George Edmund Wishart was born on 22 June 1888 in a small brick-terraced house at 21 Norland Road in Southsea, Hampshire. He was the third of five children of David Wishart, a gunner in the Royal Marines Artillery from Perth, and his wife, Elisabeth Sarah Aslett. Around 1889/1890 the family moved to Scotland and took up residence on the Kilbowie Road in Clydebank. After 21 years of service, George’s father had been pensioned off from the Marines and was working as an iron driller. Tragedy struck on 14 June 1894 when David died suddenly from pneumonia leaving his wife, who was not working, to look after five young children. Elisabeth soon returned to England where she immediately fell on hard times and was forced to enter the Portsmouth Workhouse with her children; however, by 1901 they had made their home in a terraced house at 11 Londesborough Road in Southsea. Life continued to be tough for the family, and Elisabeth appears to have struggled in particular with young George, who in early 1901 had ‘got beyond her control’ as in March she tried to prosecute the 12-year-old for stealing her bodice and a skirt. The Bench asked if she really wanted to brand her son a thief and pointed out that it would ruin his future career. After consultation with the police missionary, she finally relented and withdrew the charge.
Relations between George and his mother must have remained strained for at the age of sixteen he joined the Navy in Portsmouth. At the time he had been working as a grocer’s assistant and lied about his age (he claimed he was eighteen.) George served as Domestic 3rd Class onboard HMS Prince George, a Majestic-class pre-dreadnought battleship that was part of the Atlantic Fleet, between 11 February 1905 and 3 January 1906 when he was discharged to shore, which appears to have been at his own request.
Twenty days later on 23 January 1906, and perhaps not wanting to return home, George visited the Army recruitment office in Portsmouth and joined the Army Service Corps. Sadly it wasn’t long before Driver Wishart was up to his old tricks and was arrested and convicted at Court Martial of stealing money from a comrade in August the same year. After a month in detention, he was eventually discharged from duty for misconduct on 4 September.
Perhaps desperate to avoid a ‘normal’ life on Civvy Street, George rejoined the Navy on 4 January 1907 under the false name of George Smith. Additionally, he lied about his age for the second time and became one of the crew of HMS Nelson as Stoker 2nd Class. Postings to the Foresight (1907), Berwick (1907) and Grafton (1907 – 1908) followed and by the time he joined HMS Assistance on 15 August 1908 he was rated Stoker 1st Class. On 6 October 1910, George began service onboard HMS Imperieuse and was discharged to shore, service no longer required, on 27 June 1911. This is almost certainly the result of an anonymous letter sent to the Navy on 13 May previous in which the sender reported George’s true identity.
George appears to have temporarily gone back to sea with the Merchant Navy and on 29 April 1913, he married the daughter of a Petty Officer from Sussex named Lucy Olive Elisabeth Pullen. Four children were born between 1914 and 1922 and at the time war broke out in August 1914 George was back on dry land and working as a ship’s rivetter and sailmaker. Evidently keen to get back in service George re-enlisted in Portsmouth on 19 October 1914 and joined the 10th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment. He was eventually posted to Salonika where, during March 1917, like thousands of other servicemen fighting in Macedonia, he fell ill with malaria. The disease appears to have affected the remainder of his military career as the only surviving service papers from this period are medical records detailing numerous hospital admissions including a spell at the Southern Command Malaria Centre in early 1919.
After the war, George and Lucy lived with their children on South Street in Havant. George worked as a carpenter until his death, aged 58, in Gosport on 9 February 1947.