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Fred Armitage

Lance-Corporal Fred Armitage, 203149, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 1st/4th Battalion

Fred Armitage was born in Ossett in 1892, the youngest son of eight children born to Wakefield-born, John Armitage and Ossett born Alice Jane Hanson who married in 1889. In 1901 the John, Alice and six of their eight children are living at Albert Street, Ossett. John Armitage died in 1905, aged 56, and by 1911 his widow Alice and six of her children, including Fred, have moved to 61, Horbury Road, Ossett. Fred was working as a wood turner for an athletic goods manufacturer.

The 1st/4th Battalion of KOYLI was formed in August 1914 at Wakefield and was part of the 3rd West Riding Brigade, West Riding Division. They moved on mobilisation to Doncaster and then in November 1914 to Gainsborough. The battalion moved again to York in February 1915 for training and on the 12th April 1915, they landed at Boulogne. On the 15th May 1915 the formation became 148th Brigade, 49th (West Riding) Division.

Lance-Corporal Fred Armitage was either wounded or gassed on the 22nd July 1917 in action near Nieuport (now Nieuwpoort) in Flanders, at the end of the Western Front, on the Belgian coast. The area was heavily defended by the Germans and the 1st/4th Battalion of KOYLI suffered heavy casualties on the 22nd July by the first use by the Germans of two different types of gas: "Yellow Cross," (Dichloroethylsulphide) known more commonly as "mustard gas." and "Blue Cross," (Diphenylchloroarsine), a type of 'asphyxiant' gas. After being taken to hospital, Lance-Corporal Armitage died from wounds on the 1st of August 1917, aged 25 years.

The 49th (West Riding) Division, which the 1/4th, KOYLI was attached had, following the Battle of the Somme, moved to the Neuve Chapelle area; the division stayed in this sector until 13 July 1917 when it was ordered to proceed to Bethune railway station. After de-training at Dunkirk, the division moved up the coast, taking over the coastal defences at Nieuport on 18 July. This was part of the failed Allied Operation Hush.1

The 1/5th KOYLI took over part of the front line with the 1/4th KOYLI in support of them. The KOYLIs soon discovered that this was not a quiet sector. On 19 July the Germans launched an attack but were beaten off. German artillery heavily bombarded the British positions on 20 July and again on the night of the 21/22 July, using a new type of gas shell. This gas, called mustard gas, caused blistering both externally and internally and, because it was colourless and virtually odourless, gave little warning of its presence. The only sign of the gas was a faint smell of garlic or mustard which was to give the gas its name. Upon coming into contact with it, there would be a slight irritation of the nose and throat followed by sneezing and vomiting; eyes became inflamed and painful, leading to temporary blindness. Coughing continued in survivors for a week.

The immediate effect of the bombardment of 21/22 July in the 1/4th KOYLI was seven men killed and nine men wounded. However this does not include those who had become poisoned by gas; nine officers and 413 men had been affected. The following day, there were a further three officers and 73 men who became affected by the lingering gas. (Casualties in the 1/5th KOYLI, although bad, were not as high as the 1/4th KOYLIs.)

With casualties as heavy as these the 1/4th KOYLI were withdrawn. However the full results of the gas attack only became apparent over the next few days. One man died of gas poisoning on 22 July and two on the next day. Over the course of the next five days, 82 men died of the effects of the gas; the rate at which the men died then began to diminish, with 20 men succumbing over the subsequent four days.

Western Front Battlefield

Above: Map of Western Front battlefields 1914-1918. Lance=Corporal Fred (Ted) Armitage was wounded whilst serving at Nieuwpoort on the Belgian coast, south-west of Ostend. He died in hospital at St. Omer on the 1st August 1917.

The "Ossett Observer" 2 carried this obituary for Fred (Ted) Armitage:

"Another South Ossett soldier, Corporal Ted Armitage (26), of the KOYLI, whose home is Horbury-road, Ossett, was in the early part of the week, reported to be in hospital, suffering severely from the effects of a gas shell. On Thursday evening intimation was received that he had died. As a sportsman, the deceased was well-known locally. At the time South Ossett Church Institute cricket and football clubs conducted operations, he was a prominent member of the playing teams, being one time the captain of the football club. He assisted the Ossett Cricket Club on several occasions a few seasons ago. Prior to joining the forces he worked at Messrs. W. Sykes' athletic goods manufactory, Horbury."

Then, a week later:

"The Rev. A.B. Fisher, a Church of England chaplain with the forces (vicar of All Hallows, Leeds), writing from France to Mrs. Armitage, widow, of Horbury-road, South Ossett, the death of whose son, Lance-corporal Ted Armitage, was announced last week, says: 'I want to send you a few lines of deep sympathy in the terrible loss of your dear, brave son Lance-corporal Armitage, which took place at this hospital at 1:10am on the 1st inst. I buried him in a soldier's grave at the Souvenir Cemetery at 2:30pm on the same day, and we prayed for you at the open grave. May God comfort you with the hope of a joyful meeting in that place prepared by Our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. There is nothing worth living for now for all of us. I saw your son many times after he came here, badly gassed on the 25th ult., and he gave me your address to write and give you all his love and last loving thoughts. Such splendid fellows can ill be spared."

Fred (Ted) Armitage's army service record has not survived, but he was awarded the British and Victory medals, but not the 1914-15 Star, indicating that he did not serve overseas until after 31 December 1915.

Lance-Corporal Fred Armitage died from wounds on the 1st August 1917 at the age of 26 years. He was buried at grave reference IV. C. 84. at Longuenesse (St. Omer) Souvenir Cemetery,3 Pas de Calais, France. St. Omer is a large town 45 kilometres south-east of Calais. Longuenesse is a commune on the southern outskirts of St. Omer.

St. Omer was the General Headquarters of the British Expeditionary Force from October 1914 to March 1916. Lord Roberts died there in November 1914. The town was a considerable hospital centre with the 4th, 10th, 7th Canadian, 9th Canadian and New Zealand Stationary Hospitals, the 7th, 58th (Scottish) and 59th (Northern) General Hospitals, and the 17th, 18th and 1st and 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Stations all stationed there at some time during the war. St. Omer suffered air raids in November 1917 and May 1918, with serious loss of life.

The cemetery takes its names from the triangular cemetery of the St. Omer garrison, properly called the Souvenir Cemetery (Cimetiere du Souvenir Francais) which is located next to the War Cemetery.

The Commonwealth section of the cemetery contains 2,874 Commonwealth burials of the First World War (6 unidentified), with special memorials commemorating 23 men of the Chinese Labour Corps whose graves could not be exactly located. Second World War burials number 403, (93 unidentified). Within the Commonwealth section there are also 34 non-war burials and 239 war graves of other nationalities.

References:

1. Operation Hush

2. "Ossett Observer", 4th August and 11th August 1917

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site