Remembering the men from the Kingsdown and Creekside Cluster
who gave their lives in the First World War
On the centenary of their death, we remember
Frederick Back (of Teynham)
d. 16th September 1917. Aged 21
1/19th (County of London) Battalion (St Pancras)
[Formerly, No. 7113, 1/19th Battalion (County of London)]
Remembered with Honour
Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial
Bay 54, Stone DD
Killed in Action
Frederick's grandparents, Henry and Frances/Fanny (nee Jarrett) Back, who married in 1844, lived for the most part in or close to Teynham into the 1900s. This was a family with roots in agricultural, general or brickfield labouring. Amongst their seven children, Frederick's father, Harry (also "Henry"), married twice. Firstly, to Emily Chapman (m. 1889), who was the mother of all four sons but who died at the age of 36; and, secondly, Jane Snoad (m. 1905). Frederick had two older brothers, Harry and Albert (in 1911 he appears as a "sailor" - perhaps on the barges - but not in the Royal Navy), and younger Willie. It was Harry and William who served in the Navy during the First World War. Four cousins also served: William Frederick Back (killed 1918), William Frank Back (killed 1918), Thomas Leonard Back (survived), and Alfred Oliver James Gandon (killed 1918).
Frederick was son of Harry (sometimes "Henry") Back and Emily (nee Chapman), but at the time of Frederick's death his father had remarried to Jane (nee Snoad), living at 2, Frognal Lane, Teynham. Frederick's two older brothers were born in Greenwich, where their father was employed as a general labourer before he brought his family back to live in Greenstreet, Lynsted, and finally Teynham, just off Greenstreet. Latterly, Harry worked in the brickfields. Frederick's father had previously lived as a young man in Barrow Green, Teynham. His father was named sole legatee of Frederick's effects of £3 10s. 11d plus his War Gratuity of £8 as well as his medals - the British War and Victory Medals.
Frederick was remembered in The Faversham and North East Kent News of 17th November 1917: "PRIVATE F. BACK, OBSERVERS BRIGADE. Private Frederick Back, who was killed on 16th September, was the third son of Mr. Harry Back, of 2, Frognal Lane, who has three other sons serving in H.M. Forces namely Harry, in the Buffs, and Albert and William in the Navy. Fred, who was formerly employed in Mr. Mercer's brickfield, and was a member of the choir of St. Andrews, Greenstreet, joined up in the Buffs two years ago, and had been in France just over a year. He was 21 years of age. From an officer's letter it appears that Private Back was asleep in a trench at 5.30 in the morning when a large shell burst within two yards of him. The officer speaks highly of him, saying that "his conduct and courage on heaps of dangerous occasions and in tight corners was a credit to the section." Another officer wrote: "We recognised in him a staunch friend and a true man, who was particular to every small detail of his duty.""
A very similar report was made in the East Kent Gazette of 24th November 1917: "PRIVATE F. BACK, OF TEYNHAM. Private Frederick Back, of the Buffs, has been killed in action. He was the third son of Mr. Harry Back of 2, Frognal lane, Teynham, who has three other sons serving in H.M. Forces. The young man was formerly employed in the Frognal brickfield, and was a member of the choir at St. Andrew’s, Greenstreet. He joined the Buffs two years ago, and had been in France just over a year. He was 21 years of age. According to an officer’s letter, Private Back was asleep in a trench at 5.30 in the morning when a large shell burst within two yards of him. The officer speaks highly of him, saying that “his conduct and courage on heaps of dangerous occasions and in tight corners was a credit to the section.” Another officer wrote: “We recognised in him a staunch friend and a true man, who was particular to every small detail of his duty.” Of the other sons, Harry Back is in the Buffs, and Albert and William Back are serving in the Royal Navy."
There are very few records for Frederick. What we can say with some confidence is that he first enlisted in December 1915 when he was 19 years old, of an age to serve overseas.
If the paths of other local lads is any guide, Frederick's route into active service may have begun with enlistment into a training Battalion of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment), followed by needful posting into the 1/19th (County of London) Battalion (St Pancras). Assuming initial training to have lasted for four to six months, this places Frederick in France during the summer of 1916 together with his comrades in the 141st Brigade in 47th (2nd London) Division.
During 1916, the 1/19th London Battalion saw action during the German attack at Vimy Ridge, the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, the Battle of the Transloy Ridges, and the attacks on the Butte de Warlencourt. The next year, in which Frederick died, his Battalion fought in the mostly successful Battle of Messines (7-14 June) that had begun with the detonation of 19 underground mines beneath German forces; the Battle of Pilkem Ridge (31 July – 2 August 1917) was the opening attack of the Third Battle of Ypres. This brings Frederick's story to its final chapter at the Third Battles of Ypres.
Alan H Maude's "The History of the 47th (London) Division, 1914 - 1919" summarises the broad strategic position during September thus:
"On August 30th the 2nd Corps, of which we formed part, was transferred to Second Army, and on September 3rd the Division was relieved in the line by the 25th Division. During this tour of duty our right was on the high ground in front of Inverness Copse, where we joined up with the 23rd Division. The enemy's observation from the vicinity of Polygon Wood and the high ground towards Hollebeke enabled him to bring accurate artillery fire to bear on any movement by day in the forward area, but the Division had advanced the front line at many points, and considerably improved our line for any troops which might have to make an attack from it. The enemy opposite to us was only holding a series of outpost positions very lightly, with the main body of his troops in rear in natural features, such as woods and small valleys, and this made it difficult for our artillery to inflict much damage on his front-line troops, as their positions were continually moving. The state of the ground, too, was greatly in the enemy's favour, and with a little wire and a few fortified shell-holes his position was not an easy one to attack except on a wide front.
"On relief by the 25th Division, the 142nd Infantry Brigade moved to Steenvoorde on September 5th, and the 141st Infantry Brigade to the Busseboom area. The 140th Infantry Brigade had been in Divisional reserve in the Winnipeg Camp area, where it remained.
"Brigades only remained in these areas for a very short time, for on September 8th/9th, both, the 140th and 141st Infantry Brigades moved up and relieved the 25th Division, and on September 10th both the G.O.C., 47th Division, assumed command of practically the same front as was held by the Division before, but under the orders of the 1st Anzac Corps, to which we had been transferred on September 5th from 2nd Corps. Our main task was now to make the preparation on the front of the Anzac Corps for the offensive timed for September 20th, in which they were taking a leading part. This included the construction of several cross-country tracks in the forward area, and a road and trench railway track to Bellewarde Ridge. The heavy enemy shelling by night and their good observation by day made this extremely difficult, but the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, then under command of Lieut.-Colonel W. H. Matthews, succeeded in carrying through this work up to time by adopting the principle of spreading their men out in pairs at intervals of some twenty yards or so. Thus they were able to work in broad daylight in an area directly under enemy observation without attracting his attention and with but few casualties.
"The 142nd Infantry Brigade moved up into reserve in camps around Dickebusch. Our orders were to keep up a continuous pressure on the enemy in the hope of inducing him gradually to give ground, and we were continually carrying out small raids at night, not only to keep up the offensive spirit of our men, but to break down the already weakening moral of the enemy. One very successful raid was carried out by troops of the 7th Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant B. N. Cryer, against a German strong post near Inverness Copse, at dusk, on September 15th. This enemy post was on the top of, but just over the crest of the high ground at Inverness Copse. During previous attacks by the 2nd Corps it had held out stoutly and resisted all previous attempts to capture it. It formed a small but dangerous salient into the front we took over, and from it withering fire had been brought to bear during previous attacks on our troops in their attempts to seize the high ground at Inverness Copse. To ensure a good start for the leading waves in the next attack it was imperative for us to gain possession of it and thus straighten out our front line.
"After carefully studying the ground for several nights before, by means of patrols, the raiding-party, under cover of a hurricane artillery barrage, rushed the post, killed ten of the enemy, and captured thirty-six prisoners and a machine-gun, with comparatively light casualties. This operation earned the troops concerned the praise of the Army and Corps Commanders, who considered it a really first-class piece of work. An enemy counter-attack against this newly-established post, which had been consolidated, was driven off early on the morning of the 16th, with heavy loss to the enemy, but the gallant Cryer, to the regret of all, was killed. In his memory the captured post was named " Cryer Farm."
There were many other offensive incidents of this nature, some successful, others unsuccessful, but the Division advance its line considerably during this tour in the trenches, and handed over much newly-won ground when it was relieved by troops of the 1st and 2nd Australian Divisions on September 16th to 18th.
Frederick was killed during the relief operation on 16th September. The Battalion War Diary for September is remarkable for the fact that there were so few casualties that month until the 16th, after which their fortunes quietened down again.
1st September: CAVALRY BARRACKS, YPRES: Battalion relieved by 21st Battalion and marched to Camp on POPERINGHE – RENINGHELST ROAD arriving 8 p.m. Casualties Nil.
2nd: Camp near POPERINGHE: No Training. Usual inspections in morning. Enemy aircraft active during the night. Several bombs dropped near RENINGHELST. Casualties Nil.
3rd: Battalion bathed at HOPOUTRE in morning and marched to PALACE CAMP near Dickebusch at 1.30 p.m. Palace Camp shelled and bombed during the night. Casualties Nil.
4th: PALACE CAMP, DICKEBUSCH: Battalion Training during afternoon. Casualties Nil.
5th: Battalion marched to DEVONSHIRE CAMP near BUSSEBOOM at 10.15 a.m. Casualties Nil
6th: DEVONSHIRE CAMP: 47th Division transferred to 1st Anzac Corps from 12 noon. Casualties Nil.
7th: 4 hours training during morning Recreational training in afternoon with 20th Battalion Cricket match v 20 Battalion, result 19th Battalion won. Lieut.-Colonel R.S.I Friend rejoined the Battalion from Brigade.
8th: BELLEWAARDE: Battalion relieved 11th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers in Support with one Company at YPRES. Battalion proceeded by busses from Camp to Asylum YPRES. Battalion H.Q. and 3 Companies checked by heavy shell fire near HOOGE on YPRES-MENIN ROAD. Casualties Nil.
9th: BELLEWAARDE RIDGE: Work on improving existing support line carried out by 2 Companies at night. Salvage collected and area cleaned. Casualties Nil.
10th: Trench maintenance. Bodies buried near ZIEL HOUSE. Casualties 1 Other Rank wounded.
11th: Salvage collected and area cleaned. Hostile aircraft very active flying low during the evening. Engaged by our anti-aircraft Lewis Guns. Casualties 1 Other Rank wounded.
12th: WESTHOEK RIDGE: Battalion relieved 20th Battalion London Regiment in Left Section. Casualties 6 Other Ranks wounded.
13th: Forward posts withdrawn at night for purpose of heavy bombardment of concrete blockhouses thought to be held by enemy. Casualties nil.
14th: Heavy Bombardment postponed owing to poor visibility. Posts reoccupied at night. Excellent Patrol work was carried out by forward Companies and Enemy blockhouses reconnoitred and found vacated. Casualties 2 Other Ranks wounded.
15th: The forward posts on whole Battalion Sector were pushed forward about 100 yards to a line required by Australian Division as a position of assembly for forthcoming operations. Casualties Nil.
16th: WESTHOEK RIDGE: Battalion relieved by 22nd Battalion Australian Infantry and returned to DOMINION CAMP by motor lorries from YPRES ASYLUM. Casualties: 6 killed, 16 wounded.
17th: DOMINION CAMP: Battalion cleaning up and inspections. Casualties. Nil
18th: GODEWARRESVELDE AREA: Battalion marched from DOMINION CAMP to GODEWARRESVELDE AREA. Mens’ packs were carried on motor lorries. Casualties Nil.
The detail of this relief operation is set out by Operation Order No.23:-
1/19th Battalion. The London Regiment
Operation Order No.23
September 16th 1917 – ref Sheet 28 N.W.
1. The 141st Infantry Brigade will be relieved by a Composite Brigade of the 2nd Australian Division.
2. 19th Battalion will be relieved by 2 Companies of 22nd Australian Infantry Battalion in Left Section tonight.
“A” Company in Front Line, “B” Company in Support.
3. The relief will be by Posts in numerical order as shown on maps already issued.
“D” Company will provide 8 reliable men as guides to report to Lieut. Welch at Battalion H.Q. at 5.15 p.m. to proceed to BIRR CROSS ROADS to meet incoming Companies at 7pm. Lieut Welch will detail 2 H.Q. Runners to proceed with party and guide up personal of Battalion H.Q.
4. Battalion Guides
“A” and “C” Companies will send one reliable guide from each Battalion and Company H.Q. to report to Battalion H.Q. as soon as possible after dark. Each guide to carry a slip of paper with particulars of posts marked clearly on it.
“B” & “D” Companies will send 2 guides each for relief of their Companies in Support Line to report Battalion H.Q. at 8.0 p.m.
5. All Trench Stores and all 1/10,000 and 1/5000 Trench Maps of this Area will be handed over. Other Trench Maps will be destroyed.
Receipts for Trench Stores handed over, will be forwarded to Battalion H.Q. by 2 p.m. tomorrow 17th inst.
6. Anti-Aircraft Lewis Gun Emplacements of “B” and “D” Companies will be handed over as such.
7. After relief Companies will proceed by Platoons at 100 yards intervals to the ASYLUM, YPRES where they will en-bus at 12.30 a.m. and proceed to DOMINION CAMP.
8. Carrying Platoon at “Y” WOOD will NOT be relieved but will proceed to DOMINION CAMP under 2nd Lieut S.L.BATTE by march route at 3 p.m.
9. 10 Empty Petrol Cans per Company will be taken out of line after relief and handed to Q.M.
10. Relief Complete will be reported by B.A.B. Code.
Signed, J.J. Sheppard, Captain Adjutant
Medal Records shows that Frederick Back was postumously awarded the British War and Victory Medals:-
British War Medal
Click on image for larger version
Harry, Albert and William all served their country. Harry Back served in the Buffs; Albert and William Back served in the Royal Navy.