ID: IYS_180 / Edwin Sparrow

TitleFrederick Thomas Hicks

Rank: Private Service No. 30923
Regiment: Bedfordshire Regiment 7th Battalion
Date of death 25 April 1918 Age 24

Frederick Hicks was born in Nutfield, Surrey and was baptised 19 November 1893, the son of Mary and Albert Hicks. The 1891 Census shows that his parents had 5 older children living at home. It is thought his father died in 1895, the register entry signed by the workhouse doctor, suggesting he died in the infirmary there. No record can be found of the death of Frederick's mother, but he probably became an orphan.

The 1901 Census for Peldon shows him as a boarder with David and Elizabeth A. Lungley, Great Wigborough Road, Peldon, and by 1911 he is still there, now a Farm Labourer. Elizabeth A. is listed as Annie in 1911.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission record him as foster son of Mrs Ann Lungley. No other connection has been found between the Hicks family in Surrey and the Lungley family in Wigborough.

Frederick Thomas Hicks enlisted in Warley

The 7th Battalion were formed at Bedford in September 1914, as part of 'K2' - Lord Kitcheners 2nd call to arms for another 100,000 men to leave their civilian lives and enlist into the massively expanding British Army. Following the transfer of 1,000 Officers and men from the 6th Battalion, the newly formed 7th Battalion of the Second New Army were attached to the 15th Division whilst training. In February 1915, the Battalion were moved into the 54th Brigade of the 18th (Eastern) Division, where they remained until merged with the 2nd Battalion in May 1918. The 7th battalion were a very "busy" unit throughout the war and served entirely in France and Flanders between their arrival in July 1915 and their disbandment in May 1918. The battalion won a well deserved reputation and served with distinction, winning numerous gallantry medals - including two Victoria Crosses - and were involved in major battles every year of their service. There are few examples of them not taking a position when attacking, or allowing enemy attacks to beat them back, as the brigade were a fearsome unit.

Operation Michael; 21st March 1918. Excerpt from the Bedfordshire Regiment in the Great War

At 1am on the 21st March, a night patrol from the 16th Manchester's, opposite St Quentin, decided it was lost in the dense fog in no man's land. They stayed in a shell crater and waited for daylight, so they could see which direction to head in. Suddenly, a thunderous, unbroken barrage opened from the German lines. For ten minutes the terrified Manchester men clung to the pulsating earth. Then a Sergeant hammered on the shoulder of the Officer and said "At least we know which way to go now Sir". The patrol got safely back to British lines. "Operation Michael" opened at 0440 on 21 March 1918, with the largest concentration of artillery ever assembled (6173 guns and 3532 trench mortars) opening fire along a 50 mile front. 2nd/Lt H. Crees of the 22nd Northumberland Fusiliers was a witness to the opening barrage. "I was going round inspecting the posts and just happened to be standing on the fire step with my head just over the parapet, looking out over no man's land. Then I saw this colossal flash of light. As far as I could see, from left to right was lit up by it. I heard nothing for a few seconds and, for a moment I wondered what it was. I think I just managed to hear the gunfire itself before the shells arrived all around us."

At 0915 hours, 59 divisions stormed British defences, such as they were; tape still marked where 1st and 2nd line trenches were to be dug. The 16 overstretched and badly undermanned British divisions stubbornly held their defensive positions 'to the last' in many cases, but held nevertheless. The 'Essigny redoubt' on the St Quentin road was taken by 1200 hours and the whole garrison of the 12th Irish Rifles were destroyed to the man. Yet a company of 180 men from the 3rd Rifle Brigade held 'Cookers Quarry' until 2000 hours, before the 11 wounded survivors withdrew safely.

One of the hundreds of accounts worthy of note is that of the 'Awkward Squad'; a 'rag tag' unit of around 150 disobedient and old soldiers, unskilled labourers acting as Engineers, bolstered with around 30 veterans. They were one of the 55th Brigades 'Forward Defensive' units, holding the 'Vendueil Fort' that day, near St Quentin. Captain Fine and his 'mob' held up the German advance for a 1 mile stretch of the front for 12 hours, having inflicted an 'extreme' number casualties on the assaulting battalions and German columns trying to move past their redoubt to support the main attack. The Germans were forced into concentrating on levelling the old fort before they could continue the attack in that sector. The remaining members of the Awkward Squad surrendered just before 1700 hours that day, having exhausted their ammo 50 minutes before. They were responsible for considerable German casualties and thoroughly earned their name, along with several post war decorations.

The German assault developed as the day wore on with the weight of the attack falling onto the 14th Division to the north and the 58th Division to the south. All attacks on the 18th Divisional front were repulsed but still two of the three battalions in the 53rd Brigade who stood on the left flank of the 18th Division were wiped out. That afternoon the Bedfords were moved in buses to support positions as their comrades further east fought a stubborn defensive battle. By 7.30pm the 54th Brigade had been moved from a 2nd Line 'Reserve Position' to positions around Montescourt. A small counter attack was required to drive forward enemy units from Montescourt but the town was retaken with very few casualties. Once in position, the Northampton's and Fusiliers held the front lines and the Bedford's C and D Companies were in Support of the Royal Fusiliers, with A and B Companies in support of the Northampton's. At the end of the first day, the meagre British reserves were either engaged or covering the remnants of the withdrawing Divisions, and the 54th Brigade were ordered to cover the retirement of the 14th Division to their northern flank then withdraw to behind the Crozat Canal between Jussy and Mennessis by midnight. Many Battalions had already been completely destroyed, including a whole Irish Brigade of 3 full Battalions, yet the British line had buckled but held.

The Crozat Canal; 22nd March 1918

The 7th Bedfords started the second day moving into a defensive position between Mennessis on their southern flank, and the intact La Montagne Bridge on their northern flank. Despite the urgent necessity to destroy the bridge, "it couldn't be blown as we'd got no explosives" according to one bemused Private. Exploding trench mortars and various other ingenious methods were tried to bring the bridge down, all without success, leaving the Bedfords no option than to set their defences carefully and wait. By 7am they were in position, having spent the night marching, then digging in. They waited, peering through the thick fog which reduced visibility to between twenty and fifty yards at best, unsure what was about to be thrown at them. Visibility beyond the opposite canal bank was impossible so they lined the western bank and waited for whatever was to come at them out of the fog.***Attempts to force the bridge that day were repulsed with heavy losses inflicted on the attacking German battalions but at 5.45pm, C Company were finally pushed from Montagne Bridge by a heavy German attack. However the Brigade regained the bridge again by a counter attack 2 hours later.**Things had looked so bad for the Bedfordshire Regiment at one time on the afternoon of the 22nd that, with the enemy within 200 yards of Battalion HQ, Colonel Percival (Bedfords Commanding Officer) and Captain Browning (2nd in command) destroyed all maps and secret documents to prevent their falling into enemy hands".***Darkness came and brought a day of hard and bitter fighting to an end yet still the canal had been held. During the night the Germans kept their attentions to sniping and bursts of machine gun fire but did not attack again, leaving the battered, surviving Bedfords to grab any rest they could in their improvised trenches and gun pits.

This pattern continued for several days as the Bedfords carried out a fighting retreat. At 2am on the 26th March , Germans were reported in nearby Noyon, meaning the left flank was once again exposed. The Brigade moved out again and withdrew across the canal at Varesnes and the rearguard held the crossings and watched as French and British stragglers filed across under their protection. The Germans made no serious attempt to interfere with the retirement and the Bedfords withdrew across the river unmolested at 3pm. That night, following another 8 mile march, they billeted in filthy, litter strewn caves near Mesnil and called the roll-call. Fewer than 200 Bedfords were left, including those from other units they had picked up over the last few days. Over 350 men of the 7th Battalion had been killed, wounded or were missing and all bar five of those who fell in the first desperate phase of the battle have no known grave. Frederick would appear to have died of wounds sustained during this period of heavy fighting.

He earned the 1914-1920 War Medal: 1914-1919 Victory Medal

Frederick is buried in Longueau British Cemetery in France,
Commonwealth War Dead Grave Reference: I.C.8.
He is commemorated on Peldon War Memorial

Read More:
Peldon War Memorial

From If You Shed a Tear by Edwin Sparrow Part 3 IYS_PART3
December 2020 adapted for web by Tony Millatt

Thanks to
Elaine Barker

Edwin Sparrow obtained special dispensation from a number of agencies including the CWGC and The War Graves photographic project regarding copyright on their material used in "If YOu Shed a Tear". The IWM granted a non commercial licence for their material used in the book, in view of the nature of the book being commemorative rather than published for commercial reasons.

AuthorEdwin Sparrow
SourceMersea Museum