Fred Shepherd

Fred Shepherd was born at Enford, near Pewsey, Wiltshire in 1883, the fifth surviving son of James and Harriett.  James worked as an agricultural labourer but died when Fred was in his teens, and Harriett became head of the household, working as a laundress, supported no doubt by her sons’ income. 

Most of the boys had followed James into farm work, including Fred, who worked as a carter.  However, these were times of great change for Enford, when partly due to the acquisition of local downland for military training - construction of Bulford Camp, some five miles from Enford, began in the 1890s - and a downturn in the availability of farm work following a change to dairying, the population of the village was falling significantly.

By 1901, Fred’s older brother Frank had already moved to the Newbury area, working as fogger (i.e. a farm labourer who feeds cattle) at Nalder Hill House, the residence of the local Agent for the Sutton Estate.  Many men in the Hoe Benham/Wickham Heath area were employees of the Sutton Estate at this time.  Fred then followed his brother at some point, and is shown on the 1911 census as a 27-year-old boarder at the house of William Spicer and his wife Elizabeth at Nalder Hill.  Both Fred and William’s occupation is listed as ‘labourer in woods’ for the Estate.

Fred enlisted for military service in Newbury, and his name first appears on the Welford parish Roll of Honour in October 1914.  He joined the 10th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment as a Private, regimental number 7095.  The 10th was a Service Battalion, formed for the duration of the war at Warwick in September 1914 as part of the second of Kitchener’s New Armies, and was assigned to 57th Brigade, 19th (Western) Division.

In September 1914 the units of 19th Division assembled around Bulford Camp; they completed their training in the Tidworth area in March 1915.

In July 1915 the 10th Royal Warwicks crossed to France with the Division.  Fred embarked on 18th July, and so was clearly part of the original draft of his Battalion.  They initially served in trenches near La Bassée until April 1916, then following a period of training they moved south to Albert in the Somme area in June of that year.

The 10th Royal Warwicks were to remain on the Western Front for the duration of the war.  During the Battle of the Somme, the Battalion was in the operational area between 1st July and 7th August and again between 7th October and the end of the battle on 18th November 1916; the following year, 19th Division was transferred north to take part in the Third Battle of Ypres.  Regrettably, we have no knowledge of Fred during this period, or of which actions he took part in.

On 21st March 1918 the Germans opened their offensive known as the ‘Kaiserschlacht’ (‘Kaiser’s Battle’), also known as the Second Battle of the Somme, or, to the British troops involved, the ‘March Retreat’.  The German infantry initially made spectacular progress using new infiltration tactics against ineffective and poorly organised defences in the southern sector of the attack; the British forces were forced steadily back, and in some sectors virtually wiped out, and with their losses threatening to leave an exposed flank, they began retiring to new defensive positions being prepared to the rear.

On the morning of 21st March, the 10th Royal Warwicks were in camp near Barastre, east of Bapaume.  In the afternoon they were sent forward to a position north-east of Vélu, put under command of the 154th Brigade, and given orders to hold to the last.  On the 22nd they were constantly shelled, with the line either side of them being gradually forced back.  The following day the Germans broke through just to the north at Beaumetz, and one unit after another was forced to retire, the Royal Warwicks doing so that afternoon, having lost more than half their number.  Even then, one Company, under Captain J.R. Gribble, insisted on sticking to their original orders and would not withdraw from the ridge they were holding, fighting on for several hours until overrun, and by doing so enabling the rest of their Brigade to withdraw.

Fred Shepherd was killed in action on Friday 22nd March 1918.  He is buried in the H.A.C. (Honourable Artillery Company) Cemetery at Ecoust St Mein, a few miles northwest of Beaumetz, which contains graves from a number of small British cemeteries in the area which were concentrated here after the Armistice.  He is commemorated on the War Memorials at both Welford and Enford.

Note: Fred’s surname appears as ‘Shepherd’ on the War Memorial, but as ‘Sheppard’ in the Newbury Weekly News, the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and in the Census returns.  The Parish magazine uses both spellings indiscriminately.  This type of discrepancy was not uncommon in the spelling of surnames at this time.