Captain George Harold O’Kell

George Harold O’Kell was born in Ashton-under-Lyne on April 8, 1878.

Capt. George Harold O'Kell

He was educated at Albion School Ashton-under-Lyne and then went on to study at the London College of Music,  subsequently training as a solicitor.  On June 27, 1906 he married Ann Tonge and Phyllis Margaret O’Kell was born on March 13, 1909 his wife dying in child birth.  By 1911 he was living in Ashton with his infant daughter, mother-in-law and a domestic servant.

On June 17, 1910 he was commissioned into the 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment as a Second Lieutenant. Later that year, on September 28 he was promoted to Lieutenant and on October 18, 1913 promoted to Captain. Earlier that year, on January 28, he married Agnes Walton.

He sailed with the battalion to Egypt and served with them through their training and preparations for action. In November 1914 his son, Harold Walton O’Kell, was born in England but he sadly died seven weeks later without Captain O’Kell ever seeing him. Needless to say, this greatly affected him and he was evidently struggling with this loss as he served in Egypt. Captain O’Kell landed with the Battalion in Gallipoli on May 9, 1915 as 2nd in Command of “C” Company.

On June 7, 1915 he led the charge against one of two Turkish trenches with Lt. Albert Edward (Ned) Stringer. Lt. Stringer was killed. Attacking the other trench Captain Frank Hamer was also killed and so Captain O’Kell temporarily assumed command of “C” Company. But he was seriously ill with shell shock.

Major Thomas Frankish, Medical Officer of the 1/9th Battalion assessed his condition:

Came under my care on June 8th, the day following an attack on a Turkish trench in which he took part. He was in a very drowsy state, could not be pressed to say much about himself and had a frightened look. This lasted until June 10th, the only symptom he complained of being intense pain on the top of his head. He was quite unfitted to undertake his regimental duties and was sent down to the regimental base for a rest. I saw him there a few days after and his condition appeared much the same. He complained of the head pains, loss of sleep, dizziness, inability to concentrate his thoughts, could not focus a field glass. He rejoined his regiment but could not do his work: and has always a morose appearance. I consider the case to be one of melancholia – brought on by his duties here and certain family troubles.

On June 27th he was admitted to No 11 Casualty Clearing Station suffering from melancholia and transferred to the Hospital Ship Minnewaska 5 days later and sailed for Egypt. On July 6th he was admitted to the Anglo American Hospital, Cairo suffering from nervous prostration and assessed as follows:

Morose aspect and exhibiting a “scared” appearance. Very quiet and rather drowsy. Very difficult to get him to volunteer information about himself. Complains of intense pain and pressure on top of head, of dizziness and difficulty in reading (everything goes misty). No tremor of hands. Appetite fair. Bowels normal.

Four days later he was re-assessed:

Four days rest has brought an improvement in his aspect. The frightened look has disappeared, the drowsiness also, but all the other symptoms remain. He is very restless at night and sleeps but an hour or so at a stretch. Rests all day. has bad dreams in his sleep and looks tired out always. The heat seems to affect him – mostly in regard to his head pains.

He was granted a leave of absence from July 20 to October 19, 1915 and so on July 21st he embarked on the Hospital Ship Wandilla, at Alexandria, for passage to the UK arriving at Plymouth on July 31, 1915.

In the UK he was medically assessed again on October 8th at Manchester, diagnosed with Neurasthenia and found to be still unfit for general service but returned to light duties supporting the recruiting efforts in Ashton. In early December he joined the 3/9th Battalion at Southport just just prior to their move to camp at Codford, Salisbury Plain. A month later he was re-assessed and found to be improving but still unfit for general service.

On March 2, 1917 he was medically assessed at the 3rd Northern General Hospital, Sheffield and found to be still only fit for home service.

On May 1, 1918 he transferred to the Ministry of National Service under whose employ he remained until November 3, 1918. The Ministry of National Service was set up to oversee maintenance of a sufficient labour force and military recruiting during the war. On November 4, 1918 he reported to the 5th Reserve Battalion Manchester Regiment at Scarborough but proceeded the same day to the Claims & Record Officer, Kew for a course of instruction. He returned on November 16 and was immediately sent to the 8th Reserve Battalion, Manchester Regiment at Filey.  He relinquished his commission, on account of ill-health, on January 15, 1919 retaining the rank of Captain.

Captain George Harold O’Kell died in Sheffield on June 2, 1947. He was 69 years old.