George Shields was born 9 January 1879 at Berwick-on-Tweed, the second son of Stewart Shields, a Sergeant-Instructor for many years in the Old Berwick corps of the Northumberland Rifle Volunteers, and his wife Elizabeth. George Shields attended Berwick Grammar School, and then from 1897-1899 Bede College in Durham, to qualify as a school teacher. During this time he also matriculated at Durham University, in Michaelmas term 1898, as a non-collegiate student studying for a Bachelor of Letters. He successfully passed his exams in his first and second years, but there is no record of his having graduated.
He is known to have taught at Holy Trinity School, Berwick on Tweed. His subsequent career can be glimpsed only through the censuses: in 1901 he was working as a teacher in Kelso, Roxburghshire, and ten years later was working as an Assistant Master at Wolsingham Grammar School. Shields remained there until 1913. He then taught abroad, working, one source suggests, at the Raffles’ Institution in Singapore for a time, before joining the Education Department of the Gold Coast, serving as headmaster of the Government Boys’ School in Accra from 1913. He was also appointed to but never took up the position of Inspector of Schools there. He had a facility for languages, passing the examination in Ga, a Kwa language spoken in and around Accra, the capital city of Ghana, and was again appointed but never took up the position of interpreter in the law courts.
Upon the outbreak of war and only just returned to Africa from a four-month stay in England Shields immediately volunteered, but could not be released from his post until the Gold Coast Regiment was deployed to East Africa in 1916. In the meantime he is recorded as having served in the Ship’s Company of an enemy vessel, the “S.S. Marina”, captured in Accra roadstead. He spent some time training in England, perhaps on officer training. He fought with distinction at the Battle of Gold Coast Hill on 15 December 1916, near Kibata in German East Africa (now Tanzania), and was recommended for a Military Cross. It was near there that George Shields was killed on 3 February 1917. Patrolling the roads between Njimbwe and Utete Shields’ unit was ambushed. The circumstances are described in a history of the Gold Coast Regiment’s East African campaign by Sir Hugh Clifford.
"The patrol under Lieutenant Shields had orders to meet a patrol of the King's African Rifles from Kiwambi at a point some nine miles from Njimbwe, but he had proceeded along the road leading to Utete for a distance of only about a mile and a half when the advance point sent back to report that they had seen a group of about ten German Askari on the eastern or right side of the track. It was a favourite trick of the Germans at this time to dress themselves and their native soldiers in kit belonging to the British which had fallen into the hands, and thus to occasion confusion as to who was friend and who was foe. The country through which Lieutenant Shields was patrolling was for the most part of a fairly open character, though it was covered with rank grass, set pretty thickly with trees, and studded here and there with patches of underwood. The party of the enemy had only been glimpsed for a moment, but as Lieutenant Shields went forward at once, followed or accompanied by Colour-Sergeant Nelson, a white man, dressed like an office of the King's African Rifles, appeared at a little distance ahead of the advance point, crying out in English, "Don’t fire! We are K.A.R.'s." Lieutenant Shields, who was very short-sighted, taken in by this treacherous ruse, bade his men not fire, and the enemy, who appear to have been about 200 strong with many Europeans among them, thereupon poured a volley into the patrol from the bush at very short range. This was followed by a blowing of bugles and an assault. Lieutenant Shields and Colour-Sergeant Nelson were both shot, as also was the corporal in charge of the machine-gun while trying to bring his piece into action."
The Gold Coast Regiment’s East African Campaign (1920) by Sir Hugh Clifford (pp.63-64)
A report of his death published by the Northern Echo on 13 May 1920 suggests Shields was killed by a sniper, but the preceding account appears the more authoritative one. George Shields’ body was recovered on 9 February, and buried at the camp at Njimbwe. His body was later re-interred at the Dar es Salaam war cemetery. He is commemorated on the war memorial at Berwick on Tweed, and at memorials at Berwick Grammar School and Holy Trinity School. A memorial tablet and framed photograph were set up at the Government Boys' School, Accra, on 13 May 1920. His name is also listed on the Bede College 1914-1918 Cross, Plaque, and Roll of Honour.