yeovil at War

Frederick Thomas Hooper

Killed in action during the Somme Offensive

 

Frederick Thomas Hooper, known as Fred, was born in Yeovil during the winter of 1875. He was one of the nine children (all born in Yeovil) of leather parer Samuel Hooper, alias Jeanes, (1838-1892) and Emily Jane née Hayes, known as both Emily and Jane, (1838-1905) of Yeovil.

The children of the family were Samuel Charles (b1862), Naomi (1864-1946), Ellen, known as Nellie, (b1866), Mary Jane (1869-1920), William, known as Willie, (b1872), Frederick Thomas (1875-1916), Walter (b1878), Arthur (1881-1972) and Louis (1883-1975).

In the 1881 census Samuel and Jane were living in South Street with their children; Naomi, Mary, Willie, Frederick and Walter. Samuel gave his occupation as a leather parer while Jane and 16-year old Naomi were glovers. By the 1891 census Samuel and Jane and their four sons (Fred, Walter, Arthur and Louis) had moved around the corner to 60 Park Street, the small cottage immediately next door to the Swan Inn. 15-year old Fred was working as an ostler.

Samuel Hooper died in 1892 and his widow, listed as Emily in the 1901 census, had moved with her children to 6 Felix Place. Fred, now aged 25, worked as an ironmonger's carter.

Fred enlisted in the Somerset Light Infantry and his Service Number with the Regiment, 7932, indicates that he enlisted in during the summer of 1906. In the autumn of 1906 Fred married Annie Stamp (b1879, Bath) at Bath. After his service he became a National Reservist.

By the time of the 1911 census Fred and Annie were living at 98 Huish. Fred was working as a general labourer at the Nautilus Works on Reckleford and Annie was a lining maker for gloves. As later reported in the Western Gazette, Fred "was well known as an active member of a number of organisations in the town, including the National Reserve, the Constitutional Club, the Workers’ Union and Petters’ Football Club. He frequently sang at local concerts and possessed a considerable talent as a humorous entertainer and instrumentalist."

As a National Reservist at the outbreak of war, Fred was called up immediately in August 1914 (and is probably in the photograph below of the National Reservists in the Borough). He joined the 6th (Service) Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry.

The 6th Battalion was formed in August 1914 and would be sent to the Western Front as part of 14th (Light) Division. The 6th Battalion crossed the Channel on 21 May 1915. They were in billets for the first few weeks and spent their time as working parties digging trenches southwest of Ypres. The 6th Battalion commenced its first tour in the front line on 12 June 1915.

On 26 July 1915, while at Hooge, the Battalion was subjected to a new weapon of war - the flamethrower. This event is described in the Regimental History of the Somerset Light Infantry "Very early in the morning the front-line trenches of the Brigade were suddenly flooded by liquid fire, which belched from jets in the German lines opposite. This new device momentarily caused surprise and confusion, and the victims of this dastardly attack fell back from the front-line trenches which were then occupied by the enemy."

At some time during late 1915 Fred transferred to the 43rd Company, Machine Gun Corps as a Lance-Corporal. His new Service Number was 19977.

In 1914, all infantry battalions were equipped with a machine gun section of two guns, which was increased to four in February 1915. Sections were equipped with Maxim guns, served by a subaltern and 12 men. The obsolescent Maxim had a maximum rate of fire of 500 rounds, so was the equivalent of around 40 well-trained riflemen.

The experience of fighting in the early clashes and in the First Battle of Ypres had proved that the machine guns required special tactics and organisation. On 22 November 1914 the BEF established a Machine Gun School at Wisques in France to train new regimental officers and machine gunners, both to replace those lost in the fighting to date and to increase the number of men with MG skills. A Machine Gun Training Centre was also established at Grantham in England.

On 2 September 1915 a definite proposal was made to the War Office for the formation of a single specialist Machine Gun Company per infantry brigade, by withdrawing the guns and gun teams from the battalions. They would be replaced at battalion level by the light Lewis machine guns and thus the firepower of each brigade would be substantially increased. The Machine Gun Corps was created by Royal Warrant on October 14 followed by an Army Order on 22 October 1915. The companies formed in each brigade would transfer to the new Corps and it is most likely that Fred was transferred during this period. The MGC would eventually consist of infantry Machine Gun Companies, cavalry Machine Gun Squadrons and Motor Machine Gun Batteries. The pace of reorganisation depended largely on the rate of supply of the Lewis guns but it was completed before the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive, was a battle of the First World War fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire. It took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. The battle was intended to hasten a victory for the Allies and was the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front. More than one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history. The battle is notable for the importance of air power and the first use of the tank. At the end of the battle, British and French forces had penetrated 10 km (6 mi) into German-occupied territory, taking more ground than in any of their offensives since the Battle of the Marne in 1914.

Fred Hooper, by this time a Sergeant, was killed during the day-to-day fighting on the Somme on 16 September 1916. He was aged 41.

On the same day, at the same place, another Yeovil lad of 43rd Company, Machine Gun Corps, Edward Foot, was killed.

The Western Gazette, in its edition of 29 September 1916, reported "With reference to the death of Sergeant FT Hooper, The Machine Gun Section, Somerset L.I. who was killed in action on September 16th a correspondent writes:- “The working men of Yeovil have sustained another grievous loss in the fall of this brave soldier on the field of battle. Before the War Fred Hooper was employed at the Nautilus Works, and he was well known as an active member of a number of organisations in the town, including the National Reserve, the Constitutional Club, the Workers’ Union and Petters’ Football Club. He frequently sang at local concerts and possessed a considerable talent as a humorous entertainer and instrumentalist. He left Yeovil on August 26th 1914 with 54 members of the National Reserve. He is another of that gallant band who has now sealed his devotion to his King and Country by a glorious death. In May 1915, he went to France and since that date has been almost continually in the fighting line. His cheerfulness never failed him and his letters expressed the confidence he felt in the ultimate victory of our cause. “In one of his many letters to his employers he wrote:-“ It is now 12 months since we landed here to do the best we could for King and Country. Many changes have taken place since that time and those that have come through have had strange and wonderful experiences, and those that have fallen, God be with them, heroes every one. Had anyone told me it was possible for human beings to go through what we have, I should have called him a -----, well, I leave you to guess, Sir, but it only shows you never know what you can do or stand till you try and still keep smiling.” Sergeant Hooper, leaves a widow, with whom the deepest sympathy is felt. In a letter to Mrs. Hooper, the officer of his section writes:- “Your husband was senior officer and a tower of strength to my section, and we all feel his loss most acutely. It is difficult for me to express in words my appreciation of a gallant and efficient non-commissioned officer as your husband.”

Fred Hooper is remembered on Pier and Face 5C and 12C Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France, and his name is recorded on the War Memorial in the Borough.

 

gallery

 

The eastern terrace of Felix Place, photographed from Huish about 1960. Fred lived here before getting married in 1906.

 

On Bank Holiday Monday, 4 August 1914, Yeovil men of the National Reservists, including Fred Hooper, line up in the Borough. Fred left Yeovil on August 26th 1914 with 54 members of the National Reserve.

 

German flamethrower, first used against the 6th Somersets at Hooge on 26 July 1915.

 

Units belonging to the Machine Gun Corps were photographed by professional civilian photographers who visited the training camps on a regular basis.

 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate in memory of Fred Hooper.

 

The Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.

The Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916. The memorial also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial in recognition of the joint nature of the 1916 offensive and a small cemetery containing equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves lies at the foot of the memorial. The memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was built between 1928 and 1932 and unveiled by the Prince of Wales, in the presence of the President of France, on 1 August 1932.