Eileen Ray is a member of Peckham Ward, Wandsworth Stake, London. A few years ago, during the annual Poppy Appeal and Remembrance period, she told me about her two uncles (Frederick William James Jr and Edwin James Freeman) who died in World War I. She also showed me a photograph of them seated in their uniforms. We decided to write this brief story in honour of her uncles.
Eileen does not know much about her uncles as they died long before she was born. Her mother, Sarah, was about five years old when her brothers joined the army, therefore, little is known of their short life. However, photographs of them were given to Sarah who passed them down to Eileen.
The year 1914 would have been an extremely turbulent time at the start of World War I. Like other countries involved in that war, Britain sought the support of its citizens, by asking the men to join the army to fight for their country. Frederick and Edwin were two of the thousands who responded positively to that call. Military records show that Frederick became a rifleman in the London Regiment and Edwin a rifleman in the Rifle Brigade. Family history records reveal that Frederick and Edwin were born on 26 April 1894 and 8 June 1898, respectively.
Frederick attended Trinity College Mission in Camberwell, London. This school was established under the auspices of Trinity College, Cambridge, to meet the educational needs of disadvantaged children in the Camberwell area of London. Frederick appeared to have completed his education successfully and, when 16, was working as an apprentice compositor.
There is no information concerning Edwin’s education.
The uncles joined the military at the same time, in about 1915. Edwin would only have been 17 years old.
One can only imagine the conflicting emotions their parents would have experienced; on the one hand, proud of their sons’ decision to help protect their country on the battlefield, but very concerned about their safety, and whether they would survive.
Apart from a short letter, there is no information about the personal war experiences of Frederick and Edwin, but historical records describe the desperate conditions in which the war was fought, especially, in the trenches. This is something the brothers experienced, as the letter from Frederick to his parents confirms: “Dear father, how are you going on at home? I am quite well, out of the trenches for some time, having our rest. Will you send me a parcel? Expect leave while here. Shall write letter later. Fred”. It is not known whether he was able to write another letter.
An estimated 10 million military personnel were killed in World War I. Sadly, both brothers became two of its casualties. Frederick on 30 April 1916 in Arras, France and Edwin died in action on 14 August 1917 in Flanders. A significant number of the deceased soldiers did not receive a burial and have no identified grave. This seems to have been the fate of Edwin. On the other hand, having fought in the battle of Arras, Frederick is one of the many soldiers who has been recognised on the Memorial in the Faubourg d’Amiens British Cemetery, located in the town of Arras.
For their service the brothers were awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal; additionally, Frederick was awarded the 1914-1915 Star Medal. Frederick and Edwin, along with all the other war dead, gave the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of freedom. An inscription on a section of the Arras Memorial reads: “Their Name Liveth Forever”. As noted above, a significant number do not have a grave, but all of their names are ‘known to God’.
Eileen now knows a little more about her uncles and is very proud of them.