Tuesday, 31 May 2016

No News of Fred: sad tale of a soldier on the Somme

No News of Fred at Bristol Cathedral
Quite what my Great-Uncle Fred would have thought I don't know, but 100 years after he was killed at the Battle of  Somme aged 19, his story is being told in an exhibition at Bristol Cathedral.

And the story-teller is me, the great-niece he never knew.

After countless hours poring over old family letters, postcards, a diary and newspaper cuttings, along with accounts written by men from his battalion who survived the fighting, I've managed to piece together the story of Fred's final weeks in France before he met his end on 1st July 1916 - the first day of the Somme.
'We imagine his tense wait in the assembly trenches at dawn, waiting for the whistle to blow ... clambering over parapets to face the enemy on No Man’s Land ... the wholesale slaughter of lines of men, mown down by machine guns and shells ... and Fred’s probable fate, as revealed in the diary of his older brother Edwin, who was also serving in the trenches ... 'No news of Fred' - Bristol Cathedral
On that day alone, a staggering 19,240 British men were killed – the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. Among them was Fred.

Frederick Wood grew up in the Easton district of Bristol and was my grandfather's younger brother. Fred was one of the thousands of volunteers who answered Lord Kitchener's call to enlist, and he served as a private in the 1st Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry. On 1st July he was one of the first to go ‘over the top’, and also one of the first to die after being mortally wounded while advancing towards German lines. His body was never found.

'FW Wood' - my great-uncle's name
remembered on his school memorial
(Courtesy of Jack Williams)
Today Fred's name is remembered on the magnificent Thiepval Memorial in Picardy, and in the Golden Book of Remembrance at Wells Cathedral, Somerset. He is also one of 112 'old boys' listed on a memorial erected by his old school, the Hannah More School in St Philips, Bristol. Sadly the memorial itself is now lost, but this photo (left) still survives.

My exhibition -‘No News of Fred’ - is the culmination of several years of research to discover who my great-uncle was, and his sad tale is told in my book Letters from the Trenches - along with the poignant stories of many more families just like mine.

'No News of Fred'  will be running all summer, from 1st June until 31st August, and admission is free. Fred's story is told in five sweeping posters, beautifully designed by Paul Wilkinson of Pen and Sword Books, my publisher. In a separate display case, old photos, cards and letters are on show. On 18th August I'll be giving a lunchtime talk in the  Chapter House about Fred's short life. Tickets are £3 and can be bought from the Cathedral Shop or online.

Bristol Cathedral
'No News of Fred'  is being presented as part of Bristol Cathedral's WWI remembrance project We Have Our Lives. I dedicate the exhibition to all those young lads in the Somerset Light Infantry who, like Fred, fought and died for their country in the 1914-1918 war...
"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning: We will remember them."


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