FRED NORTH

Lance Corporal 7303, 2nd Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment)

Died 5th May 1915 aged 29

Buried in Reninghelst Churchyard Extension, Belgium

Husband of Eliza North

Lived 4, Hope Street, Heckmondwike


Fred was born on 16 July 1885 to William and Martha Ann North, who lived at Listing Lane  Liversedge.  In 1901 Martha Ann, and her daughter Hannah, aged 14, were at 13, Hill Street Heckmondwike, but Fred, now aged 16, was with relatives in Carr Street.  He and his sister were working as Textile Spinners.

Fred enlisted in Halifax with the West Riding Regiment on 22 November 1902.  He signed on for 3 years with, crucially for Fred, 9 years on the Reserve.  His age on enlistment is clearly given as 18 years and 3 months, though that is one year older than the evidence suggests.  He was 5 feet 4½ inches tall and weighed 11st 2lbs.  By October 1905 he was in India, having taken the option of signing on for a further 5 years.  The Battalion was stationed in Northern India.  His record suggests someone of character.  In 1907 for example, he was given 14 days detention for ‘being found in unlawful possession of a dog, the property of a native officer' and in 1909 he was admonished for being asleep on the barrack’s verandah and not in his bed.  During his time in India he passed the 3rd class Education Certificate and a Mounted Infantry qualification.

Service in India lasted until the end of 1910.  He was back in England by 29 January 1911 and was transferred onto the Reserve on 31 January 1911.  The details at this stage show his age as 26 years and 5 months and he had grown 3½ inches since he enlisted in 1902.  He returned to his home at 13, Hill Street and lived there with his widowed mother, married sister Hannah Oldroyd and her son George.  His mother worked as a Weaver, Fred was an Engineer’s Labourer, both in carpet manufacture.  Fred now gave his age as one year less than that quoted by Army records.

On 10 February 1913 Fred married Eliza Waite, aged 22, at Heckmondwike Parish Church.  Eliza worked as a Twister.  Their home was at 152, Brighton Street, Heckmondwike.   Because he was on the Reserve, Fred was ordered to report back to Halifax when the Army was partially mobilised in the first days of August 1914.  He received a travel warrant for his journey from home and an advance of pay of 3 shillings.  As an experienced ex-regular he was soon sent to France with the 2nd Battalion as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).  Fred was in France by 10 August 1914.  Later in August 1914 after the Battle of Mons the BEF was in retreat and on 24 August Fred received gunshot wounds to his hand and leg.   On 31 August 1914 Eliza was told of his injuries and that he was being treated in the Connaught Hospital, Aldershot.  He returned to service on 6 September 1914 and came back to Yorkshire.

In October 1914 a situation arose which must have been worrying for Fred.  A Mrs Emma North from Enfield wrote to the Regimental Adjutant in York claiming that Fred was her husband, that he had deserted her and that he had been identified by staff whilst at the Connaught Hospital in September.  Mrs Emma North, who was pregnant, had reported Fred to the Police and was claiming money from him.  An investigation by the Adjutant’s Office cleared Fred of any wrongdoing and nothing more was heard from Mrs Emma North.

Eliza and Fred’s son Jack was born on 3 March 1915, but by 29 April 1915 Fred was back in France.  By this time the Western Front was a line of opposing trenches and the Battalion was to the South East of Ypres defending an area known as ’Hill 60’.  This ‘Hill’ was simply a mound of spoil created by the construction of a railway line nearby.  It was around 50 feet high, 200 yards in depth and around 250 yards long.  On 5 May 1915 the 2nd Battalion were in the front trenches along the crest  of the 'Hill'.  At 8.30am the Germans released Chlorine gas from canisters opposite and to the side of the Battalion’s position.  The gas drifted in a yellow green cloud towards the trenches.

This gas had been used just once before on the Western Front and there was little protection against it other than a face mask of gauze or cotton moistened with water; a fluid normally used in developing photographs, or urine.  Being heavier than air the gas flowed into and along the trenches and the Battalion‘s casualties were over 300.  The Germans were able to advance and take Hill 60 which they held for the next 2 years.

Fred was one of those killed by the gas.  His body was moved to a grave site at Reninghelst, about 9 miles from the
front line.  Letters sent to their homes by local soldiers who knew Fred were published in the local papers.  There can have been no comfort for Fred’s family to see the letter from one soldier who described death by gas poisoning as ‘a most horrible death I can assure you.’  Another more tactful letter wrote of tending the graves of Fred and his fellow soldiers and of local people putting flowers on the graves.

Mrs North had been receiving 22 shillings and 9 pence in allowances and allotment of pay.  From 22 November 1915 she was awarded a weekly pension of 15 shillings for herself and her son.  Fred’s personal effects were sent to her on 24 October 1915.  On 6 August 1919 Mrs North received a War Gratuity of £5.

After the end of the war Fred was awarded the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the much rarer 1914 Star with clasp, confirming that he was one of the so called ‘Old Contemptibles’.  Mrs North was meticulous in claiming and acknowledging receipt of these awards.  Mrs North moved to her father’s home at 41, Battye Street and was there, and later at 30, Brighton Street until at least 1945.
{AG-096}

The Society thanks The War Graves Photographic Project (www.twgpp.org) for providing this headstone photograph.

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