© Peter Hodgkinson 2016

Dr Peter E Hodgkinson Chartered Clinical Psychologist - Military Historian

The Letters of Private Whitham

The Battle of Loos - 25 September to 14 October 1915

Frederick Whitham of ‘C’ Company was killed on 26 September, on the second day of the battle. His body was not recovered or identified, and he is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

As an officer’s servant, he would have remained close to his officer and would likely have been used as a runner.

From the War Diary of 2nd Yorkshire:

The unit moved up Gordon Alley Communication Trench at 6.a.m. as the bombardment ceased, “much blocked by wounded men returning”, climbing out on top despite shellfire to be able to progress. At 10.20 ‘C’ & ‘D’ Companies moved into the captured German front line. At 11.00 they moved on to the Hulluch Quarries, ‘C’ & ‘D’ companies clearing the quarries but being stopped by fire from Puits Trench and Puits 13. Here they remained, Lt. Gray of ‘C’ Company being wounded. In the evening orders were received to attack Hulluch the next day, but the front companies of the unit were to be relieved. ‘A’ Company withdrew, but it was then realised that there were Germans in the quarry and “a bombing section under Lt Hill was despatched to deal with them – Lt Hill was almost at once reported shot”. Hill was of ‘C’ Company, and Whitham was a trained bomber. Lt. Brooksbank of ‘D’ Company’s platoon was sent to deal with them, but at this point there were 50 Germans in the quarry and Brooksbank was immediately wounded (12 minutes past midnight on the 26th). ‘D’ Company was suffering heavily, and the company commander, Captain Richardson was mortally wounded. “The position was now serious – the trench was held by ‘C’ Company and 80 men of the S. Stafford Regiment facing both ways”. At 2 a.m. British guns began shelling the position and there was a withdrawal “into the nearest quarry” remaining “under the shelter of its cliff”. There was then an attempt to move towards Hulluch, which was stopped by advancing Germans after 300 yards. ‘B’ ‘C’ & ‘D’ companies then joined the Wiltshires in forming a defensive flank in Breslau Avenue, remaining there the rest of the day. In abandoning the quarries the Medical Officers, stretcher bearers and wounded were left behind.

Between 25 September and 1 October, 5 officers and 32 other ranks were killed, with 7 officers and 103 other ranks missing.

The Hulluch Quarries

On October 12, Emma Whitham received a form from York saying that she would be paid separation allowance until April 10, 1916. On 9 February 1916 she was issued with the sum of £3 and 17 shillings in "settlement of the accounts", and a copy of Whitham’s will. On 23 February she received a further communication to inform her that "no effects have been received”.

A letter dated 4 November 1925 from the Vickers Employees War Relief Fund stated that "as your boy is nearing 14 years of age … the payment of the last allowance due is enclosed”. The letter was sent just before Remembrance Sunday and continued, suggesting that her son Frederick "be one of the two children to place the wreath on the tablet bearing his father's name".

After Frederick’s death, Emma remarried to Stanley Colton in 1929. He was 20 years her junior, born in 1905. Emma died in 1965 in Sheffield, but her death was registered under the name Whitham, which suggests she did not remain married to Stanley, who died in 1981.

Index - Letters of Private Whitham