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Harry Fothergill

Harry Fothergill Private Harry Fothergill, G/30675, Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment), 10th Battalion

Harry Fothergill was born at Roundwood, Alverthorpe, Wakefield on the 23rd October 1890, the fourth child and third son of colliery blacksmith, Armitage Fothergill and his wife Sarah (nee Ruddlesden), who married in 1879.

In 1891 Armitage and Sarah with their four children were living at Roundwood, where it is probable that Armitage Fothergill worked as the colliery blacksmith at the local pit. Harry’s mother, Sarah died in early 1899, aged only 40, probably in childbirth, since their fifth child, Percy, was born in the same quarter.

In 1901, widower Armitage Fothergill was living and working at Roundwood Pit Yard with four of his five children and his widowed mother-in-law has moved in to assist the family. By this time, Harry was living on Grove Street, Healey Road, Ossett with his uncle and aunt, assistant schoolmaster and school mistress, Walter and Lydia Wilby.

On the 25th March 1910 at Mount Zion Primitive Methodist Church, Ossett, 19 year-old Harry, of 32, Horbury Road, Ossett married 18 year-old Mary Westwood, the daughter of book-keeper Harvey Westwood, of 'Madeville', Church Street, Ossett. In 1911, Harry and Mary Fothergill were living with Mary’s parents on Church Street, Ossett and the couple have a six month-old daughter, Dorothy Westwood Fothergill. Harry was working as a shoddy manufacturer’s assistant. The couple had two more children, Marjorie M. Fothergill, born 1914 and Kathleen M Fothergill, born 1915. At some stage the family lived at South Terrace, Ossett, but by 1918, Harry’s wife, Mary had moved to 'Barrowcliffe House', Headlands Road, Ossett, the home of her 75 year-old grandfather, colliery owner, Henry Westwood.

Harry Fothergill’s death was the second tragic loss of life in France to be suffered by the Westwood family as Henry Westwood’s son-in-law, John Ellis, was killed in action in May 1917.

Harry Fothergill served with the 10th (Service) Battalion (Kent County) of the Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment), which was formed at Maidstone on the 3rd May 1915 by Lord Harris, Vice Lieutenant of Kent, at the request of the Army Council. The Battalion was attached in July 1915 to 118th Brigade in 39th Division, but transferred in October to 123rd Brigade in 41st Division. They moved to Aldershot in January 1916 and on the 4th May 1916, the Battalion landed in France. In November 1917, they moved with the Division to Italy, but returned to France in March 1918.

Before being transferred to the West Kent Regiment, Harry Fothergill had, in 1916, enlisted at Ossett as Private 36024 with the Royal Fusiliers. In fact, he had joined the Legion of Frontiersmen by way of the 25th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). This battalion was formed by the Legion of Frontiersmen, a self governing military organisation which had been in existence since 1904, with branches throughout the Empire and British Isles, and offered its services on the outbreak of war in 1914. The War Office rejected a proposal by Col Driscoll, the Commandant General, to provide 2000 men to undertake work of a commando nature. Instead the Legion formed the 25th RF who fought with distinction in East Africa.

The British Army has always had the reputation for putting square pegs into round holes, but in the First War, as Capt. Cherry Kearton said

"There was certainly one unit, however, in which experts were employed in their proper place, and that was the 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers, the credit for that belongs less to the War Office than to Colonel Daniel Patrick Driscoll."

His ideas of the men he wanted in the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen), were based on his Frontiersmen. He wanted a mixture of the Irregular Scout guerrillas of the Boer War and Commandos 30 years ahead of time. It is interesting that in East Africa they were often known as the Frontiersmen and "The Times" History of the War referred to them as the Legion of Frontiersmen.

New Zealander Frontiersman Pedersen said that "The age limit was 25-48 years; but it was obvious that a few old-timers must have forgotten the year in which they were born..." Driscoll succeeded in getting a commission for the famous hunter F.C. Selous for his knowledge of the area, in spite of his 64 years. Other African hunters recruited by him were Martin Ryan, George Outram and Jock Richardson.

25th were the only Battalion of the B.E.F. to embark and enter the field without training. Men who had joined other units were desperate to move to the 25th and a number even deserted to do so. When their train was leaving Waterloo, the R.S.M. went down it to warn that the Police were coming to search for deserters. A surprising number of men climbed out the other side of the train and hid until the Police had passed. They sailed on the "Neuralia" for Mombasa, arrived on 6th May, 1915, and were quickly in action.

The first major battle to involve the Frontiersmen was Bukoba in June. The main action involved the 25th and the Loyal North Lancs. After a fierce battle the enemy was cleared from the town, and the Frontiersmen captured the German flag which they still hold. In August at Maktau Lt. Wilbur Dartnell, an Australian, was awarded a posthumous V.C.

In that unhealthy climate, troops suffered badly from malaria and in January 1916 reinforcements arrived. After a long march chasing the Germans as part of General Stewart's column the 25th arrived at Moschi. They were constantly in action through the Handeni area to Kwa Direma on the Lukigura. There two companies under Major White stormed an enemy position with fixed bayonets showing great bravery. They then moved south to Makindu where they rested for a while, as numbers of fit men had dwindled from nearly 1200 to less than 200. The 25th then marched south to Kissaki. The morale of the 25th soared when their great hero Capt. Selous marched into camp with reinforcements. Although 65 and having returned to England for surgery, he had insisted on returning.

On the 20th October 1918, Harry Fothergill and the 10th Battalion of the West Kent Regiment proceeded to Courtrai where it billeted for the night before moving on. On the evening of the 22nd October, the 10th moved into the front line, facing S.E between the villages of Kattestraat and Kwadestraat.

The Regimental history goes on to say:

"Before the general advance could be resumed it was highly desirable to clear the enemy out of their strong positions opposite the 10th in order to straighten the line at this point. On October 23rd therefore, the 10th was ordered to make the attempt, though very little artillery support was available.

The attack came under heavy fire from machine-guns at once, but progress was made nevertheless. However, after some 400 yards had been gained by A and D (companies) the fierceness of the machine-gun fire from the chapel E. of Kattestraat pulled them up, and though B (coy) reached Hill 66 there was a farm over the crest from the roof of which several machine-guns fired with most deadly effect. From Hoogmolen Mill, too, other machine-guns swept the front, and as the troops on the flanks had not managed to get as far forward the battalion had to fall back at nightfall approximately to it's starting-off line.

At 2.30 next morning (24th) the advance was renewed, but with no more backing from the artillery. Much the same thing happened; ground was gained at first, several German posts were cleared out by 'D' company, but machine-gun fire from the left flank held the advance up and D, after holding on to it's gains for some time had to go back for lack of support on it's exposed left flank. 'C' company also, after capturing the farm on the eastern slopes of Hill 66, found it untenable in the face of increasing shelling and a converging machine gun fire. That night the 11th Queen's relieved the battalion which was placed in brigade reserve."

The War Diary has the following under casualties: 4 Officers killed, 1 wounded. Other Ranks: killed 27, wounded 64, missing 3. Private or possibly acting Lance-Corporal Harry Fothergill was one of the 'other ranks' killed on the 23rd October. Kwadestraat and Kattestraat are two tiny hamlets, consisting only a few houses, to the south-east of Zwevegem where Harry Fothergill is buried.

The "Ossett Observer" 1 had this obituary for Harry Fothergill:

"On the very morning that hostilities ceased, the distressing news was received that Lance-Corporal Harry Fothergill (28), West Kent Regiment, a married man who lived in Ryecroft-street, was killed in action, in France, on October 23rd, his birthday. Deceased leaves a widow and three children, the former being the daughter of Mr. Harvey Westwood, of Church-street. Two and a half years ago, the deceased joined the Legion of Frontiersmen and went to East Africa, but suffered from malaria fever and was eventually invalided home. The he was transferred to the West Kent Regiment and went out to France, but the fever again returning, he was again invalided to this country. He returned to the Western Front last Easter. For many years he was on the office staff of Messrs. John W. Smith, Ltd., Healey, and latterly was a traveller for Messrs. Firth Bros., Paleside Mills."

Harry Fothergill's army service record has not survived, but he was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals, but did not qualify for the 1914/15 Star, indicating that he did not serve overseas before the 31st December 1915.

Private Harry Fothergill, was killed in action on his birthday, the 23rd October 1918, aged 28 years, the husband of Mary Fothergill, of Barrowcliffe House, Ossett. He is remembered on the Special Memorial A. 4. at the Heestert Military Cemetery,2 Zwevegem, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. Heestert Military Cemetery is located south-east of Kortrijk on the N8. From the motorway E17, turn off at Junction 3 (Kortrijk-Oost) and onto the N8 in the direction of Zwevegem.

The village of Heestert was taken by Commonwealth forces towards the end of October 1918. In about February 1919, the Burgomaster issued instructions for the creation of the military cemetery, which was made when the farmers of the Commune cleared their farms of Commonwealth and German battlefield graves from the October and November fighting.

Later, three further graves were brought in from Moen Churchyard. There are now 127 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in the cemetery. 26 of the burials are unidentified, but there are special memorials to eight men believed to be buried among them. The cemetery also contains 57 German war graves, 39 being unidentified.

References:

1. The Legion of Frontiersmen of the Commonwealth, 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) in East Africa

2. "Ossett Observer", 16th November 1918

3. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site