Fred Taylor’s Story
Killed during his first spell in the trenches
Fred was registered as Frederick Octavius Taylor in the summer of 1896. I don’t know why he should have been called Octavius. He was not the Taylor’s eighth child but the third. However, there is only one Frederick Taylor registered in the Yeovil area at that time, so I believe it must be him.
His father, Owen, and his three brothers were all born in Stoke sub Hamdon. His mother, Emily Ann was born in Over Stratton.
Fred’s father, Owen, was brought up in a largely female family, consisting of his grandmother, mother and aunt. His childhood was spent in Lower Street, Stoke and his family were glovers. He married Emily Ann Saunders in 1883 and by 1891 they were living in West Street with their first son, Cecil, aged one year. Owen was still working in gloving. Ten years later, they were still living in West Street. Cecil was 11, Evan 9, Fred 5 and Ernest one year. Owen was working as an Insurance Agent.
The Taylor family had moved to Footlands by the time of the 1911 census. Owen was aged 50 and still working as an Insurance Agent. Cecil was working as a grocer assistant, Evan as an iron moulder in an iron foundry and Fred – now aged 15 – as a cycle fitter in a cycle works. Vernon Richards had a cycle shop in the village so perhaps Fred started out here but before he was called up in December 1916, he was working for Messrs Stevens at “South Harp, South Petherton” (near Over Stratton) making shoes for army mules and horses.
There was a George Stevens and his family living in Lower Stratton in 1911 – blacksmiths and cycle agents. Fred’s grandfather, John Saunders, lived in South Harp in 1861, farming nine acres. His mother was born there. There were evidently still family connections with the place. Fred’s parents must have hoped that, with Fred working for the army, he would not have to serve overseas. Sadly, he was called up in December 1916 when he was 20, and was killed in action on 4th August 1917.
When he was called up in December 1916, he enlisted in Taunton in the 8th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The 8th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were in the 49th Brigade of the 16th (Irish) Division. They landed in France in February 1916.
Fred had only been in France for about a month when he was killed on 4th August 1917 and so he would have arrived too late for the Battle of Messines and died before the Battle of Langemarck took place.
The war diary for the 8th Battalion describes the battalion being in bivouacs at Vlamertinghe on 1st August. At 11.30 a.m., they moved back to their previous position in Red Rose Camp, arriving at 1.00 p.m. The Battalion was in the Corps Reserve.
On 3rd August, Headquarters, A & C companies moved to the support of 47th I.B. in Forward Area. At 5.30 p.m. B & D companies moved forward and occupied Cambridge Trench.
On 4th August (the day that Fred died) the Battalion was still in the Forward area. There was intermittent shelling by the enemy at intervals through the day and night, with very marked enemy aerial activity – 29 aeroplanes were observed over Lancer Farm.
Between 3rd and 8th August, 20 Other Ranks were killed, 40 died of wounds, 70 were wounded and 7 were missing. Fred was one of the men who was killed.
For almost the entire period of the First World War the village of Potijze was held by the Commonwealth forces but stood directly behind the Allied trenches and was well within range of German guns. It was here that soldiers entered the communication and support trenches that led to the front-line. Although subject to constant shell fire Potijze Chateau, a country house dating from the nineteenth century, remained intact throughout the war and was occupied and used by Commonwealth troops. In the spring of 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, it was headquarters of the 27th Division, then under the command of Major-General Thomas D’Oyly Snow. The ground floor was later used as an Advanced Dressing Station while the first floor, which commanded views of the German lines, served as an observation post. For much of the war the Chateau was surrounded by a cluster of dug-outs and trenches and a large shed on the grounds, known to soldiers as ‘Lancer Farm’, housed ammunition and trench stores. Working parties would pause here to collect tools, coils of barbed wire, duckboards, bombs and other supplies before moving up the line.
There was particularly heavy fighting in the vicinity of Potijze in August 1917 during the opening phase of the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as ‘Passchendaele’. A young officer serving with the Manchester Regiment later recalled the devastation caused to the landscape around the Chateau by the relentless British and German artillery fire:
‘This was a country where the desire to kill and destroy had developed to an unimaginable intensity. Nothing of use was to be left by either side, and every yard of ground almost was searched by the gunners to carry out their cruel game.’
[Commonwealth War Graves]
Father William Doyle was chaplain to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in the 16th Irish Division. He died in the Battle of Langemarck shortly after Fred was killed.
His concern for the men was clear in his letters and diary. This is an excerpt:
“I found the dying lad – he was not much more- so tightly jammed into a corner of the trench that it was almost impossible to get him out. Both legs were smashed, one in two or three places, so his chances of life were small, and there were other injuries as well. What a harrowing picture that scene would have made. A splendid young soldier, married only a month they told me, lying there, pale and motionless in the mud and water with the life crushed out of him by a cruel shell. The stretcher bearers hard at work binding up as well as they may, his broken limbs; round about a group of silent Tommies looking on and wondering when will their turn come. Peace for a moment seems to have taken possession of the battlefield, not a sound save the deep boom of some far-off gun and the stifled moans of the dying boy, while as if anxious to hide the scene, nature drops her soft mantle of snow on the living and dead alike.”
On 24th August, the Western Gazette printed the following:
Private F Taylor killed in action. On Monday morning Mrs O Taylor of Footlands received the sad official news that her third son, Private Frederick Taylor, of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, had been killed in action on August 4th. Private Taylor, who was 21 years of age, previous to being called up in December last, was employed by Messrs C & [?] Stevens, South Harp, South Petherton, where he had been making horse and mule shoes for the Army. He had only been in France about a month, and was killed during his first spell in the trenches. Much sympathy is expressed for the bereaved family.
And on 31st August….
Mr & Mrs Taylor desire to thank their many friends for their kind expressions of sympathy with them in their sad bereavement.
Fred is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres, along with other Stoke lads: John Stagg, Fred Trott and Percy Wines.
The following list contains information about Fred Taylor. Click on the document name to open a pdf of the document.