The former Yorkshire vicar with a little known link to deadly flying ace the Red Baron

Anne-Marie Fawcett has a fascination with local history and has carried out research into a Yorkshire vicar’s connection to the infamous Red Baron. Laura Reid reports.

Former Vicar of Ossett Reverend George Marshall. Photo: Sent by Anne-Marie Fawcett, courtesy Duncan Smith of church council of Ossett.
Former Vicar of Ossett Reverend George Marshall. Photo: Sent by Anne-Marie Fawcett, courtesy Duncan Smith of church council of Ossett.

“In 1931, a new vicar, the Reverend George H. Marshall was taking up residence the Holy Trinity vicarage on Dale Street in Ossett,” Anne-Marie Fawcett writes. “Few in the town knew then, or even now, of his connection to Baron Manfred von Richthofen aka the Red Baron, the Prussian aristocrat who was said to be the deadliest flying ace of the First World War. I aim to try and change that.”

Anne-Marie is fascinated by local history. Five years ago she set up a Facebook group for the sharing of photos, memories and historical facts relating to the West Yorkshire town of Ossett. In the years that have followed, she has spent her free time researching, collating and sharing information about Ossett’s past and her latest venture has seen her piece together the story of George Herbert Marshall, a Yorkshireman who she says has a little-known link to the Red Baron, a ruthless fighter pilot with the German Air Force.

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Born in Heptonstall in 1889, George was encouraged to enter the ministry by the vicar of Hebden Bridge. Having studied at the University of Manchester, he took his Holy Orders at a theological college in the city and in 1913 became a deacon, qualifying as a priest the following year.

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According to Anne-Marie’s research, during his time at university, he had been recruited by its Officer Training Corps and in 1915 was commissioned as a chaplain of the armed forces. His role, she writes, was to “conduct the army’s compulsory religious services and bury its dead”.

In 1917, George was invested as a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), awarded for meritorious or distinguished service in wartime.

Picking up his story at the time of the Red Baron’s death in 1918 - his plane was downed and he was killed by a single bullet whilst on an engagement over the Somme region - Anne-Marie writes: “On April 21, 1918 the Allies recovered the body of the Red Baron from a field in Vaux sur Somme, France. Captain George Herbert Marshall was serving as chaplain to the Royal Flying Corps 101 Squadron at the time that the Red Baron was shot down.

“He was the closest Anglican chaplain to the scene and, as the Baron was a protestant, George was given the duty of officiating at his burial. A crowd of soldiers and several townspeople gathered around as a eulogy was given by George, and the coffin was lowered into the grave...A firing party, made up of Australia forces, fire three volleys and a bugler sounded the Last Post.”

After the war, George became the curate of a parish church in Burnley before being offered the post of vicar of Shelley. He later spent time as a vicar in Halifax before moving to become vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Ossett in 1931.

Anne-Marie first came across the suggestion of a connection between the Red Baron and a vicar of Ossett in 2018. Then in May this year she says she was reading about the Red Baron and “was reminded that a vicar, by the name of George Herbert Marshall, had been the chaplain who had officiated at the baron’s funeral”.

“The name of George Herbert Marshall was already familiar to me as a vicar of Holy Trinity Church,” she says. Her Ossett Through The Ages (OTTA) local history group had featured a snippet of George from a 1936 newspaper. “I remembered this snippet mentioned ‘Rev G.H Marshall DSO’,” she says.

She set about trying to confirm whether the George Herbert Marshall at the Red Baron’s funeral was the same clergyman as the Ossett vicar of the same name. Consulting census records, members of OTTA, a newspaper archive and an ancestry site, she says the links in the chain began to “become more solid”.

“It’s taken me four months to gather the evidence to prove this connection, but how chuffed I am that I’ve managed it,” she says. Her research on George’s life is due to be published on Ossett history website ossett.net

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James Mitchinson