Fred Somerville

Date of birth:   1887
Place of birth:  Freemantle, Bournemouth
Service No.:  18339
Rank:  Sapper
Regiment / Division:   Royal Engineers
Battalion:  3rd Fortress Convoy
Died: 9th October 1914 aged 27 years
Death location:   France & Flanders

Military Service

The enlistment and service papers of Fred Somerville have not survived. In 1911 Fred Somerville aged 24, was enumerated with his comrades of the 4th company Royal Engineers at Haslar Barracks Gosport.  He was employed as a telephonist and is ranked as a sapper.  A sapper, also called pioneer or combat engineer, is a combatant or soldier who performs a variety of military engineering duties such as bridge-building, laying or clearing minefields, demolitions, field defenses and general construction, as well as road and airfield construction and repair. They are also trained to serve as infantry personnel in defensive and offensive operations. A sapper’s duties involve facilitating movement of allied forces and impeding those of enemies.

In WW1 Fred Somerville served as a sapper in the Royal Engineers (service number:18339) He was mobilised in August 1914, and was drafted to Belgium where he took part in the defence of Antwerp.

The defence of Antwerp German General von Boseler was given the task of capturing Antwerp.  Assigned a force of five divisions of mostly reserve forces and 173 guns, artillery bombardment began firing upon the outer south-east forts on 28 September.  As at Liege and at Namur, the use of heavy guns such as the powerful Big Bertha (a 420mm siege howitzer), effectively put the forts out of commission.

The British Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, viewed with great disquiet the siege of Antwerp, fearful that once the city and its forts had been captured the German forces would quickly move towards the channel ports, possibly threatening Britain itself.

Consequently the British, led by Asquith, Kitchener (the Minister for War), Grey (the Foreign Secretary) and Churchill (the First Lord of the Admiralty), decided on 1 October to re-deploy a division of troops originally intended for the British Expeditionary Force led by Sir John French.

On 2 October the Germans succeeded in penetrating two of the city’s forts.  Churchill was sent to Antwerp to provide a first-hand report on the situation there.  Leaving London that night he spent three days in trenches and fortifications around the city.  He reported to Kitchener on 4 October that Belgian resistance was weakening with morale low.

Receiving a request from the Belgian government for more assistance, the British dispatched a further 6,000 Royal Navy troops, 2,000 on 4 October and 4,000 on the following day.  The original division of 22,000 troops were also en route for Ostend.

Landing at Ostend on 6 October the British naval forces were too late; the Belgian government relocated from Antwerp to Ostend the same day, with the city itself evacuated the following day under heavy artillery bombardment, formerly surrendered by its Military Governor, General Victor Deguise to the Germans on 10 October.

Fred Somerville died from his wounds on 9th October 1914 aged 27 years after less than 2 months of service, and is buried in A14 Ghent City Cemetery East Flanders, Belgium.

He was posthumously awarded the Victory medal, the British medal and 1914 Star medal in recognition of his services to his country and is inscribed on the cenotaph at Southampton “lest we forget”. The bronze Star campaign medal of the British Empire was awarded for service in World War One.  Also known as the Mons Star.  This medal was sometimes irreverently referred to as ‘Pip’. The silver British War Medal was awarded for service in World War One.  Also called the British Empire campaign medal, it was sometimes irreverently referred to as ‘Squeak’. The bronze Victory medal, also called the Inter Allied Victory Medal was awarded to those who received the British War Medal. This medal was sometimes irreverently referred to as ‘Wilfred’.

Life before the war

Fred Somerville was born in 1887 in Bournemouth the third child to John Somerville, born 1850, bricklayer and wife Hester nee Strickland born 1850 who had married in 1873 in Southampton. Their marriage was registered in South Stoneham in December quarter GRO reference vol2c page101.  John Somerville did not complete the 1911 census boxes for the number of years married or total children born. The following children of John and Hester are confirmed from parish records: 1. Beatrice Annie Somerville was born in 1874.  In 1891 aged 16 she was employed as a scullery maid for the Hammonds in Landsridge, Gervis Road East, Bournemouth.  In 1901 she was employed as a cook at 15Carlton Road, Southampton.  In 1906 she married Francis Charles Frampton.  They had two children.  Widowed in 1929,  Beatrice Annie Frampton died on the 17th March 1955 aged 80.  She left her son £164 19s 7d. 2. Ida Lillian Somerville was born in February 1881.  No death or marriage information was found.  She last appears on the 1891 census aged 10. 3. Fred Somerville was born in 1887 4. Ivor Somerville was born in August 1891.  in 1911 he was enumerated as a member of the crew of the steam packet boat Hessel in Jersey.  The vessel was a cargo steamer for Southampton gas works.  On 27th November 1914 aged 24 Ivor employed as a stevedore, enlisted in the Army Service Corps (service number SS/4930) and then the 721 labour Corps (service number 302285).  His service record survives.  He was awarded the 1914 star, British war and Victory medals on 21st July 1921.  On 20th October 1917 he married Ethel N Humby.  No death information has been found.

In 1881 the family lived at 51 St Mary Magdelene Street, Brighton with their two young daughters.  John was employed as an assistant laundry inspector. In 1891 the family had moved to 2 Cubar Villa, Glouster Place, Freemantle, Boscombe, Bournemouth.  John was employed as a bricklayer. In 1901 the family had moved to 10 Cecil Avenue, Shirley, Southampton.  Father John was still employed as a bricklayer whilst son Fred was employed as a carpenters apprentice: In 1911 John and Hester Somerville were still at 10 Cecil Road, home without children or visitors, John still employed as a bricklayer aged 64.

His mother Hester died in the second quarter of 1911 aged 61. His father john died in the autumn of 1915 aged 66.

Researched by DHW – 7th July 2013 If you have any more information about the above named person, or any other name listed on this website or Southampton’s Cenotaph, please email, or telephone 023 8086 9599 and we will contact you.  Many thanks.

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