George Henry Sloper, Private 17/851, 2nd Leeds Pals (Bantams)
When war was declared in 1914 there was a rush to join the colours. Hundreds of thousands of men volunteered in the first few months, many believing that it would be short war – over by Christmas – and if they didn’t get in quick they could miss it altogether. But it was also, for a lot of working men, a chance to get out of a job they may not have liked, a life they may have struggled with, and see the world, or part of it, with food, clothing and accommodation, all found. Initially the government was delighted with the response. But then it slowly became clear that it would not be a short war after all, and the men who had joined up in 1914 were going to need the best part of a year to turn them into soldiers.
It was going to require substantial numbers of men, and they would require huge amounts of equipment, including vehicles, uniforms, rations, weapons and ammunition, and skilled men were needed to make all these things. The army, having spent a lot of time and money training them to be soldiers, was reluctant to lose them, particularly as the casualty rate was getting higher and higher. But eventually a compromise was reached. Some men were weeded out to return to the factories and one such was George Henry Sloper.
Photo by kind permission of the family
George was born in 1882 to James Sloper, a blacksmith, and his wife Mary Ann Dally. In 1891 the family were living at 40 Jack Lane, Hunslet and by 1911 they had moved to 24 Alpha Street, Dewsbury Road, Leeds, although by this time James was listed as a widower. (Find My Past) George was described as being 5’ 1” in height, 106 lbs in weight with fair hair and a 35½” chest. He enlisted in the 17th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales Own) (2nd Leeds Pals, the ‘Bantams’) on 4th January 1915 in Leeds aged 32 years. On 23rd July 1915 he was posted to the 19th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment. This was an amalgamation of the depots of both the Pals ‘City’ and ‘Bantam’ battalions. New recruits were given an army number beginning with 19, but existing members kept their original numbers, as did George. Then on the 9th September 1915 he was attached for duty to Messers Harding, Richardson, Rhodes and Company Tower Works, Leeds (he was a fitter by trade). Before the war the company made textile pins and mechanical parts for the textile industry and in March 1916 stated they were ‘Makers of Engine Counters, Tachometers etc’. Exactly what they did for the war effort is not entirely clear, but as manufacturers of intricate machine parts there were all sorts of possibilities (his Service Record states he was attached to them for ‘Munitions Work’). On 1st February 1916 he was put on the posted strength of the Depot, so he was a soldier, subject to military discipline if needed, but living at home and working for, and paid by, Harding, Richardson, Rhodes. He was still working for the war, and probably being of more use to the country than if he had been yet another rifleman in France. (National Archives)
In 1918 he was recorded as living at 24 Wellboughby Grove, Holbeck as a 36 year old bachelor. On 21st September 1918 he married Rachel Gaunt, née Jennings of 51 Derwent Street, Holbeck, at the Prospect United Methodist Church, Holbeck, and took on the responsibility for her two children, Doris born on 25th May 1910 and Jane on 22nd March 1913. (Free BMD) These were the children from her first marriage in 1910, to Arthur Gaunt. He had joined the York and Lancaster Regiment and was killed at Gallipoli in 1915. He is commemorated on the Helles Memorial. (CWGC) It was not unusual for war widows to remarry, often quite quickly, in order to have someone to support them and any children.
On 10th January 1919, having not served abroad, George was discharged as ‘surplus to military requirements’. As he did not serve overseas he was not awarded any war medals although he would almost certainly have received a War Service Badge. He died in Leeds north in 1936 aged 54 years.
Researchers: David J Owen and Peter Taylor
- All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
- Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.