Fred's inscription at Thornham St James
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Date of Death:31/07/1917
Regiment:King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment)
Memorial:Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial
Panel Ref:Panel 12.
Fred Mills was born in the Buersil area of Rochdale in late 1897, the son of James & Elizabeth. Elizabeth was also from Buersil while James had been born in the Gravel Hole area of Thornham which was later incorporated into Royton.
Fred was their only surviving child, a sibling had died during infancy. Both Fred's parents worked in the cotton industry. The family lived on Oldham Road in Rochdale, just over the border from Royton. They attended St James' Church in Thornham which draws it's parishioners from both sides of the border. Fred was a member of it's Church Boys Brigade and also of the church choir. After he had left school he worked at the Roy Mill as a piecer.
Fred was enlisted into the army on May 13th 1916 and was originally a member of the 7th Lancashire Fusiliers, a reserve unit that had been raised in Rochdale in March the previous year. At some point between then and September 1916 he was transferred to the King's Own Royal Lancaster and was with it's 2nd/4th Battalion who at that time were based in Oswestry. He was allocated for active service on September 7th and two days later crossed from Folkestone to Boulogne before heading to the giant military camp the British Army had constructed at Etaples.
On September 20th Fred was sent to join the KORL's 7th Battalion. This unit had been on active service since July 1915 and amongst the men already killed serving with them was Royton man Joseph Barrett.
When Fred joined them the 7th Battalion were in the Somme sector and on October 5th they moved into the Ancre area.
Two weeks later Fred entered the front line for the first time. It was a truly miserable experience for all the men as the average depth of mud in the trenches was two feet! When it came their time to be relieved on November 1st it took 7.5 hours due to the appalling conditions the men found themselves in.
On November 12th the Battalion once more went into the front lines, just south of the River Ancre, but this time it was not just to man the positions but to take part in an attack the following day. This was the Battle of the Ancre, which was the final large British attack of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The 7th KORL were not to be one of the assault battalions of the 56th Brigade but were in close support to them. The attacking troops of the 56th Brigade took their objectives and the 7th Battalion were involved in digging in, throughout the day they had supplied carrying parties. Fred's unit took no further part in the battle but suffered through the now freezing temperatures until they were relieved on November 22nd.
Fred and his comrades spent the winter in the Arras area and were put to work for a while helping to build a light railway at Varennes. The Battalion then moved up towards Ypres in April as part of the British build up ahead of the Third Battle of Ypres - perhaps better known as the Battle of Passchendaele. The first stage in the British plan was an attack on the German positions south of Ypres at Messines Ridge. From this ridge the Germans could see over Ypres and would be able to
fire artillery down on the main British attack yet to come. The 7th KORL were to be one of the units engaged at Messines Ridge. On June 5th, A Company and a company of Royal Welsh Fusiliers took part in a trench raid and after that the men prepared for the main event. By the evening of the 6th they were in the final positions of assembly whilst the British bombardment rained down on the German positions. The attack was to start in the early hours of the 7th, aided by the detonation of massive amounts of explosives that had been mined underneath the Germans.
At 03:10 on the morning of July 7th ninenteen mines were exploded over the course of 30 seconds. A whole sheet of flame went up all along the front. The Germans had suspected that the British had been digging underneath them but were taken by surprise by the sheer scale of the British effort, 1 million tons of explosives were used. The three mines immediately ahead of Fred Mills' Battalion appeared to the men as three great columns rising out of the earth, growing ever higher with flames emerging from their stems. When all the earth, rocks and debris fell back to earth every British artillery gun opened fire. This curtain of fire, some 700 yards across, prevented any surviving German machine gunners from firing through it. The British and Dominion troops tasked with the assault surged forward. The main assaults took place on each flank and towards the centre, the 7th King's Own rushed forward and took their objectives without difficulty. The surviving Germans were completely shell shocked and either fled or surrendered, very few putting up any opposition. The Battalion began to dig in while other units passed through them to press home the attack.
They were brought up again in the late afternoon when they took part in a further advance. On June 10th they were involved in further fighting taking a small wood called Vanhoe copse. On the evening of June 12th the men were relieved from the front line and played no further part in the succesful battle. The Battalion had come through relatively unscathed for an assault unit in a major battle
on the Western Front - losses were put by the unit war diary at 7 officers wounded, 17 other ranks killed, 180 wounded and 16 missing.
After the battle Fred Mills and his comrades were out of the line for a period after their combat experience but were involved in fighting around a group of houses known as Junction Buildings from July 18th through to the 20th. They had been taking over support trenches behind the 9th Cheshire Regiment when the latter were attacked and lost control of the buildings to the Germans. The following day D Company of the 7th KORL were in support of a company of Royal Welsh Fusiliers who retook the buildings only to be forced out again two hours later.
On the 20th the Battalion relieved the 9th Cheshires in the front line and launched a couple of raids on the Germans and were later witness to a failed attack, with much loss, by men of the South Lancashire Regiment on Junction Buildings.
The Battle of Passchendaele began on July 31st and again the 7th KORL were play their part. They were part of a supporting attack to the right of the main British advance. There was no continuous line to be attacked with the facing Germans scattered in shell holes, strong points and short stretches of trenches. The 7th King's Own advanced on a front of nearly 700 yards at 03:50. There was surprisingly little opposition at first, Junction Buildings which only a short while ago had been so bitterly fought over fell quickly. In the confusion of the advance though the Battalion became stretched out with large gaps between it's companies, trouble was also had attempting to mop up any Germans bypassed by the advance.
A German counterattack came at 06:40 at the junction of the 7th KORL and their neighbours to the right, a battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. The Middlesex men were forced back to their original line of shell holes and chaos & confusion reigned amongst the 7th KORL. The Battalion's right flank was completely broken up with men scattered about and Germans in all directions. The men clung on until a defensive flank was finally formed on the right by a company of the 9th Welsh Fusiliers. The enemy attempted to assemble after that for further counter attacks but each time they were broken up by artillery and machine gun fire.
Many of the men of the 7th KORL were dead or wounded and sadly Fred Mills was one of those killed. Also killed was Royton born Charles Kearns, who lived in Shaw.
In late September Fred's parents received official notification that he had been killed. A corporal wrote to them to say he had found Fred lying beside the body of a comrade and he had buried them together. A further letter arrived from another soldier stating that judging by their position the two men
must have been hit together by shell fire and then crawled to the shell hole where they died.
On September 29th the following was posted in the Rochdale Observer:
A loving lad, so true and kind,
He always had us in his mind;
His sweet smile and his loving face,
No one on earth can fill his place.
We never thought when we said good0bye
We parted for ever and you were to die;
The grief that we fell words cannot tell
That we could not be with you to bid you farewell.
From his sorrowing Father and Mother
& then on October 13th
In loving memory of Private Fred Mills, KORL, who was killed in action July 31st;
aged 20 years
The midnight stars shine over the grave
Of a dear friend and soldier brave,
How dear, how brave we shall understand
When we meet again in a better land.
He died as he lived - noble and true.
From his sorrowing Friend Harry Simpson
the following year the following notices appeared together:
In loving memory of our only son, Fred Mills,who was killed July 31st 1917;aged
Just a little while and we shall meet
Our loved one gone before,
When we shall clasp his hand again
On yonder radiant shore.
We who loved you sadly miss you,
As it dawns another year;
In the lonely hours of thinking
Thought of you are ever near
From his sorrowful Mother and Father
584 Oldham Road
He nobly fell at duty's call,
His life he gave for one and all.
A loving nephew,good and kind,
A beautiful memory he's left behind.
From Uncle Jim and Aunt Hannah, and Cousins
Lily, Albert, and James (in Italy)
In loving remembrance of Private Fred Mills
Farewell, mother and father and friends so dear,
On earth we'll meet no more,
Till we be raised with Christ to dwell
On Zion's happy shore.
He died in Jesus and is blest,
How sweet his slumbers are;
From suffering and from pain released
And free from every care.
Far from this world of sin and care
He is present with the Lord;
The trials of a weary world
End in a rich reward.
Not forgotten by his loving Chum.
Private Harry Simpson (somewhere in France)
British soldiers stand looking into the huge mine crater at Messines Ridge, blown up on the morning of the battle. © IWM (Q 2325)
The men listed as dying alongside Fred & Charles Kearns that day were:
AINSWORTH RICHARD 27 Private 24585 from Barrow
ASHTON WILLIAM Private 23772 from London
BALL WILLIAM 25 Private 21219 from Oldham
BANKES WILLIAM Private 24597 born Liverpool,enlisted Blackpool
BATES THOMAS 21 Private 21557 born Padiham,enlisted Burnley
BEACHCROFT GERALD 2nd Lt
BOTT JOHN 25 Lance Serjeant 10147 from Eccles
BROOKES CLIFFORD 26 Private 24255 from Pendlebury
BURNS MICHAEL Private 23106 from Warrington
CAMPBELL ROBERT 28 Lance Corporal 21575 from Blackburn
CARDEN FRANK 22 Private 26120 from Whitefield
CARTWRIGHT WILLIAM Private 22805 from Warrington
CAVEY EMMANUEL Lance Corporal 15472 from Oldham
COOK SAMUEL Private 26119 from Marsden
CORCORAN JOHN Private 10131 born Rochdale,enlisted Manchester
DAVIES THOMAS 30 Serjeant 12445 from Salford
DICKINSON ALBERT 30 Private 14135 born Cartmell,enlisted Lancaster
DICKINSON EDWARD Lance Corporal 24584 from Ulverston
DODD WALTER 24 Lance Corporal 32599 from Cumberland
DODDS FREDERICK Private 23658 from Burnley
DODGSON HAROLD Private 32511 born Yorkshire,enlisted Preston
DRAPER SAMUEL 26 Private 33183 from Nottingham
DRINKWATER ERNEST 34 Private 27437 from Salford
DRUMMOND JOHN Lance Serjeant 21544 born Chile, enlisted Liverpool
DUERDEN ARTHUR 20 Private 32606 from Great Harwood
DYSON JOSIAH 20 Private 26751 from Oldham
ENTWISTLE JOSEPH Private 24337 born Heaton Mersey,enlisted Lytham
EVANS FREDERICK 25 Private 26713 from Manchester
EVANS WILLIAM Private 17312 from Manchester
FIELDING ERNEST Private 24618 from Bolton
FOLLOWS ARTHUR 19 Corporal 11436 from Stafford
FYFE JOSEPH 35 Private 23095 from Hyde
GOODIER WILLIAM 24 Private 13451 from Fleetwood
GOULDING ALBERT 30 Private 27386 from Blackburn
HARRISON JOHN Private 21896 enlisted Workington
HATTON ALBERT 22 Private 20141 from Nottingham
HIBBERT HENRY 25 Private 27440 from Pendleton
HINCHY SAMUEL 38 Private 26705 from Manchester
HOTCHKISS WILLIAM Private 22866 born Wolverhampton,enlisted Hyde
HOUGH RALPH Private 24450 from Wigan
HOYLE ALBERT Private 24480 born Yorkshire,enlisted St Anne's on Sea
IRVING JOHN 20 Private 18084 from Cumberland
KAY JAMES 32 Private 24862 from Accrington
LAUNDER HAROLD 24 Private 12943 from Blackpool
LEWIS ALBERT 20 Lance Corporal 30219 from Ulverston
MASON RICHARD Private 14145 from Accrington
MAWDSLEY THOMAS 20 Private 14013 from Preston
MAYOR JOSEPH Lance Corporal 12707 from Blackpool
McFADYEN ROBERT 23 Private 26720 born Manchester,enlisted Salford
METCALF JAMES 26 Lance Serjeant 32593 born Kendal,enlisted Carlisle
MITCHELL JOHN 35 Private 4076 born Barrow, enlisted Rochdale
NICHOLSON FREDERICK 25 Private 33496 born Dalton,enlisted Lancaster
PARKES FRED Private 24571 born Manchester,enlisted Blackpool
PARKIN ERNEST 22 Private 13677 born Cape Town,enlisted Ulverston
POTTER WILFRED 22 Corporal 10227 from Manchester
RAPER FREDERICK 35 Lance Serjeant 30204 from London
RICE FRANCIS Lance Corporal 23905 enlisted Barrow
RIXSON FRANK 20 Lance Corporal 32632 born Bury,enlisted Barrow
ROTHWELL ROBERT Serjeant 4244 from Manchester
SCARFFE JAMES 23 Private 26781 from Oldham
SHIRLEY RALPH Serjeant 30207 born Leek,enlisted Ashbourne
STONE HENRY Private 26843 from Greenwich
SUTCLIFFE JOSEPH Private 23109 from Warrington
TENNANT JOHN 21 Private 32633 from Burnley
WHELAND FRED Private 26740 from Manchester
WICKHAM JOHN 2nd Lt
WIGLEY HERBERT 36 Lieutenant from Buckinghamshire