William Alfred Read Fricker (1881–1917)

G/21490 Private William Alfred Read Fricker,
11th Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey)
Killed in action, 31 July 1917, Flanders.
Commemorated on the Menin Gate, Ypres.

Amongst the Ham parents who lost two sons, were Alfred Joseph Fricker and his wife, Louisa Read Darnall. William was born on 5 January 1881 at 3 Vine Cottages, Petersham, and baptised on 3 April 1881 at St Andrew’s in Ham. As the eldest of their six sons and two daughters, he was named William after his paternal grandfather who had been born in Bradford-on-Avon, and had come to Richmond, as a young man, to work as a plumber, painter and glazier.

William’s father, Alfred, was also a painter by trade, and worked for many years as a varnisher in the flourishing boat building industry in Richmond.  He married Louisa in Holy Trinity Church, Richmond on 30 June 1880.  Both signed their full names. Louisa’s middle name, which she wrote as ‘Read’, had to be inserted by the officiant, who had originally written ‘Louisa Darnall’ and this, as well as the surname’s wider use in the Darnall family, suggests that its omission mattered.  It appears, also, amongst the Christian names of their firstborn. The surname of his paternal grandmother, Mary Ann Sumner, is included in the first names of many of her grandchildren, including that of William’s only surviving sister, Lily Mary Sumner Fricker.  William and Harry’s mother ran a tea room at Kibworth Cottage, their home.

William was the first of the Fricker brothers to be killed in the Great War.  The day before his death, his battalion was in Imperial Trench awaiting instructions for the advance.  The War Diary for 30 July notes that it had been quiet day.  The only action the adjutant reports was that 2 Pioneers had cut steps in the Railway Embankment which the battalion would have to use to reach the tapes where the men would form up later that night.  The adjutant notes, “These steps were invaluable as the ground was of a very greasy nature.”  At 9.40 p.m. they lined up on the tapes, and waited for their orders.

The War Diary records the action on 31 July 1917 as follows:

The B[attalio]n were in position about 1–30 a.m. without suffering a casualty of any description and without the slightest hitch.

ZERO hour was at 3.50 a.m. The B[attalio]n moved forward with the Barrage and experienced no difficulty in taking the first objective. It was found that, owing to the heavy state of the ground, the troops had great difficulty in keeping up to the Barrage which was gradually creeping away.

At about 300 [feet?] from the final objective 3 concrete shelters were found; these shelters were held by the enemy with machine guns and apparently picked rifle men.

The Barrage, or the previous bombardment, had made no impression on these “forts”, and the taking of them by infantry bordered on the impossible.

A party of 50 men under L[ieutenan]t Ryan and another party of 53 under  L[ieutenan]ts Ford and Martin got to within 50 [feet?] of these shelters.

These parties suffered heavily as it was almost impossible to stir without an enemy machine gun firing.

During the night these parties withdrew and joined the remainder of the B[attalio]n at the 2nd Objective.

Capt[ain] Bowden with C Co[mpan]y had also been held up by these same concrete shelters and had linked up with the R.W.KENTS [Royal West Kent Regiment] also at the 2nd Objective.

The casualties on this day were L[ieutenan]t A. J. SMITH killed L[ieutenan]t KITCHINGMAN wounded and L[ieutenan]t E. APTED missing. O[ther] Ranks casualties were estimated at 200.

William was recorded as ‘Missing in Action” and, having no known grave, became the third man from Ham to be commemorated on the Menin Gate.  The others are Frederick William Adams  and Leo Tollemache.  Relatives of William, as well as residents of Ham, who visit Ypres, might like to think of these men during the sounding of the Last Post.

Their cousin George Darnall had been killed earlier in the same year.

William left the bulk of his effects to his mother, Louisa, though a portion of the money due to him from the War Office was allocated, perhaps at Louisa’s instigation,to his sister-in-law, Elizabeth, and probably intended for the benefit of his niece, Lilian.

The National Archives, WO 95/2638/5, War Diary of 11 Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), May 1916–October 1917.

Addresses in the parish connected with William and Harry Fricker
Ham and Petersham boast several Vine Cottages, so William’s relatives and even local residents may be uncertain where 3 Vine Cottages is.  This particular row of cottages has become 191 Petersham Road.

The Frickers went on to live at Swan Cottage (325 Petersham Road) and then at Kibworth Cottage close to the Fox and Goose pub, where they remained for many years.  This cottage is now 315 Petersham Road.  Of the local public houses at which William may have been employed as a barman, the Fox & Goose is a forerunner, though the local golf club is another possibility.

Information about the Fricker family of possible interest to family and local historians 

Soon after Alfred’s birth, his father had taken his family to the Channel Islands, where he was, for a period, the publican at an inn in the parish of St Anne’s, Alderney, before returning to Richmond and resuming his former trade.

There is further information about the Darnell line in a related post on the research blog, Discover your Family History .

About Margaret Frood

Margaret Frood is a Family and Local Historian with an insatiable curiosity about the partially told stories of a family's past. Her four war memorial blogs have been created in the hope that they will help to rescue from oblivion the stories of those listed on the war memorials of Petersham, Ham and Tur Langton, as well as Southern Africans commemorated in the UK and in Western Europe.
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