Private 9728 F. G. Lawson 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers – 24 October 1914

At first light on the 24 October the look outs of the various sections of the companies of the 2nd Bn. Royal Scots Fusiliers would wake any sleeping men and prepare for yet another German attack.  The 2nd RSF had been holding about a mile of the front between Reutel and Pozelhoek for three days.

The 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers had landed at Zeebrugge around the 6th October 1914.  They were in the 21st Brigade ot 7th Division, together with the 2nd Wiltshires, 2nd Yorkshires (Green Howards) and 2nd Bedfordshires.  In less than a fortnight, they played an important part in the defence of Ypres.

It had started as an advance and reconnoitre on 20th October with the 2nd RSF and 2nd Wiltshires passing through Becelaere but unable to reach Terhand.  Enemy shelling had forced them back to their starting point, advance turned to desperate defence as German infantry attacks in the afternoon were driven back with heavy enemy losses.

Heavy shelling of the Brigade’s positions continued on the morning of 21st of October, a night attack had been repulsed by the 2nd RSF on their front.  Enemy penetration of the line between the 2nd RSF and 2nd Yorkshires in the afternoon forced a temporary retreat of D Coy into the grounds of Pozelhoek Chateau who then checked the enemy advance.

Heavy shelling resumed on the morning of the 22nd of October.  An enemy attack in the afternoon was not pressed home and around 5pm Major Ian Forbes with part of D and C coy 2nd RSF attempts to reoccupy positions relinquished 24 hours ago.  Captain Frank Fairlie is shot dead while taking the surrender of about 30 Germans.  Houses in Pozelhoek are still not cleared of Germans.

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On October 23rd, a second attempt was made by D coy to reoccupy their original positions with the aid of C coy 2nd Berfordshire, but the Germans were there in strength and they were beaten back by machine gun fire with Bedfordshire taking many casualties.  Repeated German attacks on the RSF front had died away by late afternoon.

Overnight there was heavy fire on the right of the 2nd RSF, the enemy had got round C coy flank but in the ensuing fight 40 German prisoners were taken.  The 24th October would become a day of crisis at this part of the front, a chaotic day where the 2nd RSF hold out , but the 2nd Wiltshires are surrounded and either taken prisoner, or are killed.

In the last few days, Frederick George Lawson (CWGC entry), private 9728 2nd RSF, will have experienced thirst, hunger, fear and nervous exhaustion.  Like many others, his life’s journey will come to an end in this part of Flanders, a journey that started 22 years ago in Tooting.

Frederick George Lawson was born in early 1892, the fifth and youngest child of William Walter and Ellen Mary Lawson.  Frederick was one of five brothers. Ellen was a widow when she married William Lawson and Frederick’s older step-brother William Richard Lough remained part of the family.

Frederick’s first home was in Trewint Street, Earlsfield, but the family had moved to Lambeth before Frederick was ten, where his parents were shopkeepers.  By around 1910 the family had settled in Cavendish Road, Colliers Wood.  Frederick had already left home, he had joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers as private 9728, probably in October 1908 , when not yet eighteen (Private 9731 James William Ambrose from Tooting enlisted on 17/10/1908 ).  His movements between the 2nd and 1st Battalions are not known, but in 1911 he was in South Africa with the 1st RSF and is counted in the ranks at Roberts Heights Pretoria Transvaal.  The date of his return to England is not known, nor if his is given any leave.  His fate is settled when he is posted to the 2nd Bn. RSF and arrives in Ypres in October 1914.

When the 2nd Wiltshires are overwhelmed in early morning of 24th October by the massed German attack, both D and C coy 2nd RSF are forced out of their trenches and the wood north of the Reidelbeek becomes the new line of defence.

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Area around the Reidelbeek

Every available man is in the firing line. Lieutenant H.W.V Stewart, with a RSF platoon and some stragglers, shoots 11 of the enemy from behind a hedge and prevents two machine guns from being brought into action.  News that reinforcements to defend the wood were at hand brings some relief.  A further attack in the afternoon is only driven back by a bayonet charge led by Lt. C. E. G. Mackenzie.  The German attack dies away not long after 4.30pm.  (Lt.  Mackenzie was killed on the following day.)

There is no respite for the 2nd RSF until the 21st Brigade is briefly in reserve on 27th October a few miles to the rear at Hooge.  Since the 17th October the battalion’s causalities numbered 8 officers and about 500 other ranks.

Frederick George Lawson had not survived.  He was Initially reported as missing, and then after some delay his death was recorded as 24th October 1914 for official purposes.

This is the first blow for the Lawson family, in less than a year a second son, Herbert Lawson, will be killed while serving in the East Surrey Regiment.  Before the war ends, Ellen is widowed a second time when William Walter Lawson dies in the summer of 1917, and is buried on 25 June 1917 at Church Road Cemetery.

When the time comes to honour the war dead, Ellen ensures the names of her two sons appear on the Mitcham War Memorial and on the “Roll of Honour” at Christ Church Colliers Wood.

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Ellen continued to live at 27 Norfolk Road Colliers Wood until at least 1926. but had moved to 111 Tynemouth Road, Gorringe Park, by 1929.  Ellen receives the most unexpected communication from the Imperial War Graves Commission at her new address.  It’s now 16 years since Frederick George Lawson’s death, but his remains have been uncovered and identified at a location close to Becelaere Church together with another Royal Scots Fusilier, Private 9187 F.C. Lynn.

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They are buried side by side at Kemel No. 1 French Cemetery.  Ellen asks for a simple inscription to be added to the headstone: “ At Rest “.  Frederick George’s Journey is now finally over.

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Ellen is now 79 years old, she will live to be 82, and passes away early in 1933 and is buried on 1st February 1933 at Church Road Cemetery.  Other members of the Lawson family will remain in Mitcham for many years.

Footnote: The discovery of Frederick Lawson’s remains near the Becelaere Church brings his official date of death into question.  Becelaere was in German hands from 19th October 1914.  When Frederick died, and who originally buried him remains an open question.

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Becelaere on a 1917 Trench Map – Click to enlarge.

The area was devastated by the war and re-built in the 1920s.

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pre-1917 photo

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After 1917

The Church today:

 

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