Frederick John Harris 

Royal Field Artillery Service no: 915630

Attached to the Royal Naval Division

Fred with his Mother


    Before the out break of war Fred Lived at 14 Charlotte Street with his Mother & Father and his brothers and sisters . On 1st February 1915  Fred was on his way to work in the Paper Mill when he heard in the distance the sound of a band. That band was the band of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and they were playing "It's a long way to Tipperary"  As they marched past, Fred stood on the curb watching, " Their eyes were on me " he said later, "I felt, that I should be with them". Fred wasn't alone in that feeling either. His two companions also felt it, and they all decided to join up that very day.  The recruiting office was then in Johnson's house at  Johnson's Gardens Sittingbourne. Fred and his two chums  Sid Davis of the fish shop in Hawthorn Road and Len Mantle from Bapchild went straight in and presented themselves to the recruiting sergeant. "How old are you" he asked Fred, " eighteen and four months" said Fred, "Well... If you go out that door you just came through, then come back in and tell me you are nineteen and four months,... I'll believe you" said the sergeant ! And that is what Fred did.  More than thirty of Fred's fellow work mates joined up that day in February 1915.  

        Fred found himself in the 4th Home Counties Howitzer Brigade. After a few week of training locally for example digging practise gun pits at Keycol Hospital. Fred was sent up to a field training centre near Luton, where new recruits were taught equestrian skills. Over the next 16 months Fred was sent to Otford near Sevenoaks, and Gosport, for further training until Fred was a fully trained on 4.5 Howitzers and they packed him off  via Southampton to France. The  4th Home Counties Howitzer Brigade arrived in Le Havres in March 1916. Fred described a strange scene that he witnessed around this time, He was on a train heading towards the front. His attention was drawn to a siding with some wagons in it, a group of staff officers stood nearby. Fred could not swear to it, but said one of these men could have been Haig himself. On the wagons were huge objects covered with tarpaulins, were they the Tanks?   Shortly after this, Fred's Brigade was transferred to the 63rd Division otherwise known as The Royal Naval Division in the weeks proceeding the Battle of the Somme. Fred was unsure of his exact locations at any one time because as he said " Those in charge didn't bother to tell us where we were " but he knew he was about 10k east of Albert.  The Battery that Fred was with  moved from the  main theatre of the great offensive after a very short time to go to what Fred called a quite sector near Arras where his battery (4 guns) was rationed to firing 25 rounds a day to save shells needed for the "great push".  Fred  considered himself  fortunate that he missed the opening of the great offensive. Soon Fred found himself promoted to the rank of Bombardier and did his best to make life as comfortable as possible for himself and the rest of his gun. He said that while the rest of the battery were content to sleep on ground sheets. He, with a bit of borrowing here and there managed to build his gun  bunk beds from found timber and chicken wire! On 13th of  November 1916 Fred was involved in the opening shots of the The Battle of the Ancre when the Naval Division attacked Beaumont  Hamel. He wondered what the ground must have been like for our chaps after the shelling it got?          


left to right: Bruce Hadlow, Fred, Sam Jenner

Fred (on left back row) with unknown group

    In April 1917 Fred was in action at Vimy Ridge. In October  the same year Fred was at Passchendaele where he found it impossible to dig gun pits due to the water logged ground. Fred described how he received the wound that put him out of the war on 7th of November 1917. Fred spent some time at  Elverdinge, near Essex Farm just before he was wounded. he was sent up "the Buffs Road" to deliver supplies to where his gun position was to be but came under enemy fire and his gun position was wiped out, fortunately Fred survived and his gun moved back to the wooden road that led out of Kitchener's Wood. On the day he was wounded Fred was sheltering in a knocked out tank on the wooden road . There were two British tanks beside the road and the gun crews used one of them to shelter in as their guns were close by. Fred and his team sat listening to the shells dropping all around. One of the crew suggested someone ought to take a look outside and as Fred was nearest the door he decided to take a peek. Just as he emerged from the tank and out of the sand bagged exit  he saw to his horror that the next shell was coming straight for him, he ducked back into the tank as quickly as he could. Unfortunately not quick enough and Fred was hit behind the knee buy a piece of shrapnel. Fred was taken to a field dressing station by some stretcher bearers and much to Fred's annoyance, they dropped him!  Fred's wound was to the ligaments in the back of the knee and Fred was sent from the field dressing station back,  via ambulance to a field hospital where he was operated on. The following day Fred awoke in a bed "what a lovely bed" were Freds first thoughts. Fred spent seven days in an American hospital  and eventually he was sent home to  Blighty. The next six months were in hospital firstly in London, He spent the first 3 months in Bermondsey in a hospital off the Jamaica road and then Queens gate in Kensington where he stayed in a mansion turned over to the authorities for War use. After a period of convalescence Fred was sent to the Depot at Ripon Yorkshire where he spent the rest of the war on the permanent staff. Work there included reclamation, this could sometimes be as petty as soaking the labels off of jam jars and saving the paper!          


Under Construction

    At the grand age of 102 Fred received one of  France's highest awards for his courageous deeds during The Great War, the Legion d'honeur. It was presented to him by the Queen's representative in Kent, The Lord Lieutenant of Kent, Lord Kingsdown, who was representing the President of France for the first time!