Pioneer George Wheatley McNeil
George was a Freemason, member of Lodge Temperance 2557 and one of our forgotten war heroes. He is not listed in the Lodge Temperance WW1 Roll of Honour although the Lodge registers clearly show he was on war service.
George was initiated into the mysteries and privileges of Ancient Freemasonry at the Lodge Temperance 2557 meeting held at the Assembly Rooms on 16th February 1914. He was passed to the second or Fellowcraft degree on the 16th March and raised to the Sublime degree of a Master Mason on the 20th April 1914. He signed his Grand Lodge certificate on 15th June 1914. He was proposed by Bro. John R. Hope and seconded by Bro. William Lawson and was a 25 year old schoolmaster living at 39 North Parade, Whitley Bay.
George resigned from Lodge Temperance 2557 in November 1921 and went on to become a founding member of Lodge Justice no. 4421 which met in the Royal Assembly Rooms, Westgate Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The Lodge was officially consecrated on 16th June 1922.
George was attested for war service on 4th December 1915 at Wallsend but was immediately sent to the Army Reserve. It’s likely a school teacher was considered a reserved occupation and men of military age and fitness were placed in the Army Reserve and not called up for military service unless it was no longer in the national interest to retain them in civil employment. He was eventually mobilised on 6th April 1918 and appointed to the Royal Engineers Signals as a Pioneer with service no. 352413.
The Army had to ensure that men were proficient for their appointed battalion or depot and were sent to the Trade Test Centre at Woolwich to verify this proficiency. Specialist liaison officers were attached to the centre for the purpose of examining and selecting men suitable for technical work. Each man was tested and either passed as skilled or proficient. George, probably because he was a schoolteacher, was examined without test and found to be suitable as a skilled worker and immediately posted to the Royal Engineers signals wireless training depot at Fenny Stratford.
In 1915 the Royal Engineers Signals section set up a signals training school in Staple Hall, Fenny Stratford a constituent town of Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. In late 1917 the camp changed its status from Signals to wireless Depot with the telecommunications moving out and wireless personnel moving in, becoming the Royal Engineers signal service wireless training centre. George remained there until he was demobilised on 5th February 1919.
George was born in Hebburn on Tyne on 27th November 1888 the son of William and Jane Mcneil. William was a shipyard plumber from Pelton Fell, Co. Durham and Jane from Lanchester, Co. Durham. William married Jane Wheatley in 1887 and they had four children:
George Wheatley (b 27/11/1888 – d 16/06/1955)
Edward (b 1891)
Edith (b 1893)
Winifred (b 1894)
George married Isabella Hope in Whitley Bay on 1st June 1914 and during the war they lived at the Dunston School House, Lesbury, Northumberland. It’s not known if George and Isabella had children but by 1939 they were living in Gosforth and George was a head schoolmaster. Sadly, Isabella died in 1941 but George married elementary school head teacher Hannah Summerbell Short in 1942. George died on 16th June 1955 leaving £1226 in his will to his wife Hannah.
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