Killed while carrying tea, eight miles from the gun that fired the fateful shot

This story might be described, in a war of such sustained violence, as commonplace and unremarkable. But amongst the thousands I have men I have researched it is amongst those that stand out for me, underscoring the randomness and unfairness of death. It is adapted from my 2016 study of the military service of Frederick Richard Bassett, which I undertook for a private client. A former soldier of the Militia who joined the regular army in 1904, he had been wounded at Ypres in 1914. He eventually returned to duty as Private 8166 of the 1st Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, which was under orders of 1st Infantry Brigade of 1st Division when he was killed on 11 August 1918


During the morning of 10 August 1918 the battalion was relieved from a front line position and marched rearwards to billets in the town of Noeux-les-Mines. Next morning, the billets came under fire from one or more high velocity guns. The men were moved out of town for their own safety, returning to the billets after the fire stopped at about 11.30am. At 12.45am the fire began again, just as rations and dinners were being issued to the men. 27 soldiers of the battalion were hit, five of them being killed and the rest wounded.

The family memory that Frederick had been carrying tea when he was hit may well be true.

Imperial War Museum photo Q11587. Portuguese and British troops digging a communication trench along a street in Noeux-les-Mines, 13 April 1918. Note signboards on houses giving details of billeting and cellar accommodation, unfortunately obscured by a censor.
From the battalion’s war diary. National Archives WO95/1266. Crown Copyright.

The battalion’s war diary does not tell us exactly where the billets had been, but after this incident the men were moved to the southern part of the town: perhaps we can surmise that they had been in the northern part. Maps below describe the location.

The five men who were killed included Frederick Richard Bassett. He is buried alongside his four comrades in the military extension to the communal cemetery in Noeux-les-Mines.

A present-day map for orientation. Noeux-les-Mines lies south of the larger town of Béthune. As its name suggests, it was once in a heavily industrialised, grimy, coal mining region. Today, the area is much cleaner and the mining has ceased but it is still dotted with conical slag heaps. Note also the location of Vermelles (discussed below).
A map from August 1918. The locations named “Fosse” are coal mine pit heads, often with an associated slag heap. The “Corons” are workers communities. Note the location of the communal cemetery, in the northern part of the town and presumably not far from the battalion’s billets when they were shelled on 11 August 1918.
A present-day map. The cemetery is in the same place of course and the general road layout is much the same as in 1918, but Noeux is considerably more developed.
The front line lay east of Vermelles. On this map (which dates to May 1918 but the situation here was barely altered by August) the dark blue lines show British trenches and the red ones are in German hands. If we assume the German artillery to have been no less than half a mile behind their front line, the gun whose shell killed Frederick and his comrades was located at least eight miles away from him in Noeux-les-Mines.

The casualties

From the War Office daily casualty list of 10 September 1918.
Registration of the five burials in the military extension to the local communal cemetery. (Commonwealth War Graves Commission).

The casualties were all at the rank of Private:

8166 Frederick Richard Bassett. Aged 29, son of Edwin Mark and Marion Sheppick Bassett of 56, Crystal Palace Road, East Dulwich, London. He was amongst the first to land in France, on 12 August 1914: he was a day short of the fourth anniversary when he lost his life. Frederick’s only brother George, serving with the Royal Garrison Artillery, was killed on 16 October 1918. His four sisters survived the war.

36007 Hamilton Clearie. Aged 34, of Janet Garven Clearie of 1, Carrick Terrace, Troon, Ayrshire. They had one daughter, aged five when her father was killed. A butcher by trade, he had attested under the Group System in December 1915 and went to France, posted to the 1st Battalion, in January 1917. Hamilton had a period away while he recovered from measles in May 1917.

20587 William Hindley. Aged 45 and a cotton spinner by trade, son of Richard and Jane Hindley of Bolton, Lancashire; and husband of the late Mary Ann Hindley, also of Bolton. They had had three children (plus another five who did not survive infancy).

From the “Bolton Journal and Guardian” of Friday 6 September 1918. (British Newspaper Archive)

23162 James Mayoh. Aged 40 and a salesman and carter of pickles, he was the son of William and Edna Mayoh, and husband of Emily Ann Mayoh of 58 Longfield Road, Daubhill, Bolton, Lancashire. He was the father of two children, aged 11 and 4 when they lost him.

8519 Alfred Henry Squires. Aged 31 and like Frederick Bassett a pre-war soldier of the regular army. From Topsham, Exeter in Devon, his soldiers small book is held by the Topsham Museum. He left a widow, Mabel.

From the “Devon and Exeter Gazette” of Friday 30 August 1918 (British Newspaper Archive).
From the “Western Times” (same date and source).

In addition to the five men killed in the shelling, three more died of wounds at a Casualty Clearing Station on the same day, all being buried in Pernes British Cemetery.

War Office daily list 9 September 1918. Pte Polding was from a different battalion.

Corporal 7963 Matthew Brierley. Born in Bamber Bridge in Lancashire and brother of Mrs Catherine Harrison. (III.B.32) Landed in France with the battalion on 12 August 1914.

Corporal 18265 Joseph Burke. Son of Catherine Burke of 66 Crompton Street, Farnworth, nr. Bolton. (IV.A.1) His brother Peter had been killed with the East Lancashire Regiment in November 1917. Joseph enlisted in November 1914, served in France from September 1915 with 7th (Service) Battalion and transferred to 1st Battalion in February 1918.

4973 John Charles Sharples. Aged 40. Husband of Annie Sharples of 15, Melbourne Street, Preston, Lancashire. He left a 12-year-old daughter, Annie. John had enlisted into the regular army after a period with the Militia in 1895. He succumbed after his left leg underwent an emergency amputation. A veteran of the Second Boer War, he had been awarded the army’s Long Service & Good Conduct Medal in 1917. (III.B.30)


Loyal North Lancashire Regiment

1st Division