Corporal Fred Littlewood, S4/125508, Royal Army Service Corps.
Fred Littlewood’s photograph was one of several discovered in Ossett Library’s WW1 archive. His photograph was the only evidence of his service in WW1 although it was known that he survived the conflict. Sufficient information has now emerged to enable his WW1 biography to be written.
Fred was born in Ossett on the 10th September 1898, the second child and only son of George Littlewood and his wife Emma (nee Radley) who married in winter 1894. The couple had earlier had a daughter, Ida, who was born in Ossett in 1896. Sadly, Emma, aged 31 years, died shortly after Fred was born in September 1898. George Littlewood married his second wife, Emma Dews on the 1st August 1900. In 1901, the family were living at Ashdown Road, Sandal, Wakefield, where George was working as an assistant schoolmaster. By 1911, the family had returned to live in Ossett at 28, George Street and George was now working as a school attendance officer for Ossett Borough Council. Fred was 12 years old and at school whilst his 15 year-old sister, Ida, was an ironer in a laundry.
On the 21st August 1915, Fred Littlewood, according to his attestation record, aged 19 years and 11 months, a clerk of 19, Guildford Street, Ossett, voluntarily enlisted to serve his Country in the war against Germany. In reality, Fred was only 16 years and 11 months, and as such he was one year and one month too young to enlist. Standing at 5’ 9¾" tall with a 36” chest girth, Fred would have towered above most of his soldier colleagues. He was subsequently found to be "A" grade fit for service, his physical development was good and he had no distinguishing marks. Fred’s Attestation Form on enlistment included the question: "Are you willing to be enlisted for General Service?" To which his written answer was "Yes. Clerk A.S.C" And this was the way it turned out for Fred Littlewood. Perhaps because of his pre-war experience as a clerk and/or because he asked, or he was asked by the recruiting officer, Fred became a clerk in the A.S.C.
Fred’s Army Service record is one of only about 30% or so that has survived the Luftwaffe bombing of Central London in September 1940 during WW2. As has been noted, Fred began as a clerk in the supply branch of the Army Service Corps and was part of Kitchener’s 4th New Army (K4). The 4th New Army itself had a chequered existence, having recruited sufficient volunteer soldiers in 1914 to establish six divisions as fighting units. They were later converted to reserve units and their divisions were broken up. However, when an order was given in December 1914 to create a Fifth New Army with six divisions it was re-titled the Fourth New Army and was numbered K4 (!).
The officers and men of the A.S.C. – sometimes referred to in a joking, disparaging way as Ally Sloper’s Cavalry – were the unsung heroes of the British Army in the Great War. Soldiers cannot fight without food, equipment and ammunition. They cannot move without horses or vehicles. It was the ASC’s job to provide them. In the Great War, the vast majority of the supply, maintaining a vast army on many fronts, was supplied from Britain. Using horsed and motor vehicles, railways and waterways, the A.S.C. performed prodigious feats of logistics and were one of the great strengths of organisation by which the war was won. The A.S.C. is the same as the R.A.S.C: it received the Royal prefix in late 1918.
Fred was posted to the Army Service Corps (service number S4/125508) and joined K Supply Co. A.S.C., at Aldershot on the 25th August 1915. The "S4" prefix in his number denotes that he was allocated to the service branch of the A.S.C., 4th New Army. On the 12th February 1916, he was appointed Acting Corporal with pay, reverting to normal rank two weeks later. Fred was hospitalised for 27 days at Connaught Hospital Aldershot between the 27th March and the 23rd May 1916 and shortly afterwards, on the 21st June 1916, he embarked for France aboard "S.S. Princess Clementine". He arrived at Rouen on the 22nd June 1916, when he was posted to B.M.T.D., which, it is thought, translates to Base Motor (or Mechanical) Transport Depot. At this time in WW1 soldiers had to be 19 years old to serve overseas. Fred Littlewood however was only 17 years and about 9 months old when he sailed for France.
He was transferred to the Army Service Corps BMTD 320th Company on the 9th July 1916, most probably at Rouen where it seems likely that he spent most of his service in WW1. Rouen is 90 km due east of Le Havre. Fred spent two weeks in hospital at Rouen in late October/early November 1916 and was discharged to Base Depot, Rouen before rejoining 320th Company on the 11 November 1916. He appears to have served in the same unit until the 19th August 1917 when he was transferred to Provost Marshal (in charge of military police) at G.H.Q. 1st Echelon. It is not known for certain where this was, but this unit is also likely to have been at Rouen.
Fred was given 10 days leave between the 6th and 16th October 1917 and on the 20th November 1917 he was again made up to Acting Corporal (paid). He was given furlough from overseas duty between the 14th July 1918 and the 28th July 1918. On the 11th August 1918, he was reprimanded for hesitating to obey an order, but in spite of this, his acting rank was made permanent with a promotion to Corporal on the 8th November 1918, just three days short of the Armistice. Fred would have been due for demobilisation in March 1919, but instead opted to remain in the army and was made Acting Sergeant on the 23rd March 1919. This coincided with a period of 10 days leave.
His army career was far from over and on the 10th April 1919 he was transferred to H.Q. Wimereux and on the 1st May 1919 he was appointed paid Acting Staff Quartermaster Sergeant, which was made permanent on the 30th October 1919. Also known as Staff Sergeant, this position meant that he was assigned to administrative, supervisory or other specialist duties as part of the staff of an Army Regiment. Fred’s position would have had seniority over battalion or company sergeants and he would have been paid accordingly. His was also a Warrant Officer rank, meaning that he was designated an officer by a warrant as distinguished from a commissioned or non commissioned officer.
Fred agreed to defer his demobilisation again on the 31st December 1919 and from June 1920, he served at the Headquarters of the Assistant Provost Marshal, a senior military police officer. On the 7th October 1920, he was transferred to the garrison at Calais and on the 9th October 1920, he was described as an "Accountant Audit Clerk" with an address for pay of Hotel Univers, Wimereux, Pas de Calais, France. Wimereux is on the French coast about 7km north of Boulogne and 32 km south of Calais. In October 1920, his Army Service record for this post war period refers to HQ B T in F & F which translates as Headquarters British Troops in France and Flanders.
Organised during pre-war planning, this was the HQ of the British armies in France and Flanders on the Western Front. It proceeded to France in August 1914, under the command of Sir John French, succeeded in December 1915 by Sir Douglas Haig. Up to December 1914, GHQ also acted as Army HQ; from there on, the army grew and proliferated several Armies and GHQ commanded vast numbers of troops. It was possibly the single most powerful 'management' Britain has ever formed. Located at St Omer once the fighting had stabilised, Haig relocated it to Montreuil-sur-Mer, 34 km south of Boulogne.
Fred Littlewood was demobbed on the 6th November 1920, when he reverted to his substantive rank of Corporal. By this time Fred had served for almost 5 years and 3 months in the Colours. He will have arrived home in Ossett in time for Christmas 1920. His unit offered the following testimonial from Woolwich Dockyard on 18th December 1920:
"Very good. He is an excellent clerk and an efficient and capable Warrant Officer with good control of men. He is willing, honest, sober and trustworthy & always gave satisfaction."
Fred Littlewood was subsequently awarded the British and Victory medals for his service overseas in a theatre of war.
On 20th July 1918 at Ossett Green Congregational Church Fred’s sister Ida had married Ossett soldier, Clifford Illingworth, Fred was granted leave and he was able to attend his sister’s wedding and this is a story told by Fred’s son, Michael Littlewood that relates to that day. Michael relates this tale:
"My father told of an experience which took place at Clifford's marriage to Ida, when the presiding minister, who was stepping in for the regular minister, mistook dad as the groom, and started asking him to repeat the marriage vows. There was muttering in the congregation, but the minister continued. Eventually Clifford decided that he should take action before dad married his sister, and turned to the minister and said 'Hey it isn't him, it's me!' (Laughter in the congregation)."
On the 8th October 1927, it was Fred’s turn to marry. On that day at Ossett Green Congregational Church, Fred Littlewood, aged 30 years, a cashier of 28 Grove Street, Healey Road, Ossett married 28 year-old spinster Eva Dyson Smith of The Hospital, Storrs Hill, Ossett. The couple were to have two children, David born 28th March 1929 and Michael J. born 5th October 1931.
Fred’s son, Michael, adds a little more about his father:
After leaving the army, Fred worked for Joshua Illingworth, who ran a Fellmonger's business at the bottom of Healey Road. Joshua's son was Joseph Illingworth, who achieved the honour of becoming the Mayor of Ossett. During dad's time in France, he found friendship in the Toc H movement, which was founded by Rev Tubby Clayton. His interest in Toc H continued when he came home and joined the local branch which met at a terrace house at the bottom of Church Street, before later moving into the basement of the Town Hall.
Above: Robert Harker Wilby (left), Fred Littlewood (centre) and Clifford Ward (right) in a comedy sketch performed circa 1930 to an Ossett audience.
Thereafter Fred Littlewood became a well known character in Ossett as he joined with his friends, including Robert Harker Wilby and Clifford Ward, in a number of Amateur Dramatics productions. He immersed himself, with many others, in a number of Ossett organisations including the Liberal Male Voice Choir and the Ossett Hospital and Convalescent Association for whom he acted as Chairman of the "Rag" in the mid 1930s.
In 1939 Fred was living with his family at 31, Healey Road, Ossett and he was working as a works manager for a fellmonger. In 1961 he was living at 29, Healey Road, Ossett.
Sadly, Fred Littlewood, at only 63 years of age died on the 11th June 1962 at the Ida Hospital in Leeds after suffering a stem tumour of the brain.
References and Acknowledgement:
Thanks are due to Fred Littlewood’s son, Michael for his contribution to this research.
1. Ossett Library
2. Fred Littlewood's Army Record