George Barnfather was born on 1 December 1896 to John Barnfather (d. September 1920), a miner, and Jane Barnfather (née Foster); he was the eldest of seven children. The family lived in the mining village of Choppington where he attended Choppington School. From there he won a four-year scholarship to King Edward VI School in Morpeth where he distinguished himself. After leaving this school he returned to teach as a student teacher at Choppington for a year before being accepted at Bede College in 1914 to formally train as a teacher.
In December 1915 he enlisted at Morpeth with the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers and spent some time training in England, being made a Corporal in August 1916, before moving to the front lines in January 1917 where he was transferred to the scout Section (Headquarters Company) of the West Riding Regiment (Duke of Wellington’s).
By late July 1917 George and his unit had moved to the north coast on the Franco-Belgian border where George acted as a scout for his battalion. At the start of August 1917 the West Yorkshires were in action near Nieuport, Belgium. The evening of 6 August saw a party of his section’s scouts crawling through swampy areas to reconnoitre the German lines. When they returned a party was able to set up a new post nearer the German trenches. 7 August was a fairly quiet day at the front until around 19:30 when a heavy barrage was launched by the enemy, two ammunition dumps were hit together with the dugouts. It was during this assault that Lance Corporal George Barnfather was killed.
George Barnfather was buried at Nieuport cemetery, and was later reinterred in August 1919 in Ramscappelle Road Military Cemetery, Belgium. Many servicemen’s burials were reinterred and concentrated in the years following the war in this way, especially where only a few were buried in one place.
Several Bede men and comrades subsequently wrote to the college testifying to his excellence as a scout for his battalion. Among them, an earlier letter from Private W. McHugh was reprinted in a local newspaper. “He is a wonderful chap, full of life, always cheery, always ready, and one of the first to discern the movements of the enemy. His ability is marvellous, he is the life and soul of the section.” (Morpeth Herald, 31 August 1917).
George Barnfather is remembered on the Bede College 1914-1918 Cross, Plaque, and Roll of Honour. At Choppington his name is included on the memorial cross, on the 1914-1918 reredos in St Paul’s Church. His sacrifice is also commemoration on the King Edward VI School memorial cross and roll of honour.