five living in Nechells the eldest is 14 and the youngest 2½ and they are stated to be practically destitute. They are certainly living under deplorable housing conditions, which must be detrimental to their health.
It is hoped that a military funeral may be arranged for next Saturday. The local branch of the Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers, Comrades of the Great War and Officers’ Association is making every effort to ensure the gallant V.C. receiving such a funeral, with honours, as well as to relieve, as far as practicable, the present great distress of the family.
Men belonging to the Warwickshire Regiment carried the coffin to the waiting gun carriage. Headed by soldiers, with arms reversed, the cortege proceeded slowly to Witton Cemetery. The coffin, placed on a gun carriage, was draped with the Union Jack.
‘The Dead March’ and Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’ played by the band of the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Soldiers and Sailors added to the impressiveness of the scene.
At the graveside the last rites were performed by the Rev. W.Grome-Merrilees. Three volleys fired over the grave were followed by the sounding of the ‘Last Post’.
Private G.Ravenhill had lived with his wife and five children in a small tenement and they were left in such abject poverty that the various ex-Servicemen’s organizations came to the rescue. The Lord Mayor defrayed the expenses of the funeral.
BIRMINGHAM GAZETTE – TUESDAY 26 APRIL 1921
VC WIDOWS THANKS
Mrs F.Ravenhill of 13, Back 120, Long Acre, Nechells, whose husband , a V.C., was buried on Saturday last with full military honours, writes on behalf of herself and five children, expressing heartfelt thanks for the many expressions of sympathy.
It will be remembered that the relatives of the dead hero were in straightened circumstances, and the widow adds: ‘Mr F.Bradford persevered to make my sad case known, and I thank him from the bottom of my heart’.
FROM THE BIRMINGHAM GAZETTE – MONDAY 25 APRIL 1921 V.C.’s FUNERAL
The funeral in Birmingham on Saturday of Private Ravenhill who, while serving with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers in the South African campaign won the Victoria Cross at Colenso, was witnessed by several hundred people.
In September 2012 an article was printed in the "Oxford Mail" regarding George Ravenhill VC and featured a suggestion from the Victoria Cross Trust that George Ravenhill could be included on the town's War Memorial as he was living in the town when he enlisted for service in World War One. The Chipping Norton branch of The Royal British Legion has fully investigated the case to see if we could recommend to the Town Council that he be added to the War Memorial.
After the First World War the War Graves Commission decreed that any serviceman who served during the conflict and who died from any causes other than accidental death up to 1921 is entitled to a Commonwealth Grave, George is buried in a communal war grave in Birmingham. However there was no such entitlement to be on a town or villages war memorial this being decided locally. Having researched all the names on the Chipping Norton memorials ( the men remembered there all died in the service of their country between 1914 and 1918 (1919 in the Russian theatre) either killed in action or dying from wounds received or sickness, and were either born in the area or lived there when they enlisted. Whilst George lived in the town, he died of natural causes, no doubt exacerbated by his war service, in his native Aston in 1921, putting him at odds with the others on the memorial. It is for this reason that, whilst acknowledging his service and bravery, the branch could not recommend to the Town Council that he be included on the memorial. This would also set a precedent and local men who died from the flu pandemic in 1918 for instance would have to be included.
A suggestion has been made to the Victoria Cross Trust that it would be more appropriate to commemorate George Ravenhill's association with the town with a plaque of some description.