George Morris – Leading the troops at the Mons Retreat

Above : George Morris in his Irish Guards uniform

Redmond Morris is an acclaimed and successful Irish film maker with a long career of producing well known titles. These include The Wind that Shook the Barley, The Reader and most recently The Dig.

Redmond also comes from a distinquished aristocratic family in the West of Ireland and holds the title Lord Killanin. The family is one of the Fourteen Tribes of Galway. His father, Michael Morris, the third Lord Killanin, was a film producer, and worked with John Ford, as well as being President of the International Olympic Committee.

Michael Morris (above) also served in World War Two, and worked on the military preparation for the D Day landing of 1944. His own father – and Redmond’s grandfather – George Henry Morris, died in World War One, while commanding his troops during the Retreat from Mons in 1914.

This was early in the war when the British Expeditionary Force, under pressure from the Germans, managed a withdrawal, and realised that the challenges facing the Allies were much greater than expected.

Following the retreat from Mons, to the River Marne, both sides tried to outflank each other in the so-called ‘race to the sea’. The result was a long front line of meandering and stubborn trenches.

Morris had already been an accomplished and fearless military officer who had served in India and in the Boer War and had lectured at staff gatherings on strategy and tactics.

In 2014, Redmond Morris and his own son, George, visited Vadencourt in France and the battlefield site of his grandfather’s grave.

Redmond’s moving account of the visit is reproduced below, courtesy of the Galway County Museum, for whom it comprised part of the museum’s excellent Galway Stories from the Great War series.

Redmond Morris with casting agent, Hylda Queally, and Kate Winslet

Your own name: Redmond Morris, Lord Killanin

Your relative: Grandfather, Lieutenant Colonel George Morris

Period of activity: World War One, Killed 1st September 1914

Specific regiment: In Command of the Irish Guards

Areas served in: Belgium and France. Retreat from Mons, 1914.

Above : George Morris (centre) and officers of the Irish Guards on horseback, Vadencourt, France, 1914

Did you have much contact with him?

None. Nor did my father, who literally was born at the end of July 1914 so George saw him once, we think, before he left for France.

Where is he buried?

Villers Cotteret in an Irish Guards Graveyard in the Forest in which he had been killed

Do you have any mementos of him?

Yes, we have many. Some of which became part of the World War One exhibition at the Galway Museum in 2014.

…………………………….

A Century Later

An Account by Redmond Morris of his visit to Vadencourt in 2014, with his son George, and his brother Michael ‘Mouse’ Morris, the famous horse trainer.

George and Redmond Morris, with local guides, at Vadencourt

On 1st September 1914, my grandfather, George Henry Morris from Spiddal, Co. Galway, was killed in France, within two weeks of his arrival as part of the British Expeditionary Force following the declaration of War. He was in command of the Irish Guards during the Retreat from Mons.

One hundred years later, to the day, a family group, Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren, travelled to France to mark the occasion.

The first stop on our journey was the town of Vadencourt. The only photograph existing of George in France was with other officers on a street corner in that town. We found that nothing much had changed – it became our first photo opportunity!

Above : Redmond and George Morris in Vadencourt, 2014, on the corner where his grandfather was pictured 100 years earlier.

The next morning we went to The Guards Grave in the Forest of Retz, near Villers-Cotterêts. It was here that he was killed. As we walked to the grave we passed a coach load of similar visitors being briefed by their guide. We overheard him say “and they were commanded by Colonel Morris”.

The guide spoke then about George’s bravery and told the story of George saying to his men ‘Don’t worry, the Germans are only shooting to frighten you’ to which came the reply from a guardsman, ‘ Well they can stop now, they succeeded with me a long time ago’.

The guide’s comic timing left a bit to be desired, but it filled us with pride.

Cameras clicked. Many photographs were taken. The visit needed to be recorded. This will never happen again. We laid a wreath and some photographs and my brother Michael cheekily placed a packet of Major cigarettes on the grave!

The irony was not lost on us. George had been an inveterate smoker, almost never without a cigarette between his lips.

George Henry Morris

The day came to an end. We wandered through the forest each with our own thoughts. Something we had planned a year ago had come to fruition. It had been an emotional and uplifting moment to be, 100 years to the day, where George had been killed and to stand by his grave.

(Copyright Redmond Morris, 2014)

More on Galway and the Great War here :

Galway Stories from the Great War | Our Irish Heritage https://www.ouririshheritage.org/content/category/archive/place/mo-ghaillimh-fein-my-own-galway/galway_stories_from_the_great_war

Dora Maryan Hall, the widow of George Henry Morris, later remarried, in 1918. She had married Morris in 1913 in London.

This is a portrait of her, entitled ‘Mrs Gerald Thorp against Red Damask, ca 1920’ by the artist, William Bruce Ellen Rankin.

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