Unit: 11th Battalion
Service Number: 41183 [Fmly: 25390 North Staffs Regt]
Date of Death: 5 October 1917 – Killed in action
Age: 21 years
Cemetery / Memorial: Tyne Cot Memorial
Grave / Panel Ref.: Panel 120 to 124 and 162 to 162A and 163A
Fred was born in Ruskington, Lincolnshire, in the September quarter 1896, the son of John Charles (Horseman on Farm) and Ruth (née Ward) Whitton. The 1901 Census (RG 13/3048) shows that Fred had an older brother, William (born 19 April 1893), a younger brother, Arthur (b. 16 December 1899), and a younger sister, Sarah Elizabeth (b. 8 February 1891). The family was living at ‘Westcliff’, Ruskington.
[N.B. Fred’s older brother, Pt. 10007 William Whitton, enlisted in the 3rd Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment, on 14 November 1914. He was trained at Grimsby and was posted to France in April 1915.
After being wounded he was sent to Belfast to recuperate and as at 27 November 1915, according to ‘The Lincolnshire Chronicle’, he was recuperating in Kingsholme.]
Before the end of the War, however, Fred’s mother, Ruth, died, in April 1917. She was buried on the 7th in Ruskington Cemetery, Old Plot, Section A, Grave 273.
“The Sleaford Gazette” (27 October 1917) reported Fred’s death and also that his brother, William, had again been wounded:
“DOUBLE SORROW – That troubles do not necessarily come singly has been painfully exemplified in the case of Mr. Charles Whitton of High Street who received the sad official news by Thursday morning’s post that his second son Pte. Fred Whitton, 21 years, (Manchesters) had been killed in action, while his eldest son Pte. William Whitton (Lincolns) had been seriously wounded in the face and legs. Fred Whitton joined up May 1916; his brother William has served longer, and been sent to England twice before once for wounds and once for sickness. The deepest sympathy of all will be extended to Mr. Whitton in his great trial.”
On the 3 November 1917 ‘The Lincolnshire Chronicle’ published this tribute to Fred: “MUFFLED PEAL – On Sunday morning a muffled peal was rung on the Church bells in honour of the memory of Ptes. Fred Whitton and Arthur Wainer, who had recently been killed in action.”
The Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects shows that in February 1918 Fred’s father, John, received a total of £6 16s. 2d [£6.81 – a relative value of about £500 today (2023)]. In 1919 he also received Fred’s Army Gratuity amounting to £5 10s. 0d (£5.50 – about £365 today). In September 1919 John also applied for an Army Pension, but no records has been found of any award. They were still living on High Street, Ruskington.
Fred’s father, John Charles, lived almost another 40 years and was 90 when he died in June 1957. He was buried in Plot GG063, Sleaford Cemetery, on the 16th.
Fred enlisted at Sleaford, Lincolnshire and unfortunately his Service Record has been lost. However, his Medal Index Card (MIC) shows that he was not in receipt of the 1914-15 Star medal, meaning he did not enter the War abroad until after the end of 1915.
The reference to Fred being enlisted in the North Staffs Regiment only appears on SDGW database, i.e. not on his MIC, nor is any Battalion named, so it is likely that shortly after enlistment he was posted to the Manchester Regiment.
The 11th (Service) Battalion was formed at Ashton-under-Lyne in August 1914 as part of K1 (Kitchener’s First New Army) and came under orders of 34th Brigade, 11th (Northern) Division. The Battalion moved in April 1915 to Witley Camp, near Godalming, Surrey. On 30 June 1915 the Division sailed from Liverpool, going via Mudros and on to Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, disembarking on 6 August 1915. In December 1915 the Battalion was evacuated from Gallipoli and moved to Egypt via Imbros, and in July 1916 returned to France.
During the Gallipoli campaign the 11th Battalions lost 177 Officers and men killed or died of wounds (CWGC Records), 42 on 7 August, the day after they landed, when the Battalion attacked Lala Baba. 24 more were lost on 19 August.
[A full account of the Battalion’s actions in Gallipoli and Egypt can be read on the website named in Sources below.]
There is, however, no indication that Fred had joined the Regiment in Gallipoli and most likely was posted as a replacement on its return to France. During the various Battles of the Somme Fred’s Battalion suffered a further 155 Officers and men killed in action or died from wounds received. [CWGC Records]
Eighty-four of these casualties came in the last week of September 1916 when an attack was made on Zollern Redoubt.
The War Diary reported that : “The operations of 26th to the 30th September 1916 had cost the battalion 309 casualties and, at some point over these five days Fred Latham performed an act of bravery sufficient to warrant his award of the Military Medal. ”
[Again full details of this action can be read on the website named in Sources below.]
Fred was one of 14 men of the 11th Battalion killed on 5 October 1917. Six others, like him, have no known grave and are Commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.
The day, before Fred was killed the 11th Battalion were near Poelcappelle.
From the unpublished history: “ On 4th October, the 11th Division, supported by ten tanks of ‘D’ Battalion, advanced from their position south-west of the village up the gradual slope of Poelcappelle spur. Machine-gun fire from enemy strongpoints swept the area causing many casualties. The men pressed on, greatly assisted by the tanks and units of the 34th and 33rd Brigades entered the village of Poelcappelle, including the 11th Manchesters. Their objective was the western half of the village which was attained, while the tanks pressed on, driving the enemy garrisons from the rest of the village. ”
Also: “ .. only 11 men were killed on 5th October, one officer and two men died of wounds in hospital, the 11th Manchesters were shelled on morning of the 5th October, it died down by the afternoon, on the evening of the 5th/6th October, they were relieved by the 5th Dorsets and moved to shell holes near the blue line, they were shelled again on 6th October but only suffered a few casualties. ”
It is difficult to say whether Fred was killed on 4th or 5th October, but it’s safe to say that he in action during the capture of Poelcappelle at the time a V.C. was won.
During the advance 29-year old Sergeant 4926 Charles Harry Coverdale of the 11th Manchesters (later 2/Lieutenant) received the highest and most prestigious British award for gallantry in the face of the enemy, the Victoria Cross.
As stated above Fred was one of 14 men of the 11th Battalion killed on the 5th October 1917. Six others, like him, have no known grave and are Commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.
- I am grateful to John Hill for the photo of Fred’s name on the Tyne Cot Memorial
- Read more of the History of the 11th Battalion, Manchester Regiment, courtesy of Dave O’Mara and the unpublished battalion history.
- Contributions from ‘ The Manchester Regiment Group Forum ‘
- ‘The Lincolnshire Chronicle’ – 27 November 1915 and 3 November 1917, page 3
- ‘The Sleaford Gazette’ – 27 October 1917