Gunner Fred Humphreys
149296, “B” Bty., Royal Field Artillery
who was killed in action on 15th August 1917, aged 20
Remembered with honour
Barrow Hill Memorial
Staveley Parish Memorial
Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery (V.C.29)
FREDERICK CHARLES SAMUEL HUMPHREYS was born in Earls Barton, Northamptonshire in 1896, the son of John Charles and Elizabeth Jane Humphreys and brother of Elizabeth Jane (b.1894). Both of his parents worked in the shoe trade; John as a Boot and Shoe Packer and Elizabeth as a Shoe Laster. The village is noted for its shoe-making heritage and many neighbours worked in the trade too. The family lived on North Road, Earls Barton and was completed with the birth of Fred’s younger sister Ellen Edith in 1901.
By April 1911, the family had moved to live at 48, Devonshire Cottages, Barrow Hill. Father John was working as a labourer at the Staveley Company’s blast furnace and the family supplemented their income by sharing their home with two lodgers. Later that year, one of the lodgers, George Stevenson Cherry, married the eldest daughter (Elizabeth) Jane.
Fred, then aged 14, had remained in Earls Barton and was living in 4 rooms on High Street with his 66 year old widowed aunt, Elizabeth Flowers. Elizabeth worked from home as a Hand Closer in the Boot and Shoe Trade whilst Fred worked as a Heel Builder.
Fred later moved to join his family at 16, Devonshire Cottages, Barrow Hill and was employed on the Devonshire Works until May 1916 when he enlisted at Chesterfield.
He joined the Royal Field Artilllery (B Battery, 174th Brigade, in the 39th (Deptford) Divisional Artillery) as a Gunner on 18 pounders and embarked for France in November 1916.
The Gunners of the 39th Division had bombarded the German trenches in France throughout June and July 1916 before moving to the Somme where they co-operated in attacks on Thiepval, Schwaben Redoubt and Stuff Trench and took part in a large attack to the north and south of the River Ancre.
In December 1916, the Division moved into action to positions north of Ypres taking part in the Battles of Messines and Hill 60. Trench bombardments caused numerous casualties as the division prepared for the great offensive now known as the 3rd Battle of Ypres which began on 31st July 1917.
“The attack commenced on the whole army front, and hundreds of tons of ammunition were fired. For days the battle waged with varying success, all batteries firing in support intermittently day and night. Several batteries moved into advanced positions in and about the old British front line, where very little shelter or protection was to be found, the whole area being pitted with shell holes, gradually filling up with water.
The weather could not have been worse, but all ranks cheerfully responded to every call made in serving their guns under most trying circumstances. Wagon lines and sections of the D.A.C. were shelled by day and bombed by night, giving practically no rest to either man or beast. About the middle of July the Trench Mortars were equipped with new 6-inch mortars, giving a much longer range than their former weapons. The mortars were successfully engaged on wire cutting during the preliminary bombardment, and moved forward as progress was made in close support of the Infantry.
The battle continued during August, all batteries being engaged day and night in keeping the enemy’s positions under continuous fire, and harassing his communications with shell fire, but although batteries were in very exposed positions which were heavily shelled on many occasions there was no single instance of any battery failing to carry out its firing programme. Many casualties were sustained during this period of the battle.” From “A short history of the 39th (Deptford) Divisional Artillery 1915-1918” Wiebkin, H.W.
Fred Humphreys was killed in action on 15th August 1917, aged 20. According to his commanding officer, he “died at his gun doing his duty.” He is buried in Grave V.C.29 at the Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery, Ieper, (Ypres) West-Vlaanderen, Belgium next to 2 of his gunner comrades from the same battery who died on the same day.
Fred Humphreys was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
© Ann Lucas