In the summer of 2001 I found a badly corroded metal disc in the paddock behind my house in South Cerney, a village near Cirencester, Gloucestershire I thought little about it at the time. One day I pulled it out, cleaned it up and got part of the writing that was on it. It intrigued me. It was a soldier's identity disc, a dog-tag. Some of the letters and numbers were illegible but judging from its condition it must have belonged to a soldier in the First World War, it was a Canadian soldier as his Regiment, 5 C.M.R. was clearly discernable. It has taken me the best part of four years to trace and identify this young soldier.
The Life of 114816 Private Fredrick John Hothersoll
Fred Foster was born at 2 Portland Mews South, Marylebone on 17 Oct 1892. His father John Foster was the valet to the 11th Lord Napier and Ettrick and his mother was Eliza Ann Foster nee Rule.
Some 8 years later in the 1901 Census the eight year old Fred is shown living with his mother as the stepson of George Otley at 4 Bonar Terrace, Camberwell. Presumably his father had died?
Then on 17 July 1902 at the age of 10 years he left Liverpool on the SS New England with 29 other children bound for Boston arriving on 25 July 1902. The Party were Dr Barnardo's Home Children; a scheme to give orphaned or children in care the chance of a new life in Canada. From Boston he moved to Ontario. He was placed with Thomas Murphy and his sister Mary Kelly and worked as a domestic and farm labourer in the Township of Storrington.
When the First World War started Fred responded to the call to
arms made in 1914 by enlisting in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary
His next of kin was recorded as Frank Waller, a friend living
in Swift Current, Saskatchewan
Fred Foster completed his basic training at Swift Current and in June 1915 he moved to Sewell for more advanced training. His records show that 9 CMR was still mounted at that time as on 10 Aug 1915 he was thrown from a horse and broke both bones in one of his legs at the ankle. He was discharged from hospital thirty-six days later on 15 Sep 1915.
His pay documents show he was paid at the rate of a dollar per
day and that he assigned twenty dollars per month to Miss "Gussie"
Waller a friend living in Swift Current. This Miss Ella Augusta Maud
Waller is the daughter of his Canadian next-of-kin.
In Nov 1915 the Regiment moved to St John, New Brunswick where on 22 Nov 1915 they embarked on the Anchor Line ship the S.S. California They sailed for England the following day arriving at Plymouth on 2 Dec 1915. Then the Regiment was moved by rail to Bramshot Camp near Aldershot arriving there on 3 Dec 1915
Whilst they were stationed at Bramshot with losses in France increasing at an alarming rate a decision was made that 9 CMR would not be sent to the French Theatre of Operations as a unit. Instead the men would be sent out as reinforcements for other Canadian infantry battalions that had been involved in the heavy fighting. So on 28 Jan 1916 Fred and eleven other soldiers from 9 CMR left England and on the following day landed in France and were taken on strength of the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifle Battalion.
Three days before he sailed to France Fred made out a Military
Will dated the 25 Jan 1916 which stated "I hereby leave all my
Personal Property to Miss Gussie Waller of Swift Current, Saskatchewan,
Pte F.J.H.Foster's Will
He also changed his Assigned Pay of twenty dollars per month to a Mrs G Rule, Camrose Cottage, Giggs Hill, Thames Ditton, Surrey, England. This lady I found was his mother's niece.
On 7 Feb 1916 the reinforcements left the Canadian Base Depot and joined 5 CMR in the field. For the next four months Fred was continually fighting with his unit in the trenches as a part of the 3rd Canadian Division. On the 1 Jun 1916 after a few days rest 5 CMR went back into the line near Ypres some six hundred and fifty men strong. Just a day later they had lost about half that number in the fiercest of fighting and young Fred was badly wounded by shrapnel in his right leg. 5 CMR War Diary which is held in the Public Records Office at Kew describes in vivid detail what a battle it must have been that day.
As a badly wounded soldier Fred was taken first to a Casualty Clearing Station and then on to 13 General Hospital in Boulogne for immediate treatment. On the 9 Jun 1916 he was moved to 25 General Hospital in Hardelot for surgery. There he remained until he could be moved to 1 Convalescent Depot in Boulogne on 26 Jun 1916. Two weeks later he was discharged as fit for Base Duties and a few days later he rejoined his unit in the field about 14 Jul 1916.
About a month later Fred was once again taken to hospital suffering from his previous wound and what I think must have been trench foot. After his treatment in 7 Stationary Hospital at Havre he was discharge and returned to duty with Canadian Corp Headquarters on 10 Sep 1916. He appears to have been attached for a period to the Canadian Corp Composite Company while he attended a number of medical boards and on 31 Jan 1917 he must have been thrilled to be granted ten days leave. I would assume he spent this leavewith family in England? Perhaps with his mother's brother Uncle George Rule, Aunt Alice and Cousins Alice May and James in Thames Ditton?
Throughout the spring and summer of 1917 Fred must have become a battle- hardened veteran as the Canadian Forces were constantly involved in fierce fighting throughout Flanders. Then in late Oct 1917 the Canadians entered the battle for Passchendaele Ridge were in the previous three months British and Australian soldiers had fought unsuccessfully loosing over 100,000 men. By this stage the mud in the area was knee deep and it was impossible to dig trenches Men often sank in mud and water of gruel thickness until the slime rose above their hips. At the height of the battle on 30 Oct 1917 with the Germans retaliating with massive shelling Fred was taken as a dangerously ill casualty to 22 Casualty Clearing Station in Bruay which is six kilometres south West of Bethune. The following day Wednesday 31 Oct 1917 he sadly died.
Pte Fredrick John Hothersoll Foster was buried with military honours at Bruay Communal Cemetery Extension, Pas-de-Calais, France. His sacrifice is recorded in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Debt of Honour Register this shows his cousin May Rule of Camrose Cottage, Giggs Hill, Thames Ditton, Surrey as his next-of-kin
Whilst on holiday in Zimbabwe I met a Canadian lady Mrs Shari Irvine and I told her the story of finding the dog-tag.
Mrs Irvine recognized the Waller name and through her and her niece Billie Jo Wildboer I was able to make contact with James Ralph Waller whose grand father Frank (Franklin) was the soldier's next of kin on enlistment and whose father James Milton Waller also served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in France
The brutal battle of Passchendaele inspired a now famous poem by Major John McCrae, another brave Canadian soldier who also died in France. This poem came to symbolize the sacrifices of all who were fighting in the First World War.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
We are the Dead, Short days ago
Take up our quarrel with the foe,
I still wonder what Private Fred John Hothersoll Foster was like and how his dog-tag was left in an English field in South Cerney as his destiny lead him to his death in a Flanders field?
In March 2006 the Canadian History TV Channel recorded the Dog-Tag
story for their Ancestors in the Attic series.