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2,000 at welcome home reception to greet Bilston Victoria Cross hero

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: April 27, 2014

By John Workman

George Onions in civvies proudly displays his war medals

George Onions in civvies proudly displays his war medals

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SINCE the turn of the year we have been marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War on August 4, 1914, with a series of stories that, had they not been brought to our attention, may have remained untold.

John Selway is the latest in a succession of Bugle readers showing interest in the history of the First World War, and recently he picked up a copy of The Devon Family Historian.

After reading through the publication he was intrigued to find the story about war hero George Onions VC.

George Onions was born in Bilston on March 2, 1883, to Zachariah Webb Onions from West Bromwich and Amy Susan Kemp from Bilston, and it would appear the early part of his life was spent as a globe-trotter.

In 1891 he was living in Stalybridge; he was then educated at West Monmouthshire Grammar School, Pontypool; in 1901 he was working as an chemist's assistant in Abersychan.

In 1904 George emigrated to Australia where he married a Scottish lass named Florence in Brisbane in 1907. With son Zac, born in 1909, the Onions family returned to England in 1905.

After moving to Sale in Cheshire, George enlisted in the forces on September 5, 1915.

He was first with the 3rd Hussars, but was later transferred to the 1st Battalion, The Devonshire Regiment.

It was on Thursday, August 22, 1918, at Achiet-le-Petit in France, that George Onions' bravery earned the Victoria Cross, becoming one of just 627 recipients of this award for valour during the First World War.

The citation printed in the London Gazette, December 14, 1918, reads: 'Having been sent with one man to get in touch with the battalion on the right flank, he observed the enemy advancing ... Realising his opportunity, he boldly placed himself with his comrade on the flank of the advancing enemy and opened fire. When the enemy were about 100 yards from him, some hands were seen to be thrown up. Lance Corporal Onions rushed forward and, with the help of his comrade, took about 200 of the enemy prisoners and marched them back to his company commander.'

On his return to Sale in February, 1919, George was given a welcome home reception attended by a crowd of about 2,000 people. George Onions died on April 2, 1944, aged 61, as a result of a car accident and was buried at Quinton Cemetery, near Halesowen.

George was born here in the Black Country, and now thanks to John Selway for his initial interest, and the Victoria Cross Trust for taking care of his final resting place, we are able, probably for the first time, to recognise him as one of the region's finest war heroes.

John Selway, who lives in Pelsall, said he was delighted with the news. "As a region we should be remembering George for his extraordinary bravery on the battlefield," he said.

"If people interested in history were more observant, who knows what other stories await to be discovered?"

Do you have any family stories of the First World War? If so write to us at 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL, or email editor@blackcountrybugle.co.uk or log on to wwww.blackcountrybugle.co.uk

Look out for our 96-page Great War anniversary book, entitled We Will Remember Them featuring stories of Black Country people on the front line and on the home front in 1914-18 which is being published next month.

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  • ajskipp  |  May 20 2014, 9:35PM

    This man was my 2nd cousin 3 times removed! Some kind person left a comment on my family tree on Ancestry to tell me all about this article and I'm so grateful and so proud of George!! Will be visiting his grave at some point this WWI anniversary year!

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