Private Fred Riley, 19/40, West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales's Own), 17th Battalion
Frederick, or Fred, Riley was born in Dewsbury in early 1886, the third child and second son of six children born to Willie Riley and his wife, Mary Eliza (nee Stubley), who married in the Spring of 1882. The couple had eight children, but two died before April 1911.
In 1891, Chickenley-born Willie Riley, wife Mary Eliza and four of their children were living at Naylor Street, Ossett, and by 1901 they had moved to Paleside Ossett where, Fred Riley, now aged 15, was working as a lamp cleaner at the local colliery.
Fred Riley, aged 25, a collier, married 22 year-old spinster Edith Walker at Carlinghow Parish Church, Batley on the 27th May 1911 and the couple lived at 125 Dale Street Ossett. They had two children one of whom was Willie Riley, born in 1912.
Fred Riley’s army service record has not survived, but it is known that he enlisted in Leeds and joined the 17th (Bantam) Battalion, Prince of Wales Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) with service number 19/40. This Battalion was also known as the 2nd Leeds Pals.
Private Fred Riley died of his wounds on 29th July 1916 and was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals. He did not receive the 1914/15 Star, indicating that he did not serve overseas before the 31st December 1915. His unusual service number suggests that he may have been a reservist or in the Territorials prior to the Great War.
The 17th (2nd Leeds Pals) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment was raised in Leeds in December 1914 by the Lord Mayor and City, as a Bantam Battalion, from men who were under the normal regulation minimum height of 5 feet 3 inches. After initial training close to home, they joined 106th Brigade, 35th Division in June 1915 at Masham, North Yorkshire. The Division moved to Salisbury Plain for final training in August.
They were ordered to Egypt in late 1915, but the order was soon cancelled and they proceeded to France on the 1st of February 1916, landing at Le Havre, the division concentrated east of St Omer. They were in action during the Battles of the Somme at Bazentin Ridge, Arrow Head Copse, Maltz Horn Farm and Falfemont Farm.
The division received new drafts of men to replace losses suffered on the Somme, but the C.O. soon discovered that these new recruits were not of the same physical standard as the original Bantams, being men of small stature from the towns, rather than the miners and farm workers who had joined up in 1915. A medical inspection was carried out and 1,439 men were transferred to the Labour Corps. Their places being taken by men transferred from the disbanded yeomanry regiments, who underwent a quick training course in infantry methods at a Divisional depot set up specifically for that purpose.
In 1917 they were in action during The pursuit to the Hindenburg Line, at Houthulst Forest and The Second Battle of Passchendaele. On the 16th of November 1917 they left 35th Division to join XIX Corps on railway work. In December they amalgamated with 15th Battalion, West Yorks.
Fred Riley was wounded some time before the 26th July 1916 when the 17th Battalion West Yorks Regiment, as part of 106 Brigade in 35 Division were in support of attacking groups in the vicinity of Montauban. The battalion did not take part in an attack and sadly Private Riley was wounded by shrapnel from an enemy shell. He was then taken to hospital at Rouen where he died from his wounds:
"On the 19th July 1916 17/West Yorkshires attached to 9/Seaforth Highlanders, 8th Brigade, 3rd Division consolidated the captured ground at Montauban. During this time the 106th Brigade was employed in the neighbourhood of Montauban supplying working and carrying parties. The battalions suffered a certain number of casualties without having the excitement of taking part in an attack. Lieut-Colonel Stoney, commanding 17/West Yorkshires was unfortunately injured by a runaway ammunition mule and had to be evacuated, when Captain Huffam took control of the battalion. The work, however, was important, and General Pinney expressed his appreciation as to the thorough manner in which it had been carried out." 1
The "Ossett Observer" 2 had this obituary for Fred Riley:
"Ossett Soldier's Death In Hospital - His Officer's Tribute - The sad news was received last week-end that Private Fred Riley (30), of the 'Bantams' Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, an Ossett man, had died of wounds received during recent operations on the western front. Deceased was married, and his widow and two children reside at Highfield-cottages, Dewsbury-road. He had been brought up in the lower Street-side district, his father, Mr. Willie Riley, having worked for Messrs. Firth, at Paleside Mill, for over thirty years, the larger portion of that time as a teamer.
As a youth, deceased was a member of the Holy Trinity Company of the Church Lads' Brigade when it was first formed. A miner by occupation, he had worked at several of the local collieries. It was at the end of last August when he enlisted, and went out to France just over four months ago. During last week, Mrs. Riley received notice that her husband had been wounded by shrapnel in the thigh and shoulder, and in a letter in his own hand-writing, which he said he wrote while travelling in a Red Cross train, the soldier expressed the opinion that he was on the way to England. He asked his wife to 'keep her pecker up.' Later, intimation came to hand that he had died in hospital at Rouen, France.
One of the deceased's officers writing to Mrs. Riley says: 'I was standing close to your husband when a great shell burst over us and a fragment hit him on the leg. He was extremely plucky, and we saw him bandaged up and off to the dressing station, where he would be attended by the best doctors and surgeons in the world and surrounded by every luxury. As his officer, I have always found him a cheerful man, popular among his friends, and I am sorry to lose him."
Above: German artillery barrage during WW1.
Private Fred Riley, aged 30 years, husband of Edith Riley, of 125, Dale Street, Ossett, died on the 26th July 1916. He is buried at grave reference B. 38. 11. at the St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, 3 Seine-Maritime, France. St Sever Cemetery and St Sever Cemetery Extension are located within a large communal cemetery situated on the eastern edge of the southern Rouen suburbs of Le Grand Quevilly and Le Petit Quevilly.
During the First World War, Commonwealth camps and hospitals were stationed on the southern outskirts of Rouen. A base supply depot and the 3rd Echelon of General Headquarters were also established in the city.
Almost all of the hospitals at Rouen remained there for practically the whole of the war. They included eight general, five stationary, one British Red Cross, one labour hospital, and No. 2 Convalescent Depot. A number of the dead from these hospitals were buried in other cemeteries, but the great majority were taken to the city cemetery of St. Sever. In September 1916, it was found necessary to begin an extension.
St. Sever Cemetery contains 3,082 Commonwealth burials of the First World War. There is also 1 French burial and 1 non war service burial here.
1. "The History of the 35th Division in the Great War" by H.M Davson, Originally published 1926, ISBN: 9781843426066,
2. "Ossett Observer" 5th August 1916