Heath Old Boys Association


Obituaries


Frederick William Oswald Fleming: [Heath 1905–1912]

Frederick Fleming experienced the horror of one of the first gas attacks.

He was born on at Fern Dean, Halifax. His father, F W Fleming, was a partner in a Corn Merchants. He attended Heath from to . After leaving school be became a dyer and appears to have been employed by Ackroyd and Grandage, Bradford, at the time he enlisted.

Service history: he enlisted in into 4th Battalion West Riding Regiment. He was appointed a second lieutenant and sailed for the Western front in .

Fate: he was gassed on near Ypres and died the next day aged 19 and was buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery.

He was in the first line trenches and under orders to retreat to enable a gun bombardment to begin when the gas attack began at about 5.30 am. Being in the last party to withdraw, he was among those first affected by the gas.

Brigadier Gen. Brereton, in a letter written on the day of his death said:

Your boy I had often met. He was for a time Bomb-Officer, and I saw him in the trenches only a few days ago. I hear he was shaping so well and gave promise of being a good officer. I cannot tell you how intensely shocked and grieved I am to lose a promising young officer under such circumstances.

Another officer wrote:

He was a great favourite with us all. His cheerful disposition and heroic death will live for ever in the minds of those who knew him. The young life he gave will not go unavenged.

A telegram from Buckingham Palace read:

The King and Queen deeply regret the loss you and the army have sustained by the death of your son in the service of his country. His Majesties truly sympathise with you in your sorrow.

Keeper of the Privy Purse

There were also tributes from fellow officers, William Edwards, Headmaster of Heath Grammar School and Ackroyd and Grandage.

This was one of the early gas attacks. Three personal accounts recount the horror and tragedy of this event.

  1. Ephraim Atkinson had survived the gas attack and been sent home to recuperate in Halifax. The newspaper report in the Courier tells us how he struggled to make the journey home to his family and then collapsed with pneumonia and pleurisy on Christmas Day and subsequently died:—

    One can scarcely conceive of a more touching tragedy than the vision of this brave man looking forward for weeks to the meeting with wife and children and the homely chat beside the fireside, then bent with pain, assisted by his comrades to far-away Halifax, only to collapse, lose consciousness, ramble into incoherency about battles, bombs, pals and water bottles and then die.
  2. Private Alfred Sykes recounted how they were

    aroused by the call of gas. We adjusted our smoke helmets and then got into our proper position in the reserve trenches. Then the awful news began to creep through. ‘So and so is gassed, another killed, and another wounded,’ for we got a terrific shelling besides the gas. I heard early on, three of my best friends being gassed. I think they died in their sleep.
  3. Captain P.G. Bales would later describe the gas attack in his history of the 4th Battalion West Riding Regiment. He reflects on the impact this gas attack had on the 4th Battalion West Riding Regiment which had been the local Halifax territorial battalion.

    ... At 5:30 am, flares suddenly shot up all along the enemy lines ... evidently a signal for the attack to begin. Immediately, what is described by survivors as a ‘sizzling’ noise was heard, a greenish white cloud appeared over the enemy parapet and began to drift towards the British lines, and a terrific bombardment with artillery and trench mortars was opened ... Great damage had been done to the trenches and every telephone line was broken. And over all drifted that deadly cloud. Many men were caught in their shelters and gassed before they could be alarmed. Others were caught on their way back from the line and suffered terribly ... Soon gongs and horns were crashing out their warning, while men frenziedly adjusted the helmets ... And so the Battalion’s first stay in the Ypres salient came to an end ... There in the vicinity of Ypres, the original Battalion, which had mobilised, trained, and gone out to fight, was disbanded. Its men were scattered in a dozen cemeteries and scores of hospitals.

With thanks to David Millichope