After a long weekend in Scarborough I drove home a longer way across the Humber bridge and into Lincolnshire. The rural route was beautiful so I was disappointed that it went dark too early. I stayed in a Travelodge but when I pulled open the curtains in the morning I didn’t see verdant countryside but sleet and snow. The country roads had taken so much rain that many were blocked (driving through a deep puddle the car engine chugged and stopped temporarily.) I couldn’t reach a couple of cemeteries on my list due to floods however I drove home via Derbyshire to see a small patch of grass on which some ashes had been cast in 1973 (these Victoria Cross soldiers are worth it.) There was not a soul at Chesterfield Crematorium when I pulled at in the empty car park - just a few birds looking for food in the slush.
Fred was born in 1890. His dad was a coal miner hewer (meaning he cut coal at the seam) and I hope he brought in plenty of money as he and his wife Edith had twelve children. Fred was the eldest and followed his pop underground. By this twenties he was away fighting in the First World War. Aged 27 he was acting corporal in The Sherwood Foresters fighting in the Battle of Broodseinde in Belgium (a successful attack that devastated German defences and morale so deeply it caused them to withdraw.) On Thursday 4th October 1917 Fred’s platoon was held up by machine-gun fire from Germans secured in a concrete stronghold. The platoon commander and sergeant had been shot. Fred and a comrade ran forward expecting to die in a web of machine gun bullets. However they reached the back of the building and threw bombs in, killing or capturing the garrison and the machine-gun. Later that afternoon in another battle Fred saw all the officers had been shot or killed. Being the Corporal in charge he gathered the remaining men and they fired rifle and machine-guns together to ensure the Sherwood Foresters could make pivotal advances.
After the war he returned to the coal mines and became safety officer at Markham Colliery and worked for St John’s Ambulance Division. On 10th May 1938 - more bravery: a pit accident led to the deaths of 79 miners and Fred spent a week trying to dig out survivors.
He married Harriet and they had two children. He was a quiet reserved man, a teetotaller and a prominent member of Barlborough Primitive Methodist Church. During the Second World War he served in Civil Defence. Once while approaching Buckingham Palace for a Victoria Cross social event the taxi driver asked which entrance he would like to be dropped off at. “Any,” said Fred. When the driver looked back and saw Fred putting on his medals he said, “You’re definitely going in the main entrance, mate.” (Hope he didn’t charge him.) Though Fred was awarded a Victoria Cross for bravery it’s surprising he was still alive to fight in the Battle of Broodseinde. A year earlier he’d been shot in the back.
Much later while working down the coals pits he was climbing into a coal wagon and pain shot down his leg. His friends thought he was joking when he said, “Ouch, that’s my bullet.” Thirty-six years after it had been shot from a German Mauser he had it removed. He died at home nearby in Brimington aged 83.
In the twenty minutes I was at the crematorium I didn’t see anyone. I stood in a puddle to brush snow off a pre-printed plan of the gardens and see where Plot 9 was. Fred’s ashes were sprinkled there. I didn’t mind getting wet feet though - this bloke was worth it. He’d been the eldest of twelve children, followed his dad down the coal pit when he was just 13. He was knocked over by a coal truck breaking two legs and crushing his pelvis and was in Chesterfield hospital for two years. When he was discharged he had to walk nine miles to get home as his parents could not afford the bus fare. For the remainder of his life a bone protruded from under his skin, causing him pain. He’d tried to join the army aged 24 but was refused due to his injuries. Once he was taken prisoner by the Germans who jabbed him so often with bayonets his uniform ended in up in shreds. He was saved by an officer who yelled “Keep still Greaves!” before shooting his two captors.
Fred was worth visiting. I did a final salute facing Plot 9 and set off home barefoot (drying my socks on the air vents.)
Fred is the second man along (at Buckingham Palace to get the VC)…
Plot 8 where Fred’s ashes were scattered…
Pointing at the bullet which was stuck in Fred’s body for 36 years…