b. 06/05/1912 Congleton, Cheshire. d. 11/09/1991 Congleton, Cheshire.
George Harold Eardley (1912-1991) was born on May 6th 1912 at Congleton, Cheshire, and educated locally. He was the son of a printer, John Harold Eardley and his wife Zillah (nee Hibbert). On leaving school, George followed his father into the printing business and worked for the Congleton Chronicle.
In 1936, George married Winifred Goodier in Congleton, and they went on to have one child. In March 1940 Eardley volunteered for the Army and joined the Queen’s Royal Regiment. In July 1944 he transferred to the 4th Battalion of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, which took part in the Normandy invasion in 159 Infantry Brigade, 11th Armoured Division.
On 16th October 1944, Eardley’s platoon was ordered to clear some orchards east of Overloon, where a strong German force, including paratroop machine-gunners, was holding up the general advance. When 80 yards from the objective, the platoon encountered intense enemy fire which swept the area of advance and inflicted severe casualties.
Eardley spotted the position of one machine-gun post and, although it was virtually suicidal ‘to emerge from cover, dashed forward with a Sten gun and killed all the occupants with automatic fire and a grenade. He then observed -the position Of the second post, which was firing rapidly and accurately. Having charged another 30 yards over open ground, he killed all the enemy in it, including an officer.
Another section then attempted to move forward but, after losing half its men, was forced halt. Eardley ordered his own section to lie down and take cover while he crawled forward by himself to a third enemy position which he then destroyed with a grenade and Sten fire. The advance was then resumed successfully. Eardley’s feat was astonishing by any standards because the enemy-fire was so relentless and accurate that it seemed impossible for anyone to stay alive in it, let alone destroy its main sources.
This was not the first time Eardley had shown outstanding courage and initiative. On 1st August 1944, at Beny-Bocage in Normandy, as a member of a reconnaissance patrol, he became separated from the others when a machine-gun opened up, as they were moving along a hedge. Eardley pretended to be hit. Then, when attention was diverted from him, he stalked the machine-gun post which he destroyed with two grenades and Sten gun fire. He was awarded the Military Medal.
At the investiture for his VC at Buckingham Palace in February 1945, he was greeted warmly by King George VI who expressed his pleasure at meeting a VC who was still alive as so many were awarded posthumously. Eardley was offered a glass of sherry by King, and in the event had two; the King, however, confined himself to half a glass, saying he could not exceed it as he was on duty. At the end of the audience Eardley inadvertently walked out of the room through the wrong door and, as he emerged from the other side, was taken aback to find himself on a dais in front of a large gathering. The band, under ‘the impression that, when the door opened, the monarch would appear, struck up the National Anthem. On this occasion Eardley retreated hastily.
After the war he served in various training establishments such as the Infantry Training Centre, the RM Centre and OCTU Battle Camp, as well as in the Far East. On his return to civilian life in 1950, he qualified as an electrical engineer and worked for Rolls-Royce. In June 1964 Eardley was involved in a horrendous accident. As he drove over a level crossing at Nantwich his car was hit by a train which crashed through the barriers that were not functioning correctly. His wife, Winifred, was killed and he himself had to have his foot amputated on the site without an anaesthetic.
Although crippled, he returned to work with Rolls Royce until his retirement. Subsequently, he married Nancy Barnett, his former teenage sweetheart. George died in Congleton, Cheshire on 11th September 1991, and was cremated at Macclesfield Crematorium, with his ashes scattered in the Garden of Remembrance. His medals including the VC and MM were purchased privately in 1992 by Michael Ashcroft and are now part of the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM.
BURIAL PLACE: MACCLESFIELD CREMATORIUM, MACCLESFIELD, CHESHIRE. ASHES SCATTERED IN GARDEN OF REMEMBRANCE.