Monday, March 07, 2016

12517 Cpl Frederick John Denton MM, 9th Essex Regiment

12517 Corporal Frederick John Denton (pictured, above in October 1916) was a patient at Beechland House from October 1916 until August 1917. His entry in Nurse Oliver’s album reads:

Think kindly of those, that thought so kindly of us in our hour of need.

Wounded at Ovillers La Boiselle in the big Push on the 3rd of July 1916.

12517 Cpl. F.J. Denton
9th Battalion Essex Regt.

Better known as the Hungry Ninth.

1 Somerset Rd Linford
Nr Stanford-Le-Hope. Essex.

Mentioned in Dispatches Sept 1915. Mentioned again June 1916. Awarded the Military Medal
Sept 15th 1916 & presented with the Military Medal by Major General Sir G Kitson KCVO CB CMG on the 25th of November 1916 at the Newick VAD hospital.

There is some confusion about Frederick Denton’s true date of birth. His attestation papers give 20th January 1894 while his daughter gives the same month and day but 1896 as the year. He was probably born on 20th January 1895. The civil registration index of England and Wales 1837-1983 notes that his birth was recorded in the March quarter of 1895 at Orsett, Essex and the 1901 census also notes him as a six year old.

When the census was taken he was living with his family at 17 and 18 Dock Dwellings, Chadwell St Mary, Tilbury. The household comprised: Henry William Denton (head, married, aged 37, a police constable), his wife Amy Louisa E Denton (aged 36) and seven children: Florence Amelia Denton (aged 11), Edward George Denton (aged ten), Henry Arthur Denton (aged eight), Frederick (aged six), Victor Harold Denton (aged three), Walter Cecil Denton (aged two) and Alfred Milner Denton (aged ten months). The children’s father had been born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent; their mother in Islington, London. Florence’s place of birth is noted as Custom House, London but all the other children have “Tilbury” noted against their names.

Alfred Denton died in infancy in 1902 aged two years but three more children were also born after the 1901 census was taken: Amy Winifred Denton in 1901, Margaret Elsie Denton in 1903 (died 1904 aged one year) and Francis William Denton in 1906.

According to his nephew, Frederick’s father, Henry William Denton was born in 1864 and, prior to joining the police force, was an RSM with the Grenadier Guards. He had married Amy Louisa at St George’s Chapel, Windsor in 1886. The civil registration index for England and Wales notes her maiden name as Danton.

The Denton children attended East Tilbury village school and when war was declared all of the brothers (except Francis who was still a schoolboy) volunteered to fight for their King and Country. Florence was married by this stage and running her own household but her younger sister Amy worked as a nurse during the latter stages of the war.

Frederick attested with the Essex Regiment at Grays on 1st September 1914. His age is noted as 20 years and 192 days (although he was probably a year younger than this), his height as five feet, seven inches and his weight as 149 pounds. He had blue eyes and a fair complexion. He gave his occupation as sailmaker for the Orient Steam Navigation Company at Tilbury Docks and his home address as 21 Lower Crescent, Linford, near Stanford-Le-Hope, Essex. He was given the service number 12517.

On the 16th September he was posted to B Company of the 9th Essex Regiment and remained with this battalion in England until 29th May 1915. Posted with him was his seventeen year old brother Victor who had joined up the same day as Frederick and been given a service number just 11 digits apart – 12506. In civilian life he was apprenticed as a painter at the Orient Steam Navigation Company dockyard.

On 11th April that year, no doubt aware that he was going to be posted overseas shortly, Frederick married his sweetheart, Maud Annie Silver at the Parish Church in Mucking, Essex.

He was appointed lance-corporal (unpaid) on 17th May 1915 and less than a fortnight later was in France. He would spend the next thirteen and a half months overseas and during that time would be Mentioned in Despatches twice (in September 1915 and June 1916) and awarded the Military Medal for gallantry in October 1915. In April 1916 he was appointed corporal.

Frederick was wounded at Ovillers La Boiselle on 3rd July 1916 during the opening stages of the Battle of The Somme. The following account is adapted from part 14 of The Hospital Way:

The 9th Essex formed part of the 35th Brigade, 12th Division, its objective the capture of Ovillers. The Division would attack on a two brigade front with the 35th Brigade on the right and the 37th on the left. The 9th Essex would be in support of the attacking battalions of the 5th Royal Berkshire and 7th Suffolk Regiments and all men would take up positions by the 2nd July in readiness for an attack the following day.

At around 3:00 am on Monday July 3rd, the attacking troops of the 12th Division left their trenches and moved under cover of artillery fire to assembly trenches dug in no man’s land. Fifteen minutes later, the barrage ceased and the men rushed the German trenches under cover of a smoke screen to their left. At first, all went well. The 5th Royal Berkshires suffered few casualties whilst crossing and used the cover of a sunken road to lead them straight into Ovillers. The German wire had been virtually obliterated by artillery fire and the men passed with relative ease through the first and second lines until they reached the ruins of houses on the Western edge of Ovillers. Here though, they were engaged in heavy bombing attacks and due to a lack of further supplies of bombs, the leading companies suffered heavy casualties. The 7th Suffolk Regiment’s advance followed a similar pattern. They too passed through the German first line, encountered strong opposition in the second line but pushed forward to the third. This position was strongly held and made even more uncomfortable for the attacking troops by German fire coming in from the left flank.

Fred and Victor Denton and their comrades in the 9th Essex fared even worse. “The march of the Battalion,” wrote one of its soldiers later, “… will forever be remembered by those engaged. Innumerable gun flashes lit the darkness of the night; they seemed endless and as one approached the line, the noise was deafening. After what appeared to be endless marching we reached the trenches in front of Ovillers. They were of hard chalk and with the bad weather not at all easy to negotiate without trench boards. In moving to positions for attack the congestion in the trenches was awful and mortally wounded men could not be moved.” To make matters worse, the German defenders, by now fully awake and repelling the attacking battalions in front of them, were sweeping no man’s land with machine gun fire. Here, states the Divisional History, “considerable casualties were sustained, and the waves of the attack becoming a series of small parties not strong enough to give any material assistance to the forward formations, the 35th Brigade attack broke down and the remnants of the battalions were driven out of the German lines.” C Company, supported by a platoon from B Company managed to reach La Boiselle and capture 200 Germans but it was an isolated success on a morning of strong initial advances, punished by vigorous counter attacks and German machine guns brought up from deep dug-outs which had been unaffected by the intense one hour bombardment which preceded the assault.

By nine o’clock, the Division was reporting that the attack had failed. A combination of flanking machine gun fire, lack of cohesion by troops advancing in the dark and the pock-marked terrain, made impassable in places due to the recent heavy rains, had put paid to the Division’s efforts.

The 6th Royal West Kent Regiment, lost 19 officers and 375 other ranks out of an attacking force of 617. Other battalions suffered similarly. The casualties for the 12th Division’s two attacking brigades amounted to 97 officers and 2277 other ranks and Victor and Fred Denton were numbered amongst them. At around 4am, the 9th Essex attack had come to a standstill and the survivors withdrew to the front line to be relieved by the 7th Norfolks. In little under one hour the battalion had suffered 12 officer and 386 other rank casualties. Corporal Fred Denton had survived the bombardment on the way to the trenches but had taken a bullet in his left forearm which would finish his service as an infantryman. Of Victor however there was no sign and no news and he was posted as missing. Much later, Fred would learn that his brother’s body had been found and laid to rest in France by an old school friend from East Tilbury. Frederick’s nephew records the school friend’s name as “Gorbrer Salmon” and this may be Alfred Salmon (born 1897 in Tilbury). The grave though, would never be found and in time Victor’s name would be added to the memorial to the missing at Thiepval.

Frederick Denton arrived back in England on 8th July and was sent to Beaufort War Hospital in Bristol where he remained until 18th September. He was then posted to the 3rd Essex before being transferred down to the Eastern Command Depot at Shoreham on Sea where he underwent special arm and leg drill. He remained there until 17th October when he was again transferred, this time to The 2nd Eastern General Hospital in Brighton and from there, to Beechland House at Newick.

The presentation of Denton’s Military Medal in November was obviously quite an occasion, not just for the patients at Beechlands but also for the local community as a whole. It was something that the newspapers of the time covered in considerable detail. The Sussex Daily News carried a report on 27th November and this was followed up by two reports published by The Sussex Express and The East Sussex News:

The Sussex Express
December 1st 1916 - Newick
MILITARY MEDAL PRESENTED - At an entertainment given on Saturday evening at the Red Cross Convalescent Home, Beechlands, Corporal F I [sic] Denton of the Essex Regiment was presented with the Military Medal for gallant conduct at the Hohenzollern Redoubt last year. The sergeant of the bombing team was wounded and Denton took charge… Three hearty cheers were given for the recipient, who in a few words of acknowledgement, said the other men present had all done as well as he had, for they had all been out and all had done their bit, (Applause). Subsequently Major-General Kitson said that he had lately been in France (not on active service) and he could tell them from what he saw there was no difference between the old Army and the new. They were all one Army and they were all alike doing their duty. Captain Colesworth [sic] attended the presentation. A very enjoyable entertainment was provided by friends from Brighton, assisted by some of the patients at Beechlands. Corporal Denton, who was accompanied by his wife and child, who are staying in Newick, received many congratulations from those present. He joined the Essex Regiment on 1st September 1914, previous to which he worked as a sailmaker at Tilbury. He went to France in May 1915, gained his distinction in the following Autumn, and in July 1916, was wounded in the left forearm.

East Sussex News
Friday December 1st 1916
… the service for which Corporal Denton was given his award had to do with some bombing work last year when his battalion was in an attack against the Hohenzollern Redoubt and subsequently it appears that a sergeant of his platoon was wounded, when he promptly took his place in organizing the bombing teams, carried out their general instructions and he was commended by his officer for his work, in which he ably carried out the duties of a senior NCO. He afterwards received an official card with the following recognition: “Your Commanding Officer and Brigade Commander have informed me that you have distinguished yourself by conduct in the field. I have read their report with much pleasure and have brought it to the notice of the higher authority (signed) S M Scott, Major-General, Commanding 12th Division.”

Frederick remained at Beechlands until 7th August 1917 when he was posted back to the 3rd Essex Regiment. Recovered, but not sufficiently so to warrant further service with an infantry battalion, he was transferred to The Army Service Corps and ended the war as a corporal with C Company of the 1st Heavy Repair Shop. He was given a new number: M/323366.

On 28th April 1919 he was transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve on de-mobilisation. He was awarded a small army pension which recognised his degree of disability as just ten per cent with the likelihood of it being only temporary.

After the war Frederick worked as a training lieutenant aboard the Exmouth training ship at Grays on the River Thames and moved with it to Shotley, Suffolk, when hostilities again broke out in 1939. He died at Chadwell St Mary in 1974 at the age of eighty.

As mentioned previously, all of his brothers also served their King and Country during the First World War. Edward served with the Mercantile Marine. Arthur was a sergeant in the East Surrey Regiment and like Frederick, was also awarded the Military Medal. Walter served with the Norfolk Regiment and was severely wounded at Cambrai in 1917, receiving a full army pension for life. Prior to this he was at sea and was torpedoed aboard the SS Minnewaska off Crete.

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