Fred was born in Biddulph in 1895. He was the second son of George and Harriet Foden (née Washington). His father and mother were both Biddulph born and had married in 1892 in a civil ceremony at Congleton.
In 1901 the family resided in John Street. George was employed as a colliery labourer. Living with the family at that time was also Harriet’s brother, Thomas Washington. By 1911 the family had expanded and moved. George, Harriet and their children, Ellen (18), William Thomas (16), Fred (15), Harry (13), John (8) and Mary (3) had moved to Brown Lees. They lived at 17, New Pool Terrace and appear to have lived here throughout the war years. Fred, although aged only 15, was employed as a colliery labourer “above ground”.
Service records survive for Fred and it appears that he enlisted at Tunstall on July 12th 1915. He served in the 3rd Training Battalion, ‘D’ Company, a home based unit of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He joined on July 17th at their barracks in Wrexham. He was just 19 years and 9 months of age. Weighing 125lbs and 5ft 5in tall, he had a complexion described as ‘fresh’ with brown eyes and light brown hair. At the time of enlistment he was employed as a colliery banksman and was a Primitive Methodist.
He later moved to Litherland, Liverpool but was soon transferred to the 12th (Reserve) battalion stationed at Kinmel Park, near Rhyl. His service records confusingly show him in the 53rd (YS) battalion Cheshire Regiment. This was in fact, up to October 1917, the same unit under the 62nd Training Reserve Battalion. At this time his service number was TR4/20166 and it appears that he was an instructor. The service records of Fred show he qualified in drill, musketry and bombing.
Fred rose through the ranks from Lance Corporal, in November 1915, until promoted to Sergeant on April 26th 1916. A good soldier! His conduct sheet in his records is completely blank, with no offences or punishments. Once again Fred transferred units, to the 14th battalion, when he was posted overseas. He crossed the channel to France on June 29th 1918 and then on July 7th joined in the field with another Royal Welsh Fusiliers unit, the 24th battalion.
The 24th battalion had only recently arrived on the Western Front. Since February 1917 they had been in actions in Egypt and Palestine. Now in France they were to retrain. The battalion received this extra training, which was carried out in the Doullen and St. Pol areas, to acclimatise the troops with warfare tactics more suited to the Western Front rather than the desert warfare most of them were accustomed to. Fred and his new mates were then transferred to the 94th Brigade, 31st Division, a division held in reserve until late July when orders to hold the line in the area were issued.
In early August 1918 “The Hundred Days Offensive” commenced, counter attack operations aimed at pushing the enemy back and regaining their lost ground. On August 18th the division bravely fought in bitter actions on the high ground at Vieux Berquin and here they captured an important enemy stronghold. Through the whole of September 1918 the 31st Division would continue in these costly attacks to reverse the enemy advance. They were again bravely fighting the enemy, in the offensive known as “The Final Advance in Flanders”. Heavy fighting on the battlefields of the old Ypres salient in late September caused many casualties in the battalion. These actions continued until late October which found the 24th Royal Welsh Fusiliers in a forward area at Tieghem, another hazardous struggle against a now weakening enemy.
In this final advance of the war in the Flanders area many of the Fusiliers became “the fallen”. Sadly Sergeant Fred Foden was one of these brave men, less than two weeks before the Great War ended and so close to peace.
He was 23 years old when he fell on October 31st 1918. Fred is now at rest in the Harlebeke New British Cemetery. He is remembered on the Biddulph and Brown Lees memorials.
Michael Turnock and Elaine Heathcote.