FREDRICK HALL VC 1885 – 1915
Fredrick Hall was born in James Stephens Barracks, Kilkenny on 21 February 1885.
He spent a number of years in Kilkenny before moving with his family to England. His father was the Drum Major with the 5th Militia Battalion Royal Irish Regiment when he was born. He enlisted with the 8th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force on 23 Sept 1914 and he embarked with his unit for England on 03 Oct 1914.Regt No 1539 CSM Hall was killed in action on 24 April 1914 while attempting to recue one of his soldiers from no man’s land.
As a result of this action he was granted the Victoria Cross “For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty”.
This is his story
Frederick William Hall was born in the military barracks Ballybought street Kilkenny City, Ireland on 21st of February 1885, the son of a British Army career soldier Frederick Hall Senior, who was the Drum Major with the 5th Militia Battalion of The Royal Irish Regiment at the time. The Family resided in Patrick Street just off the City’s main street and about one mile from the barracks. His mother was Mary Annie Hall (nee) Finn and he also had two sisters Ada Catherine, who was born in Belfast in 1881, and Louisa born in Brentwood, Essex in 1884.
Two weeks shy of his sixteenth birthday Frederick joined the Scottish Rifles in on 4th February 1901 as a boy soldier with the rank of Bandsman. He rose through the ranks and he was promoted Sgt on 14 March 1913. He retired from the Scottish Rifles two months later on 20th May 1913.
After retiring from the British army he immigrated to Winnipeg and he very quickly signed up with the local militia unit which was 106th Winnipeg Light Infantry Battalion. When the First World War broke out he joined the 8th Canadian Infantry Battalion which was organized at Valcartier under Camp Order 241 of 2 September 1914. The battalion was composed of recruits from Winnipeg and from the 96th Lake Superior Regiment of the Active Militia Battalion as well as from other local militia regiments. His first appointment was Corporal in Kilo (K) Company where his Company Commander was Lt Charles Blake. Yet again he rose quickly through the ranks, being promoted to Company Sergeant-Major on 01 December 1914.
The 8th Canadian Infantry Battalion was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel L.J. Lipsett who was a native of Ballyshannon, County Donegal. Louis-James Lipsett was commissioned as a 2/LT in the Royal Irish regiment in 1885 and saw service in India and South Africa during the Boer war. He was instrumental in moulding the battalion in the short time available and managed to overcome the logistical and administration problems associated with mass recruitment. The battalion embarked at Quebec on 1st October 1914 aboard FRANCONIA, steaming on the 3rd October as part of the largest flotilla ever seen disembarking from Canada. The flotilla arrived England on 14th October 1914, disembarking in Plymouth. The strength of 8th Canadian Infantry battalion was 47 officers and 1106 other ranks when it reached its new home, and along with the rest of the 2nd and 3rd Brigades settled into the West Down, South Camp on Salisbury plain.
The Canadian Brigades quickly established a training routine on Salisbury Plain. However, the weather deteriorated very quickly and indeed the miserable weather turned training into a drudgery. There were no means of drying clothing, and men who ploughed through ankle-deep mud all day had to let their rain-soaked uniforms dry on their backs. This would undoubtedly have caused many problems for CSM Hall who was responsible directly for the training administration and conduct for over one hundred of the battalion’s soldiers. Formation size training commenced only after the initial three months of training which included trice weekly route marches, range time and platoon level tactical training. The formation size training culminated with two weeks of battalion and brigade sized exercises. The Canadian division was now ready.
The 8th Canadian Infantry disembarked in France on 13th February 1915, becoming part of 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division. Routine was quickly established culminating with the move, one Platoon at a time, into quiet sectors of the Western Front to accustom them to trench routine. The indoctrination was practical and thorough. From Company Commanders down to Private soldiers everyone was associated with a corresponding member of the host unit for 48 hours of individual training. There then followed 24 hours of platoon training during which each Canadian platoon was made responsible for a definite length of trench as part of the company forming the regular garrison. Throughout that week battalion commander Lt Col Lipsett, his officers and NCOs learned the many details of administration in trench warfare. On the 20th February the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, Field Marshal Sir John French, inspected units of the Division.
On the 28th of February orders came for the 1st Division to take over a section of the First Army’s front. At 1100 hrs the relief of the 7th British Division began and by the 3rd March the Divisional Commander – General Alderson had assumed responsibility for 6400 yards of line in front of Fleurbaix. This was a quiet time and after 10 days the Division rotated to the rear to rest. During this period there were daily work parties required for routine trench building and repairing trench systems on the front line.
GAS, GAS, GAS!
On the 15th April the 8th Canadian Infantry Battalion took over a section of front line trench from the French. This was a series of unconnected trench systems which were poorly positioned and lacked any real protection from barbed wire defences. The next few days were spent improving the position. On the 22nd April, the day of the first gas attack on the Western front, the standard German shelling caused over forty casualties in the 8th Canadian Infantry battalion. However no gas was released in the Canadian area of operations and no German attack occurred along the line.
At this time the line held by 2 Canadian Infantry Brigade (CIB) ran from Berlin Wood across to the Passchendale road and NW along the valley of the Stroombeek River. The 5th Canadian Infantry battalion on the left followed up by the 8th Canadian Infantry battalion on their left. The 8ths left was the 15th Canadian Infantry battalion, 3rd CIB. On the night of the 23rd April all of the soldiers of the 8th Canadian Infantry battalion were issued with improvised gas masks. This offered some protection against this new weapon which had a devastating effect on soldiers.
Three companies of the 8th Canadian Infantry battalion were deployed along the front line. Half of C Coy was held to their rear as immediate support. The remaining half company of two platoons commanded by Captain Bertram and Lt O Grady were held in reserve by Lt Col Lipsett close to Boetleer farm. CSM Hall was second in command of Lt O Grady’s platoon.
24TH APRIL 1915
At 0330hrs on 24th April the Germans launched a heavy barrage and at 0400 hrs a gas attack was released. It drifted across no man’s land towards the Canadians. Lt Col Lipsett realised the gravity of the situation and he had heavy artillery called down on the German advance causing heavy casualties. The gas was now having its effect on the Canadian soldiers. The improvised respirators organised the previous evening were giving some protection and allowed the defenders to bring accurate small arms fire on the attackers. The Canadians’ Ross rifle was however jamming in large numbers and soldiers could be seen trying to re-cock their rifle with their feet.
The German assault broke through the area between the 15th and 8th Canadian Infantry battalions. It was here that Lt Col Lipsett committed his immediate reserve of half company strength to plug this gap of over 100m in length. Very few of the C Coy reserve reached their objective and those that did were met by the appalling sight of soldiers exposed to gas in large numbers. The order was given that Graffenstaffel Ridge had to be defended at all costs. Lt Col Lipsett now committed his last remaining reserve to plug the gap which still remained on the left flank. The time now was 0900hrs.
THIRD TIME UNLUCKY
Under heavy fire the platoons made their way forward and Lt O Grady was killed crossing some open ground. CSM Hall now took command of his platoon and he led his men over almost 1500 meters to the front line positions. On reaching the forward position and as part of his reorganisation and consolidation phase he discovered a number of his men wounded and located to his rear. He quickly went back to collect two wounded men and one after another and brought them to the relative safety of the trench. Hearing the cries of a third man CSM Hall, together with Cpl Payne and Pte Rogerson, climbed out of their trench and attempted to rescue the wounded man who was lying on an exposed bank 15 meters from the front line. Both Payne and Rogerson were wounded and could not further assist Hall. After a short rest CSM Hall crawled out to the wounded man. After reaching him and lying prone he managed to get the wounded soldier on his back. Having become a bit disorientated he raised his head to confirm his position. A bullet hit him in the head, fatally wounding him. Moments later the wounded man was also killed. For this act of courage CSM Hall was awarded the Victoria Cross.
CSM F. Hall London Gazette Citation.
On 24th April, 1915, in the neighborhood of Ypres, when a wounded man who was lying some 15 yards from the trench called for help, Company Serjeant-Major Hall endeavored to reach him in the face of a very heavy enfilade fire which was being poured in by the enemy. The first attempt failed, and a Non-commissioned Officer and private soldier who were attempting to give assistance were both wounded. Company Serjeant-Major Hall then made a second most gallant attempt, and was in the act of lifting up the wounded man to bring him in when he fell mortally wounded in the head.”
The Canadian soldiers held the day. Most of the battalions returned from the front lines with less than 25% of their effective strength remaining at the end of their period on the front line. Heroic such as those of CSM Frederick Hall were commonplace every day along the front line. However, few acts of heroism happened at such a critical time as that of the selfless actions of CSM Frederick Hall. His total disregard for personal safety and his willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for his subordinates was of immense importance and is seen as a critical moment in the 8th Canadian Infantry Battalions’ determination to hold their positions. Had the German attack been successful the strategic outcome may have led to a very different ending to the war.
IN THE END
The CEF eventually came to number 260 separate numbered Infantry Battalions, 13 regiments of mounted rifles, and many units of the supporting arms including 13 railway troop battalions, 5 Pioneer Battalions, Field and Heavy Artillery, field ambulance, medical, dental, forestry, labour, tunnelling, cyclist, and service units. By war’s end, a Canadian Machine Gun Corps had been formed, and many soldiers had experience flying with the British Royal Flying Corps before it became a separate service known as the Royal Air Force.
The 8th Canadian Infantry Battalion returned to England on 23rd March 1919, disembarked in Canada on 4th May 1919, was demobilized on 8th May 1919, and was disbanded by General Order 149 of 15th September 1920. The Canadian Expeditionary Force suffered 60,661 dead during the war (9.28% of the 619,636 who enlisted). Many of these soldiers were Irish born and records show that at least 21 were born in county Kilkenny.
A KILKENNY HERO
Frederick Hall always gave his birth place as Kilkenny, Ireland. While he may have lived in Kilkenny for a brief number of years it is very fitting that he is now remembered as a Canadian soldier from Kilkenny. Arguably he exceeded his duties of a CSM; he went above and beyond his duty to look after his soldiers and therefore he is rightly remembered as an outstanding soldier.
On the 24th of April 2015, His Excellency Mr Kevin Vickers, Ambassador of Canada planted a maple tree honouring the memory of Frederick Hall VC in Stephens Barracks at the rear of the current day Ncos Mess very close to where he was born.