b. 03/11/1894 Manor Park, Essex. d. 02/08/1918 Scapa Flow, Orkney Isles.
George Leslie Drewry (1894-1918) was born in Forest Gate, Essex on 3rd November 1894, the third of four sons to Thomas Drewry and Mary (nee Kendall). His father was works manager for the P & O Steam Navigation Company, a prestigious enough post for the family to live in the comfort of a detached house in Claremont Road, Forest Gate. Drewry was educated at Merchant Taylor’s School, Blackheath, and at fourteen he joined the Merchant Navy as an apprentice.
By then he had already survived two narrow brushes with death. Once, while playing with his younger brother Ralph in Wanstead Park, they had fallen into a bog. Disappearing up to their necks, their cries for help were heard by a passer-by who hauled them to safety. On another occasion, Drewry had been knocked over by a car.
The catalogue of accidents followed him into a sea-faring career. During his early training on board Indian Empire, he fell from the mast into the sea and was only rescued by the gallant efforts of the ship’s mate who dived overboard. On a subsequent voyage, the ship ran into a storm as it rounded Cape Horn and was wrecked on the remote, uninhabited Hermit Island. Drewry and the crew survived for fourteen days as castaways, living on roots and shellfish, until discovered by a Chilean gunboat.
In 1912, he joined the P & O Line, serving as an officer on the Australia and Japan routes. The following year he joined the Royal Naval Reserve. On 3rd August 1914, while at Port Said, he was called up and posted as a midshipman to HMS Hussar. The months prior to the Dardanelles expedition were filled with the monotonous routine of ferrying the Mediterranean Fleet’s mail and officers from ship to ship. All this ended on 12th April 1915 when he joined Edward Unwin in preparing the River Clyde for her important role in the V Beach landings.
On 25th April 1915, he assisted Commander Unwin at the work of securing the lighters under heavy rifle and maxim fire. He was wounded in the head, but continued his work and twice subsequently attempted to swim from lighter to lighter with a line. During the next five days, he worked ceaselessly, together with his former captain, ferrying men and stores from ship to shore. On one occasion he was compelled to make the dangerous journey across to Anzac Beach before any link-up had been made with the forces at Suvla.
Drewry returned to his post on HMS Hussar on 11th August 1915. He was prevented from staying on with his former captain by an order forbidding midshipmen from going ashore unless they were inoculated. In October, he applied for promotion, and was confident of being made acting sub-lieutenant by November. The following September he was promoted to acting lieutenant and appointed to HMS Conqueror. Two months later, on 22nd November, he was invested with his VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace. As the first Royal Naval Reserve officer to be so decorated, he was presented with a Sword of Honour by the Imperial Merchant Service Guild.
By the summer of 1918 Drewry had his own command, HMT William Jackson, a decoy trawler. It was while serving aboard this vessel in the bleak waters of Scapa Flow that the final, tragic misfortune befell the “Midshipman VC”. On the evening of 2nd August 1918, a block fell from a derrick and struck him, fracturing his skull and breaking his left arm. He died the following day. His fellow officers commissioned a memorial window in his honour in All Saint’s Church, Forest Gate. He was buried in City of London Cemetery, Manor Park, London. Drewry’s medal is held by the Imperial War Museum, and displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM.
BURIAL PLACE: CITY OF LONDON CEMETERY, MANOR PARK, LONDON.
George Drewry's VC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (August 2014).
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier SQUARE 197, GRAVE 90251
War Illustrated, 12th May 1917