First World War Poetry Digital Archive

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William Henry Fear, MC, 1874 – 1916, RSM, 1/8th Battalion of the Prince of Wales Own (West Yorkshire Regiment)

William Henry Fear was born in Aylestone, Leicester in 1874, the eldest son of Henry James Fear, a cabinetmaker and his wife Caroline. In 1894 at the age of 20, the normal age for enlistment, he joined the 1st Battalion of the Prince of Wales Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) at Leicester. He had attained the rank of Colour Sergeant by the time he returned to Leicester in February 1905 to marry his childhood sweetheart, Alice Walker. After the marriage they travelled to India with the Regiment where he served on the North West Frontier (now in Pakistan) from 1905 to 1910. Their two elder children, Alice May & Ruby were born at Mian-Mir or Dalhousie in 1907 and 1909. He was awarded the General Service Medal with Clasp (NWF 1908) for service on the Burjina Pass (Khyber Pass area) and in 1912 the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal after 18 years continuous service. The time in India was not an unpleasant period with plenty of opportunity to take part in sports and although the girls were very young, May always remembered with affection her Amah or male carer (all the support jobs in India were carried out by men). (See Medal Sheet and Photograph’sand Birth Certificate).

On returning to the UK in 1910, W H F was seconded as permanent staff instructor to the 8th (Leeds Rifles) Battalion (Leeds University Officer Training Core) as Colour Sergeant Instructor and their two sons William Leslie (1910) and Frederick Cecil (1914) were born in Leeds. After the outbreak of war, the Territorial 8th Battalion was linked rejoined the regulars as the 1/8th Battalion. As an experienced regular soldier, he was a popular figure and was responsible for training many of the Officers who served with the 1/8th Battalion in WW1, but as the picture shows he was also popular with the children. Training was taken seriously by the OTC, as is shown by the Church Parade, though camp also had its lighter moments and those boots were certainly made for marching.

When war broke out in 1914, he volunteered for active service and in 1915 was appointed Acting RSM of the 1/8th Territorial Battalion if the West Yorkshires, The Leeds Rifles, serving initially at Carlton Barracks, Leeds. This required the purchase of two swagger sticks at the cost of two pounds three shillings and sixpence – more than a weeks wage in 1915, but obviously considered an essential part of an RSM’s kit. After being mobilised the Battalion was sent to York to train for active service. Following training camp, Acting RSM (WO1) W H Fear and the Leeds Rifles became part of the 146th Brigade, 49th Division and landed in France at Boulogne in April 1915. They must have been quickly near to the front as there is a receipt for 2 German prisoners of war dated July 1915.

The 1/8th Battalion served with distinction throughout WW1; Somme in 1916 – the Battle of Albert, followed by the Battles of Bazentin, Poziers and Fler- Courcelette, all of which involved very heavy fighting and many casualties.

Because of the heavy fighting, home leave was only granted occasionally, but the troops were also occasionally allowed a break from the front by being billeted with French civilians in villages away from the front line.

When not fighting, even at the front discipline was maintained and inspections by senior officers carried out – see the shoes shine. Also, in spite of the heavy fighting and the largely static nature of trench warfare, there was a constant supply of unofficial rumour and gossip, probably carried by messengers from the Corps of Signals, but having the advantage of enabling contact with friends and family to be to some extent maintained.

There was many casualties and in June 1916 W H Fear was awarded the Military Cross (reserved for Officers and WO1’s, other ranks were awarded the Military Medal). No citation has been located, but it is likely that the award was triggered by the act of bravery he describes and was supported by his dedication to duty.

In between the fighting, life carried on as normally as possible on the front and there was time to do some sketching, to write home and to think about family events such as birthdays.

A month after the award of the MC, RSM W H Fear was reported killed in a dawn attack on the German position called the Battle of Bazentin and sadly, at the award ceremony in Leeds, his widow received his MC posthumously.

After the War the boys were sent by the Regiment to the Military School at Dover, it looks more like a barracks than a school.

(Attributed to an NCO) “RSM Bill Fear was a really good soldier, a soldier first, second and last. He never bullied anyone, was very thorough in everything he did; his arrangements and orders were always complete down to the smallest detail. He was highly respected by everyone, but rather distant. He kept his place and didn’t fraternise with either officers or other ranks, including sergeants.”

(From comments about the battle of the Somme, which was important to Leeds as 3 of the 4 Leeds infantry battalions were in action) Initially the 1/8th were involved with supplying burial parties to Thiepvil Wood and in moving a 12” howitzer nicknamed ‘Lucky Jim’, but on the 7th July the 1/8th were sent to relieve the 10th Cheshires in the line of Authouille Wood. The valley leading up to the wood was popularly known as ‘Blighty Valley’ because of the number of both enemy and British shells that burst over it, causing many wounds, but the troops took the opportunity to make up kit deficiencies from material left by their predecessors. During the next week the Battalion sustained heavy casualties from shellfire. 9 men including RSM Fear were killed and 50 wounded and the dead were buried in Blighty Valley - a single 5.9” shell was responsible for killing 6 men and wounding a number of others. On the 15th, the day following the death of RSM Fear, the Battalion were sent to relieve the 1/6th WYR in the Leipsig Salient and the subsequent fighting cost a further 50 casualties including 7 dead.

Subject Fear, William Henry
Title Information (text) relating to William Henry Fear, MC, 1874 1916,
Item Date 1874 - 1918
Creation place India/France
Copyright The Great War Archive, University of Oxford / Primary Contributor
Digital repository The Great War Archive, University of Oxford
Reference URL http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/gwa/item/6832