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Oscar Fell

Lance-Corporal Oscar Fell, 200131, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 1st/4th Battalion

Oscar Fell was born in Birkenshaw, Bradford on the 11th April 1894, the fourth child and third son of eight children of Liverpool-born coal hewer John Fell and his Gomersal-born wife Mary (nee Baxter) who married in 1885 in the Dewsbury area. The couple had ten children, but sadly two died before April 1911.

Along with his brother Leonard and sister Florrie, Oscar Fell was baptised at Birstall St Peter’s Church on the 13th March 1895. In 1901 the family were living in Drighlington, but by 1911 John and Mary Fell with seven of their eight children, born between 1890 and 1903, had moved to Ossett and were living in a four-roomed house at 75, Dale Street. Arthur and the two of his sons, including Oscar, of working age were employed as miners. Later on, the Fell family moved to live at 33, High Street, Gawthorpe, Ossett.

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.

On the 13th July, two KOYLI battalions marched from Annezin to Bethune station to entrain for Dunkerque, where they arrived in the course of the afternoon. They proceeded in barges to Zuydecoote (spending the night in the barges.) Next day they marched to Bray Dunes, taking over some of the coast defences there. On the 18th July, a week after the 2nd Battalion had experienced their hard fighting there, both Territorial battalions (1/4 and 1/5) were in occupation of the Nieuport defences. The 1/5th Battalion were in front line with the 1/4th Battalion in support. The former had several casualties in its “A” and “C” Companies on the 18th July.

On the 20th July, there was again a destructive bombardment. A day or two later, a heavy bombardment descended on the defences in the night of the 21/22nd July 1917. The enemy used shells of all calibres and included a large quantity of his new (mustard) gas shells. The 1st/4th Battalion, in support, were the chief sufferers. The gas attack was repeated twice. The gas smelt of garlic or mustard, and was the chief cause of an overwhelming number of casualties. The immediate effect was a slight irritation of the nose and throat. Sneezing ensued, followed by vomiting, and the eyes became acutely inflamed and very painful. Coughing and symptoms resembling bronchitis followed and prevailed for a week, at least, after contact with the gas. In the 4th Battalion the casualties were 7 killed, 9 wounded, 423 gassed and 3 missing. Lance-Corporal Oscar Fell was one of those missing, presumed dead. In the 5th Battalion the total casualties for the period were 39 killed, 12 died of wounds, 3 missing, 153 wounded and 124 gassed.

The 1/4th KOYLI were relieved on the 23rd July and bivouacked that night in a field on the outskirts of Nieuport before being taken by bus taken on the 25th July to Ghyvelde, where the battalion remained for the rest of the month.1

Dunes at Nieuport, July 1917

Above: German positions on the dunes around Nieuport on the Belgian coast, between Ostend and Dunkirk, where heavy fighting took place in July 1917.

Oscar Fell’s army service record has not survived but his medal card indicates that he embarked for France on the 13th April 1915 and that he was posthumously awarded the British, Victory and the 1914/15 Star. The medal card also records KOYLI service numbers 1649 and 200131.

Lance-Corporal Oscar Fell died on the 22nd July 1917, aged 23 years, the son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Fell, of 33, High Street, Gawthorpe, Ossett. He is remembered on the Nieuport Memorial,2 Nieuwpoort, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. Nieuport (now Nieuwpoort) is a town in the Province of West Flanders on the south-west side of the River Yser, 3 kilometres from the sea. The Nieuport Memorial is on a site where the road to Lombardsijde joins the road from Nieuport dock. It is located partly along the "Sluizenring" and partly along the "Westendelaan". The Memorial takes the form of a pylon of Euville stone, 8 metres high, surrounded by a bronze band on which are cast the names of the casualties commemorated. It stands on a triangular paved platform, and at each corner of the triangle is the recumbent figure of a lion facing outwards.

The Nieuport Memorial commemorates 566 Commonwealth officers and men who were killed in Allied operations on the Belgian coast during the First World War and have no known grave. Twenty of those commemorated served with the Royal Naval Division and were killed or mortally wounded during the siege of Antwerp in October 1914. Almost all of the remainder fell in heavy fighting in the region of Nieuport in the summer of 1917. The memorial is constructed of Euville limestone and stands eight metres high. It was designed by William Bryce Binnie, an Imperial War Graves Commission architect who served with the Royal Highland Regiment during the war and was twice decorated for bravery. The lions standing at each point of the triangular platform were designed by Charles Sergeant Jagger, a celebrated British sculptor and decorated veteran of the Western Front. The memorial was officially unveiled by Sir George Macdonogh in July 1928.

British units did not return to this sector of the Western Front until June 1917, when the 32nd Division relieved French troops stationed at Nieuport in preparation for planned Allied landings on German-held territory along the Belgian coast. German marines launched a pre-emptive attack against the British forces on the river Yser in July and the landings, code named 'Operation Hush', never took place. Over 260 men commemorated on the Nieuport Memorial were killed or mortally wounded during heavy fighting with units of the German Marine-Korps Flandern on July 10 1917.

References:

1. "King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the Great War: 1914-1918" by R.C. Bond, Naval & Military Press, ISBN-13: 978-1843427636

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site