Private Fred Whittaker
2nd/5th Bn., York and Lancaster Regiment who was killed in action on 22nd February 1917, aged 38
Remembered with Honour
Barrow Hill Memorial
Staveley Parish Memorial
Thiepval Memorial Pier &Face 14 A and 14 B
Henry Whittaker lived with his parents on Hollingwood Common where the family earned their living as carters. Hannah Silcock had been born in Newbold and, in 1861, was in service for a Grocer on Holywell Street, Chesterfield.
In 1871, Henry was working as an iron moulder and the couple and their three young children were living with Hannah’s father, coal miner George, on Littlemoor at Newbold. 5 year old Annie Eliza and 3 year old George Henry had been born at Brimington and baby Hannah at Newbold. Three more children, Laura, John Albert and James were born at Newbold before the family moved to Riddings where FREDERICK was born in 1878.
Henry’s work as an iron moulder enabled the couple and their seven children to move to Barrow Hill, where they lived at 8, Furnace Hill, one of the older cottages built for employees of the Staveley Coal and Iron Company. Lyndon was born in 1881 and both he, and Frederick, were baptised on 15th February 1883 at the Parish Church of St John the Baptist at Staveley.
Frederick and Lyndon were still at school in 1891 although their older brothers were now working; George Henry and John Albert were employed as iron moulders at the nearby foundry whilst James was an apprentice. Sister, Hannah, was at home with her mother and both Annie Eliza and Laura were in service.
In 1901, mother Hannah was living at 12, Furnace Hill with just three of her children still at home. James and Frederick were employed as iron moulders at the old works and Lyndon was working at a local colliery. George Henry and John Albert had both married.
Hannah described herself as a widow on the 1911 Census although no record of Henrys’ death has been found locally. He was absent when both the 1891 and 1901 census were taken which would suggest that he had left the family home. With Hannah, on Furnace Hill, were her two un-married sons James and Lyndon. 31 year old Frederick was lodging with a Mrs McLaren in Bradford where he was working as an iron moulder.
Frederick was in the Territorial Force, a part-time form of soldiering; hence the nickname “Saturday Night Soldiers”, whose stated role was home defence. Men were not obliged to serve overseas, although they could agree to do so. The Territorials were mobilised for full-time war service immediately war was declared. The men who had agreed to serve overseas were separated from the rest. Those left as ‘home service only’ were formed into ‘second line’ units, which would be this reserve.
Fred enlisted at Rotherham as Private 4899 (later 5/4899) with the 2/5th Battalion, York & Lancaster Regiment in the 62nd Brigade, 2nd West Riding Division. The battalion had been formed at Rotherham on 3rd October 1914 as a second line unit.
These units of the ‘second line’, the 2nd West Riding Division, remained at home for quite some time. Along with other ‘second line’ Divisions it suffered greatly from lack of equipment of all sorts, and training was inevitably affected. The Division also continually supplied drafts of men to the ‘first line’, which delayed things terribly.
In March 1915 Divisional HQ moved to Matlock Bath and the various units gradually moved to the Matlock, Derby, Belper, Nottingham and Bakewell areas. Two months later moves were made to Thoresby Park, Babworth Park, Welbeck Park, Southwell and Beverley. A further move in October 1915 saw all units concentrated in the area of Retford, then quickly going to Newcastle and in early 1916 to Salisbury Plain. Yet another move was made in June 1916, with the Division going to Lowestoft, Wangford, Flixton Park, Bungay and Somerleytown.
When the Military Service Act was introduced in 1916, all men were deemed to have agreed to overseas service and thus all Second Line units became available to be sent overseas.
The Division was inspected by King George V on 26 July 1916. The units made a final move to Bedford, Wellingborough and Northampton in October 1916, where orders were received to embark for France.
The Divisional Ammunition Column sailed from Avonmouth for Rouen on 30th December 1916; the rest crossed from Southampton to Le Havre from 5th January 1917 and by 18th January concentration was completed between the rivers Canche and Authie.
The 2/5th Bn., York and Lancaster took part in the Operations on the Ancre. After the Battle in November, British attacks on the Somme front were stopped by the weather and in January 1917, military operations by both sides were mostly restricted to survival in the rain, snow, fog, mud fields, waterlogged trenches and shell-holes.
As preparations for the offensive at Arras continued, the British attempted to keep German attention on the Somme front with systematic attacks to capture portions of the German defences. Short advances could progressively uncover the remaining German positions in the Ancre valley, threaten the German hold on the village of Serre to the north and expose German positions beyond to ground observation. Artillery-fire could be directed with greater accuracy by ground observers and make overlooked German defences untenable.
British operations on the Ancre from 10th January to 22nd February 1917, forced the Germans back 5 miles on a 4 miles front, and eventually took 5,284 prisoners.
Fred Whittaker was killed in action on 22nd February 1917, after just one month on active service, “by the bursting of a shell while waiting to go into the line.” “He was a popular man among his comrades and was described by his platoon sergeant as a good soldier.”
Fred has no known grave but is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing on the Somme.
He was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
© Ann Lucas