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War Memorials

In Memory of
Private M/408620
56th MT Coy Royal Army Service Corps
Who Died on Tuesday, 19th November 1918
Age 43

Plot I Row D Grave 23
Valenciennes (St Roch) Communal Cemetery, Nord, France

Commemorated in Perpetuity
by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Remembered with Honour
Valenciennes (St Roch) Communal Cemetery

Valenciennes (St Roch) Communal Cemetery1

Fred Barrett Armitage was born in Darlington, Co, Durham in 18752, the second of five surviving children, elder son, of John Watson Armitage (b. c1844, Darlington) and Caroline Louisa, his wife (b. c1846, Doncaster née Barrett). John was the Borough Accountant for Darlington Council and, by 1891, he and his wife and family were established in their home at 5 Cliffe Terrace, Woodlands Road, Darlington, built by the local builder Matthew Armitage, John's father, in about 1871 and where they were to continue to live out their lives3. By 1901, Fred had established himself as a traveller for a wire rope manufacturer and, at the time of the census, was staying with a cousin in Northumberland, in that role4.

By 1907, Fred had met and married Caroline Hallam in Nottingham. Caroline was born in 1887, the only child of Joseph Hallam, a dairyman and his wife Sarah5. Their son, John Edwin, was born in Feb 1908, a daughter, Doreen Lilian, was born in 1909 and two only daughters, Florence May (b. September 1912) and Jessie Margaret (b. c1916) were to complete their family. In the early years of their marriage, they lived at 83 Sherwin Road, Lenton but, by 1911, they had moved to 5 Grove Street, Beeston6. Fred was still a representative for the wire rope manufacturer and this was a popular address for commercial travellers because of its proximity to Beeston Station.

As a rather older married man with young children, it is perhaps understandable that Fred was not amongst those who enlisted so enthusiastically in the early months of the war. By 1916, however, the number of men volunteering for service was diminishing and was not meeting the relentless demand from the Western Front and the Government was looking for ways to fill the gap. The Derby Scheme, which introduced canvassing for volunteers had still not persuaded the required numbers and the Military Service Act was now enacted which meant that all single men aged between 18 and 41 (with some exceptions) would be automatically conscripted. In May, this was extended to married men but would have still excluded Fred who would have been overage. But, in the event, Fred enlisted in August 1917, anticipating by several months the eventual extension of the age limit to 517.

On enlistment he was selected for training as a motor transport driver with the Royal Army Service Corps and, when the training was complete, was posted to France, probably in early 1918, and joined 56th Motor Transport Company, involved in providing a supply chain for the front line. When the Armistice came on November 11th, like many others, he no doubt thought that it would not be too long before he would be home again with his family and back to a normal life. Sadly, it was not to be. Just over a week later, on 19th November, he was involved in an accident and his injuries were such that he was taken to No. 2 Casualty Clearing Station, then situated in Valenciennes. Despite the best efforts of the medical staff, Private Armitage died from his injuries on the same day.8.

He is buried in Valenciennes (St Roch) Communal Cemetery. Valenciennes remained in German hands from the early days of the First World War until 1-2 November 1918, when it was entered and cleared by the Canadian Corps; 5,000 civilians were found in the town. In November and December 1918, the 2nd, 57th, 4th Canadian and 32nd Casualty Clearing Stations were posted at Valenciennes and the last of them did not leave until October 1919. The Communal Cemetery of St. Roch was used by the Germans in August and September 1914 and an extension was then made on the south-east side. The Commonwealth plots were made adjoining the German: I and II contain the graves of October 1918 to December 1919; III, IV, V and part of VI contain the graves of 348 soldiers buried originally in the German Extension and 226 whose bodies were brought from other cemeteries or from the battlefields. The German Extension has since been removed and the Commonwealth plots are within the enlarged Communal Cemetery. The cemetery now contains 885 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the First World War. 37 of the burials are unidentified. Special memorials commemorate 19 casualties who died as prisoners of war, of whom nine are buried here (Plot IV, Row A.) and ten at Le Quesnoy Communal Cemetery Extension, none of whom could be individually identified; all are therefore commemorated at both sites. Other special memorials record the names of seven soldiers buried in other cemeteries whose graves could not be found.9.

Private Armitage was posthumously awarded the British & Victory medals10. His Army financial effects totalling 8 11s 1d, which included his War Gratuity of 5, were paid to Caroline, his widow, on 3 May 191911. On 1st July 1919, probate of his estate, valued at 1,060 7s 3d, was granted to Caroline at Nottingham Probate Registry12. By this time, she had moved to live at 43 Queens Road, Beeston.

In addition to the memorial in Beeston Parish Church, Private Armitage is remembered on the Beeston Constitutional (now Conservative) Club memorial which is at the club premises on Station Road, Beeston.

Caroline later moved with her family to 11 Melrose Avenue, Beeston where, she is known to have been living in 1958. There was further sadness in February 1920 when her daughter Florence May died, aged only four, and in September 1927 when her daughter Jessie Margaret died, aged 18. In 1934, her son John Edwin, who worked as the manager of a Nottingham soft furnishings shop, married Hilda Elizabeth Dicken. Sadly, he died on 25 August 1941, while serving in Iraq with 14th/20th King's Hussars. By 1939, Caroline's widowed mother had joined her at Melrose Avenue with daughter Florence May still at home, working as a distributor of gowns and mantles. Despite a thorough search it is not been possible to identify when or where Caroline - or, indeed, Florence May - died.13.

1The photograph of Valenciennes (St Roch) Communal Cemetery is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
2His birth was registered in Darlington Registration District in Q1/1875 (Ref 10a 31). He was baptised at Holy Trinity Church, Darlington on 10 March 1875.
3Darlington, Co. Durham: 1891 Census, Piece 4044 Folio 46. Matthew Armitage submitted for 5 Cliffe Terrace to Darlington Borough Council on 22 May 1871 (Durham County Record Office - Ref Da/NG 2/349). This may have been in anticipation of John Watson Armitage and Caroline Louisa Barrett's marriage in York on 16 March 1872.
Fred's siblings were Mary May (b. c1873), Florence Jessie (b. c1882), John Henry (b. c1886) and Effie Carrie (b. c1889).
4Gosforth, Northumberland: 1901 Census, Piece 4816 Folio 35
5Their marriage was registered in Nottingham Registration District in Q1/1907 (Ref 7b 508).
61911 Census, Beeston, Notts : Piece 20429 RD429 SD3 ED4 Sched 20.
7As Fred's Army Service Record has not survived, his enlistment date has been estimated based on the amount of his War Gratuity.
8Although details of the circumstances of his death have not been found, his death at No 2 Casualty Clearing Station is recorded in his entry in the Army Registers of Soldiers' Effects.
9This description of Valenciennes (St Roch) Communal Cemetery is based on that included on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
10Details from Fred's Medal Card and his entry in the Medal Rolls - available on ancestry.com.
11Army Registers of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929, available on ancestry.com.
12Probate Calendar.
13This family detail is derived from standard genealogical sources, including the 1939 Registration. A memorial to Fred and Caroline's daughters, who died in 1920 and 1927 respectively, survives in Beeston Cemetery and may be seen here.

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