Researched and written by Anne Wright
Pte F W Matthews
9th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment
Killed in action, 26.9.1915
Frederick William Matthews’ experience of war was brief; on 23 August 1915 he was having trench warfare training on Chobham Common and just over a month later he was dead. He was the second of ten children born to Arthur and Ellen (nee Harrington) who were both born in Surrey and married in early 1890. Two children died in infancy; those who survived besides Frederick were Herbert, Etta, Sidney, Kate, Leslie, Maude and Hilda. Frederick was born on 21June 1891 at Oatlands Park and baptised a few weeks later on 2 August at St. Mary’s, Oatlands. His father was a carpenter and joiner and the family home by 1911 was at 4, Bracken Cottages, Waverley Road, Weybridge. After leaving St James’ School Frederick began training to be a gardener.
He enlisted at Weybridge and was posted to the 9th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment in the 24th Division. The advance party of the battalion headed to Southampton on 30 August 1915 for embarkation to Le Havre, followed by the bulk of the force on 31 August who embarked from Folkestone to Boulogne where they arrived at 1.35 am the next day. By 4 September they were billeted in farm buildings and houses at Humbert (19 km from Etaples) where they remained until 22 September. During this period the battalion established the logistics of being in the field as well as practising shooting and bombing. Regulations were enforced – an order of 16 September declared that all cameras were to be returned to Britain!
Having left Humbert, Frederick and his comrades spent the next four days on the move until they marched through Vermelles on 25 September. The Battle of Loos began on this day; it was an attempt to make a crucial breakthrough before winter set in. The British launched a wide frontal attack and by the end of the first day a substantial breach had been made through the German first line around Loos but at a high cost. Reinforcements were required; the reserves were ordered forward including Frederick’s 24th Division. Soon after 4 am on 26 September the 6th Battalion of the East Surrey’s was ordered to move forward to occupy German support trenches which had been captured the day before. An attempt to bring rations up to them failed because of enemy shell fire. At 10.20 am the 6th Battalion received orders to attack at 11 am. They were part of the front firing line. The attack began on time; Frederick and his companions moved forward, some got up to the enemy trenches, but the wire was not cut so it was impossible to get through although several attempts were made. Casualties were very heavy at this point as they were at the mercy of German machine gun cross fire. A German regimental history relates that, ‘Never had machine guns such straightforward work to do, nor done so effectively. With barrels burning hot and swimming in oil, they traversed along the enemy’s ranks unceasingly; one machine gun fired over 12,500 rounds that afternoon.’ Frederick was one of 452 casualties suffered by the East Surreys: 14 officers and 438 other ranks. They had moved forward in extended lines just as if they were on parade; they were mowed down in their hundreds.
The battalion was held too far back from the British front line and having marched 50 miles to get to the battle zone were already tired when they went into their first action. They paid a heavy price. Frederick’s body was not recovered; he is commemorated on the Loos Memorial (Panel 65-67). His father died in 1940 and his mother in 1943 by which time she was living in Addlestone. His eldest brother Herbert maintained a long connection with Weybridge; he died in the local hospital in 1959. His home at the time was in Curzon Close.
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
Memorial to the Masters and Old Boys of St James’ School, Weybridge Who Fell in the Great War 1914-1918, St James’ Church
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations) 1858-1966, 1973-1995, www.ancestry.co.uk
Matthews Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk