7 June 1917 :  L Cpl Fred Latham MM

Fred Lantham was born on 27 April 1898 at Olive House in Upholland, Lancashire

 Location of Upholland in the north west of England (cc OpenStreetMap)

At the 1901 Census, 2 year old Fred was living at Knowles Farm, Roby Mill along with his 32 year old father Frederick, his 67 year old uncle Abraham, a 25 year old cousin Sarah Cliff (a housemaid) and his 72 year old grandmother Alice. His mother Ellen had died in November 1900. His father remarried in 1904 and Fred gained a brother and two sisters 1906-1910.

Knowles Farm today, courtesy of Google Street View

 At the 1911 Census, age 12, Fred is still on the farm with his stepmother Mary and siblings Ellen, Joseph and Alice, as well as a servant and two farm labourers. 

Not destined to follow his father into the agricultural world, young Fred gained employment at the age of 14, in 1912 , at the Pemberton Colliery where he looked set to pursue his career. However, within 2 years, events on the other side of Europe were to change the lives of the Lathams and millions of other families worldwide forever.

On the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, thousands of young (and not so young!) men across the Empire flooded to the recruiting offices, in order to join the Army and "do their bit for King and Country" before the war (which many believed would be over by Christmas) ended. 16 year old Fred was just one of these many thousands.

After at first being turned away due to his youth, Fred succeeded in enlisting at Wigan in November 1914. He was enlisted into the 14th (Reserve) Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and given the service number 15952. Then, after spending 9 months training in England (Grantham, Lincs.), Fred went to war.

He arrived, as a reinforcement for the 11th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment (a battalion in which he remained for the rest of the war - and his life!) at Gallipoli on 21 September 1915.

At the time of his arrival, the 11/Manchesters were held in reserve back on the beaches at Suvla. The battalion history records that, at this time, the health of the battalion was very poor and the water supply very bad. Fred's first time at the front came a week later, on 28 September, when the battalion moved into the firing line near Jephson's Post.

Here they stayed until 7 October and, apart from Turkish snipers, had a fairly quiet time. On 10 October, it seems that the Turks had received fresh supplies of ammunition and so heavy shell fire was experienced for several days. The battalion went back into the line again below Jephson's Post on the 18h October, "P" and "Q" companies and "R" and "S" companies alternating between the firing line and reserve trenches at Oxford Street, near the Regimental HQ. The health of the battalion at this point is recorded as "improving". On 19 October a bombardment of "The Pimple" and "Bench Mark" took place, in which the battalion snipers and machine-gunners took advantage of the gaps in the Turkish parapets made by the artillery to cause many casualties. The next three days brought intermittent shelling but only one battalion casualty is recorded. The remainder of the stint in the front line remained relatively quiet, save for artillery and snipers. The battalion then moved into reserve dug-outs at Holborn and Leather Lane (3 November) after 16 continuous days in the fire trenches.

A fresh move ensued on the 7 November when they were moved to dugouts on the beach below the Karakol Gap, then returned to Corps reserve on West Beach where the battalion was engaged in general fatigues on the beach. A violent thunderstorm broke over the peninsular on the 26 November, which washed away dugouts and flooded trenches, not to mention soaking the men to the skin. The following days were also bitterly cold and wet and it was impossible to get dry. On 29 November, gale force winds and a howling blizzard forced many of the battalion to take shelter at the A.S.C. dump. Hard frost followed and there was much suffering by the soldiers. Some 200+ men were hospitalised by frostbite and hypothermia and 23 were discovered to be missing after the storms. On 2 December they returned to dugouts at West Beach and the weather was much improved by the 5 December. The rest of the stay at Gallipoli was taken up in fatigues and witnessing the bombardments on the Turkish trenches by the Allied Naval guns (which were usually answered by Turkish artillery). The 15 December saw the embarkation from Suvla Point on board HMT Carron, which sailed from Suvla to Mudros the following morning. The dreaded Gallipoli peninsular was being left behind forever. "HMT Carron" sailed from Suvla with 27 officers and 689 other ranks, including Fred Latham.

However, Fred had left behind 172 of his comrades who still, to this day, remain forever part of the peninsular.

After a stay under canvas at Mudros, the 11th Manchesters left on "HMT Ermine" on the 21 December for Imbros, which was reached on the morning of 22 December 1915. Here, battalion training ensued and the general health improved readily. On Christmas Day, an enemy aircraft dropped bombs but caused no damage.

The 11th remained at Imbros until January 27 1916 when it returned to Mudros, then transhipped on "HMT Corsican" to Alexandria , which was reached on the 30 January.

Training ensued after arrival at Sidi-Bashr camp, and from 20 February, when they arrived at El Ferdan. On 23 April 1916, the Turks attacked Katia and the battalion was put on standby to move. However, by the 29 April, the situation had become normal and the battalion was "stood down".

Training continued in what was, by now, extreme heat which caused many soldiers to suffer from heat related illnesses. On 12 June the battalion moved to Kantara, holding the outpost line until the end of the month.

Orders to move arrived, and the battalion left Kantara on 30 June. They sailed on the 2 and 3 July on the transports "Toronto" and "Transylvania", arriving at Malta on the 6 July and Marseilles on the 8. On the 9, the battalion disembarked, staying at Fournier Camp (about 2 miles from the harbour). Here they remained until 11 July, awaiting orders to entrain for the front.

On 11 July the battalion left Marseilles, bound (after various route marches and stops) for the trenches at Wailly in the Arras sector. 20 July 1916 saw them have their first taste of life on the Western Front when they relieved the 7/Liverpool's in the front-line. During this first day at the front, the battalion suffered four casualties in "S" Company due to rifle grenades. However, British artillery was called in and they duly silenced the menace. For several days, both sides were active with sniping and grenades and patrols were sent out at night to examine the enemy saps and/or strengthen the barbed wire defences. This first tour ended on 29 July when the battalion was sent to billets in Bretencourt, engaging in fatigues and Lewis Gun training.

On 8 August, the 11/Manchesters returned to the frontline, but two weeks of bad weather and basic non-activity (apart from the odd shell and the daily rifle-grenade duel) followed . On the 21 August the battalion was relieved, a relief which was observed by a German aircraft. Fortunately, the ensuing German bombardment caused no casualties and the relief passed off without further incident.

After a night's stay at Beaumetz, the battalion moved to Grand Roullecourt until the 30 August, where it was engaged in musketry and bayonet training. On 3 September, they headed off for Puchevillers, via Frevent and Acheux, arriving on the 4 September. The usual training continued here until the afternoon of 8 September when the battalion moved, once again, to Bouzincourt where it was held in reserve until 9.40am on the morning of 17 September 1916. From here, they moved to the chalk pit, south east of Pozieres in the heart of the Somme battlefield.

Orders were received to support the 5/Dorsets in the area of Mouquet Farm on 18 September. However, due to bad weather, this move to the frontline was cancelled until the following day. Heavy shelling on the morning of 20 September caused 8 casualties within the battalion. A similar scenario, the following evening caused a further 15. Two patrols were sent out this same evening, one to Mouquet Farm, which observed a relief and the other to High Trench but observed no signs of the Germans. The following evening, the 22 September at 6.30pm, the front and support lines were heavily shelled . German troops were observed leaving their trenches at 7pm, when the British Artillery opened up on them. It was thought that this broke up a German attack as no offensive movement developed, though a strong attack was made on the battalion's left, which was repulsed. Intermittent shelling continued throughout the night, with front-line HQ's receiving much attention. The battalion suffered 48 casualties this night, until they were relieved. At 6.30am on the 23 September, they arrived behind the lines and bivouacked at Aveluy.

At this time, a large scale offensive operation was pending, in which the 11th Manchesters were to have their share...

At 11am on September 26, the battalion moved from their reserve positions at "Crucifix Corner", Aveluy to Ovillers. From here, bombing parties were despatched to Mouquet Farm to relieve similar parties from the 9/Lancs.Fusiliers. At 2.35pm, one platoon, under 2/Lt.Ormond proceeded to the same place with orders to clear up the situation as the enemy were still holding out. At 3.28pm, the remainder of the battalion moved forwards to positions around Mouquet Farm, with the Bn HQ being located in Ovillers Cemetery. At 5.50pm "R" Company advanced to occupy High Trench, with "P" Company in support. "Q" Company moved to occupy Fleet Street. There was a further advance at 7.45pm, with "S" Company reaching it's objective at 12.30am on the 27 September. However, there was no sign of the supporting units and the Germans still occupied the Zollern Redoubt.

At 8.30am, "R" Company was ordered to take the Zollern Redoubt. By 11.22am, Zollern Trench had been occupied and consolidated. Stuff Redoubt was, however, still in German hands and orders were received (at 12.49pm) to attack it at 2.30pm and take it "at all costs". This order was however, cancelled but the attack was to proceed against the Stuff Redoubt and Hessian Trench with the battalion in support.

The attack took place with the Zollern Redoubt, Zollern Trench and the communication trench leading to the redoubt being heavily shelled and subject to persistent machine gun fire. The 6th West Yorks suffered greatly during this time. However, the 9th West Yorks and the 6th Yorks got a footing in Stuff Redoubt and Hessian Trench. German machine guns in a communication trench in front of Hessian caused a great many casualties and the attacking battalions found themselves short of ammunition and bombs (causing them to yield a little ground). "S" Company, however, rushed forwards with supplies and two Lewis Guns and the battalion remained in possession of the southern part of the redoubt and Hessian Trench to the west.

A bombing attack was organised shortly after 9pm in order to "bomb" their way down several trenches to try and get in contact with the Canadians on the right. The "bombing party" (under 2/Lt.Kay), along with a Lewis Gun team managed to reach a point between "trench 78 and 99" before they were held up with the enemy approximately thirty yards away. At 6.45am on the 28 September, 2/Lt.Kay asked for reinforcements which were duly sent. However, due to heavy machine gun fire, no advance could be made but they did succeed in gaining communication with the Canadians.

An attack was ordered for 4pm, to be made by the West Riding Regiment with as strong a contingent as possible from the 11/Manchesters . This attack was cancelled due to a report that the Germans were amassing for an attack of their own. This German assault didn't materialise.

On 29 September, "P","R" and "S" Companies were withdrawn from the fighting and sent to Kay Dump. However,"Q" Company remained behind, after reports were received of the German attack at Stuff Redoubt being sent (at 7.40pm) to reinforce the garrison at Stuff Redoubt. The other companies were sent up to reserve at Mouquet Farm carrying supplies to the front.

The 30 September saw fierce fighting continuing for the redoubt (Q Coy being in the redoubt itself and P Coy supplying them with ammunition). At 4pm an attack was organised to capture the remainder of Hessian Trench and the southern part of Stuff Redoubt which was still in German hands. This attack was to be carried out by 32nd Brigade with the battalion in support. This attack was a complete success and heralded the relief of "P","R" and "S" Companies at 4.30pm by the 2/South Lancs and of "Q" Company at midnight, by the 10/Cheshires. Upon this relief, the battalion returned to shelter at Aveluy.

The operations of 26 to the 30 September 1916 had cost the battalion 309 casualties and, at some point over these five days, Fred Latham performed an act of bravery sufficient to warrant his award of the Military Medal.

At 10am on 1 October, a further move was made to a camp provided for 32nd Brigade. Here, hot dinners were provided and at 3.15pm, the battalion left in lorries for Varennes Junction whence it proceeded by train to Candas. 11.30am on 2 October, saw the battalion leave Candas and march to Prouville, arriving at 2.10pm. The weather was very wet and everyone was drenched to the skin. On 3 October the battalion marched to Fransu and went into billets.

Fred and the 11/Manchesters stayed at Fransu for over a month. This time was taken up by re-fitting, receiving new drafts of replacement troops and training in various capacities.

Entertainment of the soldiers wasn't overlooked either, with the formation of a drum, fife and bugle band which was a great success. There were also concerts, cinemas, football matches, etc.

A number of visits and inspections also ensued, such as the visit of the G.O.C., 34th Brigade on 6 October. There were also various award ceremonies, with medals and ribbons being awarded to a number of officers and men for distinguished service. Fred was awarded the Military Medal for his actions at Mouquet and Zollern at a ceremony on 19 October (his award being reported in the London Gazette on 9 December 1916).

However, all things must end and the battalion left Fransu on 16 November, marching to Acheux, reached on 20 October. On 21 October, they left again to a position just south of St.Pierre Divion, where they were accomodated in a very large (but crowded) German dug-out. The next day was spent clearing shells, bombs, clothing, equipment, gas cylinders, etc. in order to make more room, before heading off to take over the line between St.Pierre Divion and Grandcourt on the 23 October. An officer and two soldiers were killed and eight wounded during this move.

When the lines were reached, the trenches were found to be new but in very bad condition. "P" and "Q" Companies were in the front-line, "S" Company in support and "R" Company in reserve. The next few days were taken up in attempting to improve the trenches, which were collapsing in some places under almost constant shelling and sniper fire and in very wet weather conditions. There were many casualties during the next few days until they were relieved on the 30h November, whence they returned to the large dug-out and were employed in digging support trenches until they moved into billets at Forceville on 9 December.

A short stay in the line north of the Ancre, extending and consolidating a series of positions, was endured between 17 and 21 December, before they were relieved and put into reserve. On Christmas Day, the battalion returned to its old billets in Forceville where they stayed until 2 January 1917, when they returned to the reserve positions behind the frontline, improving communications trenches, work for which they received a commendation in a special "Brigade Order of the Day" of 5 January. 6 January saw them in the front-line again, which was marked by a considerable amount of shelling. They were relieved on the 10 January by the 5/Dorsets who were ordered to attack, with the Manchesters in support, a line of hostile posts 350 yds to the British front on the 11 January. The objectives were gained but lost almost immediately during a German counter-attack. Two platoons of "P" Company, 11/Manchesters now occupied the front-line trench. About mid-day, further orders to attack were received, but these were subsequently cancelled. Many casualties ensued nonetheless, due to an increasingly heavy bombardment of the front-line. The same day, the battalion was relieved (again!) and returned to Forceville.

The rest period in Forceville was only brief as, on 16 January the Manchesters found themselves supporting an attack by the 32nd Brigade, moving into the trenches ("P" and "Q" Companies to Mesnil, and "S" Company to Englebelmer) at 1pm. The following day, "P" and "Q" retired to reserve dugouts, while "S" transferred to Mesnil. The projected attack was a complete success and it was found that the Germans had evacuated many positions. On the night of 19 January, the battalion was relieved by Hawke Battalion of the R.N.D. and proceeded to Lancashire Dump, from where they were taken, by bus, to Raincheval which was reached on the 20 January. Two days later, after struggling on frosty roads (in which it was decided to let the transports make their own ways at whatever speed they could manage) they arrived at Fransu. This time, the Battalion's stay here (because of the intense cold with much snow) mainly consisted of intensive drill of various types with interludes of football, running and other physical activities.

Though they left Fransu on 23 February, the battalion remained behind the lines and "off duty" as such until the 24 April ... (Bonneville (23 Feb.), Terramesnil (25 Feb.), Varennes and Mailly Wood, where they were employed in laying railways(1 - 24 March), training at Beauquesne (24 March - 11 April), Acheux (11 - 20 April), Grevillers, where they were engaged in completing the defences of Bapaume (20 - 24 April).

On 24 April they proceeded to Fremicourt, where rations were doled out prior to their advance to the front (Morchies - Beaumetz line) to relieve the 9th Bn.A.I.F. The relief was event-free and work on the defences commenced at midnight and continued until 4am. Not much could be done, however as materials were in short supply. From the 25 April, there was sporadic shelling and aircraft activity. This continued for several days. On 30 April, the Battalion relieved the 6th Border Regiment from their front duties, again without incident. 1 May was bright and fine with very little trench activity from either side. There was, however, much entertainment watching the aircraft of both sides fighting their own separate war. The 3 May heralded a violent artillery duel and fruitless patrols were sent out at night. There wasn't much movement from either side for a few days, but on 11 May, the village of Morchies was persistently bombarded by the German "heavies".

On the 13 May, the battalion was relieved by 1/8 Warwicks and another move ensued. Further north this time...

After "overnighting" at Fremicourt in a raging thunderstorm, the battalion marched to Montauban (14 May) thence on to Buire (16 May). After travelling all night of the 18 May, Bailleul was reached on the 19 May. From here, a move was made to a camp a mile north of of Meteren where they were visited by General Plumer, commander of the Second Army, who inspected the officers (an inspection of the rank and file was abandoned due to excessively wet weather).

On 20 May, two platoons ("Q" and "R") went to La Clytte to work under IX Caps Signals, whilst on the 23, the remainder of the battalion marched to Locre for work under the 16th and 36th Divisional Signals. The battalion was to remain in this area until 10 June, mainly employed in the burying of communications cables for the Second Army's forthcoming operations against the Wytschaete - Messines Ridge.

On 7 June 1917 (day 1 of the Messines Battle), the 11/Manchesters were to follow up the advance. At 7am (3 hours 40 minutes after the attack of the first waves), the battalion moved off in companies to the place of assembly, which was to be Boardman Trench, a few hundred yards behind what was that morning's front line. Assembly was complete by 8.45am and the battalion moved out at 9am, to carry out the work of burying cable from the old British front line for a distance of about 1000 yards behind the old German front line. This work was carried out under constant shell fire until about 3pm when they returned to camp.

However, during the operations of this day, the battalion had 6 killed and 11 wounded. One of the dead happened to be L/Cpl Fred Latham MM -  the young gallantry medal winning survivor of Gallipoli and the Somme, multiple stints in the frontline at Arras and the Ancre, was struck down, at the age of 19, in what was perhaps one of the British Army's most successful campaigns to that date.

Fred's body was removed from the battlefield by his comrades on their return to camp at 3pm. Six graves were dug at the nearby, newly established cemetery at a small farm named "Irish House" into which Fred and his five comrades were lowered.

They remain in the same graves today, in the beautifully maintained New Irish Farm CWGC cemetery that is still named after the farm. He is also listed on the War Memorial at Upholland in Lancashire.

Pension Card from WFA Fold3 for Frederick Latham

15952 L Cpl Fred Latham MM, 11th Bn Manchester Regt

7 June 1917

Research by David O'Mara


Sources: Ancestry Census Returns for England 1901, 1911; Pension Records from WFA Fold3,