11th November 1886 – 22nd July 1917
Fred Marsden was an incomer; he didn’t come from Pleasington, Feniscowles or even Cherrytree.He was born and raised in a village called Winster just to the north of Kendal. Well you couldn’t really call it a village more a scattering of houses around a cross roads. It did have all the essential though, a church, a post office, a school and of course a pub.
He was brought up at a house called Low House Beck in Winster with Dad, John, Mum, Mary and five sisters. He was born on the 11th Nov 1886 and was baptised in Holy Trinity Church on 9th October 1887. Yes if you have worked it out Remembrance Day is his birthday. He went to school at the village school which was just up the road from where he lived and next to the church.
When he left school he got a job as a gardener at the big house down the lane, Birkett Houses. It seems that he stayed here for a good few years until the family moved to Longridge. Moving around wasn’t unusual as Dad was from Cockerham and Mum from Glasson Dock. It was while he was living here that the time came for him to enlist. So on the 10th December 1915 he went into Preston and signed up for the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.
Shortly after this the family again moved, this time to School Moor Farm in Pleasington and it was from here that on the 27th March 1916 he got called up and was posted to the 1/4th Battalion the next day.
The battalion was based down in Seven Oaks where he was to complete his basic training and five months later in August they embarked at Folkestone for the short trip to Boulogne and for Fred the war had now really began.
He joined the battalion when they were in billets at Dernancourt which was in the Flanders area of Belgium. In what was described a quiet month the battalion lost 36 men killed, 219 wounded and 82 missing. In October they moved up into the Ypres Salient a bulge in the front line which meant that they were surrounded by Germans on three sides. For some of the time they were in the ramparts of Ypres Town, old fortifications some fifty feet high and wide. The tunnels inside were cramped, damp, over crowed, rat infested but you were fairly safe from attack unless it was a gas attack.
Over the next few months they moved up and down from the front line, but most of the time was spent sending up working parties at night to build and repair the trenches.On Christmas Eve they were relieved from the front line and returned to Ypres Town were they were billeted in the old Magazine another large secure bunker of a place. It was here that Fred spent his last Christmas with a splendid meal of pork and goose, followed by plum pudding and beer to wash it all down and all served by the officers.From Christmas until June the routine was the same three or four days right up in the front line followed by several day further back where you could relax, wash and do some more training as well as taking part in working parties at night.
The whole time there was radon shelling and rifle fire all along the line so you could never fell completely safe at anytime. Gas was always a threat and both side had no compulsion in using it on each other with casualties on both sides.
On the 7th June the next big push started with nineteen huge mines of about four hundred tons of explosives being set off under the German lines.
On the 11th they were relieved from the front line and were able to go back and bathe. Some men had been wearing the same clothes for three weeks.
On the 17th July the bombardment for the third battle of Ypres commenced and of course the Germans returned the fire causing some casualties along the line. One shell entered the Colonel’s dug out blowing him out but without injuring him. On the 21st one shell exploded and killed nine men and wounded 14 others.
The 1/4th Battalion was not to be the first over the top but their job was to follow up the first and second wave and move through them to take the line of German concrete machine guns post that were a mile or so behind the front line.At 3.50am the attack started and the first troops went forward behind a creeping barrage.At 7.30 the battalion moved off, it was misty and low cloud so the artillery fire from the Germans was random and few people were killed or injured. All went well with the platoons spread out in good order they went through what was left of the German lines and wire. German machine gunners and snipers were becoming more of a problem as the British barrage with was getting lighter as they troops moved beyond the range of the smaller guns.
The objective of taking the Germans’ lines had been achieved but ammunition was very low and when the Germans counter attacked the unit withdrew in fighting order until they was supported by the next wave coming forward and a new front line was set up.At 10.00pm the unit was relieved and able to move back from the front line.
During the day the rain had started and all the pictures you have seen of mud in the trenches were soon the reality of the whole area, with men, pack mules and guns disappearing into shell holes full of mud never to resurface.
The day had been a success, if that word can be used about any event in the First World War, but the cost to the battalion was 49 killed, 185 wounded and 77 missing. Our Fred was one of the missing and his body was never found.
He doesn’t have a grave but he is commemorated on the Menin Gate along with 55,000 other service men who died and were never found.
Many thanks to Kathleen and John Marsden for their help in putting this story of Fred together.