Wright, Frederick. Died 25th Dec 1918

Frederick ‘Fred’ Wright was born on 17 April 1998 in Rugby[1] and his birth was registered in Q2, 1898.  He was the son of John William Wright (b.c.1861, in Ossett, Yorkshire) and Harriett, née Smith, Wright, (b.c.1859 in Northampton). 

In 1901, Fred’s father, John William Wright, was 40 and a ‘steam engine maker’, his wife Harriett was 42, and the family were living at 42 Worcester Street, Rugby.  There were four children at home – Fannie Wright, 17; Sidney Wright, 11; Ethel Wright, 8; and the youngest boy, Frederick Wright, who was two years old.

Before 1911, the family moved to a nine room house at 32 Lawford Road, New Bilton, Rugby.  John William Wright was now an ‘electrical engineer’.  In 1911, Fred’s parents had been married for 28 years, and had had five children of whom four were still living.

For some reason, perhaps because he was a ‘stenographer’ in the BTH Contracts Department, their 21 year old lodger, Arol Deakin, filled in and signed their 1911 census return.  Later that year he married Fred’s sister, Dinah Ethel Wright [Rugby, Q3, 1911, 6d, 1078].  They had a daughter, Eileen in 1913, and a son, John Arol in about early 1916.  Arol Deakin joined up in the Royal Field Artillery and became a Sergeant but died of wounds on 16 August 1917.  He is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate -.[2]

According to a later report in the Rugby Advertiser, Fred Wright …
… was formerly a sailor, and visited the Dardanelles a number of times.  He was afterwards employed at the B.T.H., subsequently joining the army.’[3] 

His service with BTH is confirmed in their memorial publications and also, assuming this is the correct Wright, in a list published in September 1914 in the Rugby Advertiser,
FROM THE WORKS – This is an additional list of men who have left to join the Colours from August 27th up to and including September 2nd: – … Wright, …’.[4]

This suggests that he must have gone to sea in the period between early 1911 and later 1914, when he was between 13 and 16 years old, which would be very young even for a boy sailor, although ‘one in three Royal Navy heroes of World War One were underage, …’.  He still had some time working at BTH, before joining up, and it may be that confusion with another older Fred Wright who was in the Navy on HMS Fox in 1911 may have occurred.

Albert joined up as a Private No.115498 in the Machine Gun Corps (MGC).  As the MGC was not formed until October 1915, and in the absence of any Service Record, it is not known if he joined an Infantry Regiment earlier for his initial training.  His Medal Card has no mention of an earlier unit and it is quite possible that he did not join up and did not go to France until at least the end of 1915 or during 1916, as he was not eligible for the 1914-1915 Star – and indeed he had not reached the necessary age of 18 years until April 1916.

The CWGC record suggests that he was a member of 50th Bn. Machine Gun Corps (Infantry), however, when he was taken prisoner, his PoW record stated he was in the 206th Bn. Machine Gun Corps (Infantry).[5]

In the absence of any Service Record for Fred, the date of any transfer from the 50th to the 206th Bn. of the Machine Gun corps is unknown.  However, the information on these Battalions is as follows:

50th MG Company: Moved to France and joined 17th Division, 17 February 1916 at Reninghelst. Moved into No 17 Bn, MGC, on 24 February 1918.

206th MG Company: Formed at Grantham, 24 October 1916.  Joined 58th Division in France on 24 March 1917.  Moved into No 58 Bn, MGC on 2 March 1918.

The Battalion Diaries are available, and it seems possible that Fred moved during the reorganisation of the MGC in early 1918.  Hence his main records have him still in 50th MG Company, whilst he knew he was in 206th Company – which had become the ‘A’ Company of the 58th Bn. which was in the line at Quessy, some 14 kms south of St. Quentin.

1918 had started fairly quietly, however, the anticipated attack by the Germans, Operation Michael, was launched on 21 March 1918, against the British Fifth Army and the right wing of the British Third Army.  The German artillery targeted command and communications; then, the destruction of artillery; and then the front-line infantry.  The artillery bombardment began at 4.40am on 21 March 1918, and hit targets over an area of 150 square miles, the biggest barrage of the entire war.  Over 1,100,000 shells were fired in five hours.

Prior to March 1918, the history of 206th Co is described in the Summary War Diary.[6]

20/21 March 1918, 58th Divisional Sector astride the River Oise, [adjacent to the French 6th Army to the south].  22 and 23 March – ‘A’ & ‘D’ companies in action with 173rd Infantry Brigade. 

After March 1918, the War Diary, of the 58th Bn.[7] includes some six pages covering the period from 20 – 24 March 1918, from which the activities of ‘A’ Company have been abstracted.

21st – Enemy attacked on a wide front … owing to the existing dispositions … ‘A’ M.G. Coy … became heavily engaged … 10am – O.C. ‘A’ Company sent 3 reserve guns … to a position E of Quessy … with object of preventing the enemy from advancing on to Fargniers. (3000 rounds were fired on this task).  11.0am – O.C. ‘A’ Company received information … that 2nd Lieut T Owen … had been taken prisoner, the enemy enveloping these two guns in the mist – but that one of the guns had been got away … heavy fire was opened which held the enemy off for two hours, inflicting very heavy casualties.  12 noon – two machine guns on the canal bank S.E. of Fargniers and others E. of Fargniers and Quessy were engaging hostile infantry at close range.  1pm – a Corporal in charge of one of the foremost guns arrived at ‘A’ Co H.Q. and reported his gun had held out until 12.15pm, when it was eventually put out of action by hostile M.G. fire.  The enemy are stated to have suffered very heavy casualties from this gun, which was eventually surrounded.  7.30pm – O.C. ‘A’ Company ordered … to withdraw all guns from the battle zone and to hold the W. bank of the Crozart Canal at all costs throughout the night of 21st/22nd

This was done with 8 guns that remained of the 19 guns originally under ‘A’ Coy.  Night 21/22 – ‘A’ Coy with 8 guns holding Canal as above.

The dispositions remained as above through the morning of 22nd inst.  About 2.30 pm the enemy renewed his attack and succeeded in crossing the Crozart Canal. … Here 6 of the 8 guns of ‘A’ Company holding the Canal came into action – the teams firing their guns until the ammunition was exhausted or the guns were put out of action by the hostile shelling – this about 3.30pm  (one of these 6 guns was got away after using all the ammunition).

After all the guns of ‘A’ company … were out of action (3.30pm) … about 30 Machine Gunners held out in Tergnier, preventing the enemy getting into the southern part of the town, until 7.0pm when O.C. ‘A’ Company was ordered to withdraw all remaining guns and men of his Company to the Green Line and finally about 10pm to withdraw to Ognes … three guns of the original 19 still remained.

Meanwhile, four guns of ‘D’ Company were holding out in Viry-Noureuil to the south-west of the ‘A’ Company positions.

The summary of casualties, for the period 21 – 24 March 1918, stated that on 21 March, 26 Other Ranks were missing; on 22 March, 17 Other Ranks were missing; and on 24 March, 44 Other Ranks were missing.

It seems that Fred was one of those 17 ‘missing’ Other Ranks on 22 March, as according to Red Cross Prisoner of War (PoW) records, Fred was taken prisoner at Quessy on 22 March 1918.  This was the second day of Operation Michael, and he was ‘Unverwundat’, that is ‘unwounded’.

Fred was taken to a PoW camp, probably in Germany – and probably had to work and would have received a very poor diet – the blockade on Germany meant even German civilians were on a meagre diet.  Many prisoners died, many later from the Spanish Flu, and Fred was no exception.  He survived the war, but is recorded as dying on Christmas Day 1918.  He is likely to have been buried initially in a camp cemetery adjacent to the German PoW camp where he had been confined, and he had probably remained at the camp being treated after the Armistice.

Later, after the war these many smaller cemeteries in Germany were ‘concentrated’, and Fred’s body was moved to the newly created Berlin South-Western Cemetery, at Stahnsdorf, where he was reburied in grave ref: VII. G. 1.

The village of Stahnsdorf is some 22kms south west of Berlin and about 14kms east of Potsdam.  In 1922-1923 it was decided that the graves of Commonwealth servicemen who had died all over Germany should be brought together into four permanent cemeteries.  Berlin South-Western was one of those chosen and in 1924-1925, graves were brought into the cemetery from 146 burial grounds in eastern Germany.  Many, if not most of these, were from Prisoners of War Cemeteries.

Fred was awarded the Victory and British medals.  Fred is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate; the New Bilton War Memorial by the chapel in Croop Hill Cemetery, Addison Road; on the list of BTH Employees who served in the War 1914 – 1918;[8] and on the BTH War Memorial.[9]

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

– – – – – –

 

This article on Frederick Wright was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the Rugby Family History Group, February 2017.

 

[1]      Information from: International Committee of the Red Cross (CH), https://grandeguerre.icrc.org/.

[2]      Rugby Remembers, https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2017/08/16/deakin-arol-died-16th-aug-1917/.

[3]      Rugby Advertiser, Saturday, 11 May 1918.

[4]      https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/5th-sep-1914-rugbys-magnificent-response/, and also the Rugby Advertiser, Saturday, 5 September 1914.  But at least four Wrights from BTH served in WWI.

[5]      Information from: International Committee of the Red Cross (CH), https://grandeguerre.icrc.org/.

[6]      UK, WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), Machine Gun Corps, 58th Division, Piece 2996/10: 206 Machine Gun Company (1917 Mar – 1918 Feb).

[7]      UK, WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), Machine Gun Corps, 58th Division Piece 2996/11: 58 Battalion Machine Gun Corps (1918 Mar – 1919 Apr).

[8]      https://www.rugbyfhg.co.uk/bth-employees-who-served-war-1914-1918-d.

[9]      This is a list of names on the BTH War Memorial when it was unveiled.  It is taken from the list published in the Rugby Advertiser, 4 November 1921.  See: https://www.rugbyfhg.co.uk/bth-war-memorial.

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