The Military Cross and bar awarded to George Symes. Medal now in the care of my brother.  Note the ribbon has faded considerably from the original purple and white and the silver has tarnished.

My step grandfather George William Symes (1896 – 1980) enlisted in the British Army in 1915 at the age of nineteen. In June 1915 George was commissioned with a war service commission into the Durham Light Infantry as a 2nd Lieutenant. He was seconded to the Machine Gun Corps on the 22nd February 1916, and was sent to France and Belgium on the 23rd February 1916. George was promoted to the rank of Temporary Lieutenant on the 1st November 1916.

The Machine Gun Corps was formed in October 1915.

British Vickers machine gun, shown set up for anti-aircraft purposes. Photographed circa 1914-1918. Photograph from the collection of the Library of Congress and retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

George was awarded the Military Cross and later the bar to the Military Cross.

The Military Cross was created on 28 December 1914 as an award for gallantry or meritorious service for officers with the rank of Captain and below, and for Warrant Officers. From August 1916 it became possible to award a bar or bars to the MC, for repeated acts of gallantry. 37,081 MCs were awarded in the war. In addition 2,992 men were awarded a bar to the MC (that is, they won the MC again); 176 a second bar and 4 men a third bar. (Baker, Chris. “Researching a Soldier.” The British Gallantry and Bravery Awards of 1914-1918. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <>.)

69th Machine Gun Company


During the attack on LE SARS on 7th-10-16 this officer advanced along a communication trench and single-handed captured 20 (twenty) Germans. After taking off the equipment of the prisoners he sent them back to our lines, while himself remaining alone to guard the trench. This officer also handled the guns with marked ability and has frequently made bold and valuable reconnaissances. Throughout the operation at LE SARS this officer has done work which only his great powers of physical endurance could have sustained. His coolness, judgement and courage have been of the utmost value to the Brigade.

MILITARY CROSS (gazetted 25 November 1916)

Lt Colonel

A A & 0 M G 23rd Division

69th Company, Machine Gun Corps.

2nd Lieut. (temp. Lieut) GEORGE WILLIAM SYMES, M.C.

Has carried out his duties with unfailing courage, ability and cheerfulness since February 1916, showing great gallantry at all the actions in which the Brigade had taken part. Throughout one Battle he commanded his section with conspicuous ability. Meeting suddenly a hostile party when alone with his servant, he went straight at them, killing two with his revolver, and wounding and scattering the remainder who were afterwards captured. He again commanded his section with conspicuous success and gallantry in a subsequent Battle.

Awarded the BAR TO MILITARY CROSS, January 1918.

March, 1918

Brigadier General,

Commanding 69th Infantry Brigade.

A photograph of George Symes during World War 1 from his own photograph collection which is now held by my brother.

Summary of promotions and activity during the war

  • 14 June 1915  granted a war service commission in the Durham Light Infantry as a Second Lieutenant gazetted 15 June 1915
  • 22 February 1916 seconded to the Machine Gun Corps
  • 23 February 1916 proceeded to the Western Front in France and Belgium
  • 7 October 1916 Capture of Le Sars (part of the Battle of the Somme) – his actions on that day resulted in his nomination for the Military Cross – gazetted 25 November 1916
  • 1 November 1916 promoted to the rank of Temporary Lieutenant – gazetted 21 November 1916
  • 21 June 1917 granted a regular commission in the York and Lancaster Regiment in the rank of Second Lieutenant, with the service number of 9517. His seniority on the Army List dated from 14 March 1916.
  • 1 July 1917 promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (his seniority dating from 31 January 1917) – gazetted 25 January 1918
  • 12 November 1917 transferred to the Italian Front
  • 1 January 1918 awarded bar to the Military Cross – gazetted 28 December 1917
  • 3 April 1918 promoted to the rank of Acting Captain whilst second-in-command of a company in the Machine Gun Corps – gazetted 12 July 1918
  • 5 July 1918 appointed as an Adjutant in the Machine Gun Corps, retaining the rank of Acting Captain with pay and allowances of Lieutenant – gazetted 17 September 1918
  • 8 November 1918 promoted Acting Major whilst commanding a company in the Machine Gun Corps
  • 1 April 1919 reverted to his substantive rank of Lieutenant

After the war, George stayed in the army and performed performed staff duties in Britain and India. He was promoted to major in 1938.


Related posts