Researched and written by Anne Wright
Pte A E Freer
11th Battalion, Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment
Killed in action, 9.4.1917
Arthur Edgar Freer’s parents both hailed from Leicestershire where they were married at Barrow upon Soar in 1884. At this time, David Freer, Arthur’s father, was a clerk but later became a gardener. He and his wife Elizabeth (nee Roberts) had six children, one of whom died. Arthur was the youngest surviving child. He had two brothers and two sisters: George, Francis, Margaret and Alice. Arthur was born on 20 April 1895 in Weybridge and was baptised there at St. James’ Church on 16 February 1902. The family home was Ivy Cottage in Gascoyne Road. By 1911 they still resided at the same address and Arthur, a former pupil of St James’ School (Baker Street), now aged 15, had begun his working life as a watchmaker’s apprentice. He was probably employed by either of the two watchmakers in Weybridge, Arthur Hills of Baker Street or Thomas Richard Knibbs of High Street.
Arthur enlisted at Stratford in Essex which is also noted as his place of residence. He did not see service against the Germans during 1914-15 as he was not awarded the 1914-15 Star campaign medal. Arthur was posted to the 11th Battalion, the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment, in the 36th Brigade of the 12th (Eastern) Division. He was likely to have been with them at the Battle of Albert (the first phase of the Battle of the Somme, 1916) when they attacked and held lines at Ovillers on 7 July. They were withdrawn on 9 July but their Division had suffered 4765 casualties.
Arthur and his colleagues moved to the Arras sector on 14 January 1917 already aware that they were to be involved in a major offensive. Troops of the British Empire were to attempt to break through German lines to the east of Arras and to remove them from Vimy Ridge their possession of which threatened British lines of communication. The task of Arthur’s division was to capture the enemy’s forward position and then go on to the Wancourt-Feuchy trench. The British artillery began their bombardment on 4 April. Many of the infantry were able to approach the front line through long tunnels leading out of Arras. On 9 April the ground attack began with the advance being made behind a creeping barrage; the first Battle of Scarpe had begun. All seemed to go well, the leading troops captured the German front line trench but enemy fire increased as successive waves came through. Arthur’s division remained in position as snow and fleet fell. The 37th Division then pushed through to continue the advance. The Divisional front was pushed 4000 yards ahead and Vimy Ridge was taken by the Canadians but Arthur was among those who were killed in action on the first day of the battle.
He has no known grave and is commemorated with thousands of others on the Arras Memorial (Bay 7). Neither of his brothers died in the war, his eldest sibling, George, served in the Home Guard in the Second World War. David and Elizabeth Freer remained in Gascoyne Road until at least 1928. They died within a year of each other, Elizabeth in 1943 and David in 1944.
British Army Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915, www.ancestry.co.uk
Kelly’s Directory 1911, Surrey, UK, City and County Directories, 1766-1946, www.ancestry.co.uk
Memorial to the Masters and Old Boys of St James’ School, Weybridge Who Fell in the Great War of 1914-1918, St James’ Church
Surrey, England, Church of Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – 12th (Eastern) Division, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919, www.ancestry.co.uk