A number of people have asked me about Fred Limb and I am indebted to his daughter, Sheila for giving me permission to add the following to the website.
Please see Norman Butcher’s letters page, which also includes some letters from Fred after the death of his friend.
A Short Biography of Fred Limb.
by Sheila Smith (Nee Limb), his daughter.
My father, Fred Limb, was born on 2nd January 1892 to William and Ann Limb at Belph Cottages, Whitwell, Derbyshire, the youngest in a family, with three surviving brothers and four sisters. Essentially it was a background of non-conformist, radical, anti-establishment views – as would be reflected in the tone and contents of the letters he wrote from the trenches. At the age of sixty he died at Bakestone Moor, Whitwell, from a coronary thrombosis on 10th January 1952. His father died also of a coronary, in January 1916 whilst Fred was serving in France, and apparently it was Norman Butcher (who had been on leave at the time) who informed Fred of his father’s death. My grandmother survived until 30th March 1930.
Fred Benefited from a degree of formal education beyond elementary school, attending Brunts Technical School, Mansfield, until the age of fifteen or sixteen, where he passed the College of Preceptors Examination. We are uncertain about his activities immediately afterwards but presume he entered the mines.
My father and his three brothers all served in, and survived, the First World War. The eldest, Walter, was a reservist who had fought in the Boer War. The second eldest, Matt, was in the Marines and served at Gallipoli, emigrating to Canada after the war. The third brother, Oscar, also served in France. Fred enlisted in the Sherwood Foresters at the outbreak of war in September 1914 and , following basic training as a rifleman at Whiteley Bay, was drafted to France in the 1st battalion in March 1915, and was immediately in action at Neuve Chappelle.
His view was that he went to war to save lives, not to take them, and in July 1915 was appointed as a company stretcher bearer and then, in February 1917, battalion medical orderly. This change of direction would be by no means a sudden whim. Before the outbreak of war, as an eighteen year old, he had joined the old Welbeck Abbey division of the St. John Ambulance Brigade, which in 1911 became part of the Red Cross Society. Thus at the outbreak hostilities he was a member of both the Red Cross and the Whitwell St. John Ambulance Association. As a result he had gained his First Year Certificate in 1911, his Medallion and Home Nursing Certificate in 1912 and his First Label in 1913.
In the capacity of stretcher bearer and medical orderly he worked closely with his Commanding Officer (Lord) John Boyd Orr – assisting with operations, amputations etc. – a man who in effect became a father figure and mentor for my father, influencing his views on life and reinforcing his liberal, radical beliefs. Boyd Orr, a Scot had qualified as a doctor but after the war, as an academic, specialized in nutrition. In 1945 he was elected Member of Parliament for the Scottish Universities, before becoming Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). He was knighted in 1935, ennobled and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – for his work at the FAO – in 1949.
To celebrate their silver wedding anniversary in 1946 my parents took us all to London for a few days, a holiday which included a tour of the Houses of Parliament, our guide being John Boyd Orr. Delighted, after so many years, to meet his old comrade again, he greeted us by throwing his arms round father, exclaiming “Good to se you again, Freddie”. After a tour he gave us tea on the terrace.
As a rifleman, stretcher bearer and medical orderly my father served continuously with the 1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters from March 1915 to February 1919 when he was demobilised. After a first exposure to warfare at Neuve Chappelle, he was in action at Aubers Ridge and Loos in 1915, and in 1916 at Vimy Ridge and the Battle of the Somme from July to November the same year. In the spring of 1917 he was in action when the Hindenburg Line was taken (This was the German retreat to the Hindenburg line 14th March to 5th April 1917) and from July 1917 to March 1918 he participated in the Ypres Battles (3rd Ypres 31 July to November 10th 1917). In March 1918 he returned with his battalion to the Somme where they took part, alongside Australian Forces, in the defense of Amiens during the great German offensive.
In May 1918 he was with his battalion in the retreat from the Ainse to the Marne and it was in this engagement, in May or June, that he gained the Military Medal for bravery between the Arne and the Marne (I have found his citation and it is as follows – LIMB F, Private 19891, 1st Battalion – London Gazette – 21.10.1918, For gallantry and devotion to duty when he did excellent work in ferociously resisting an enemy attack on the positions on the Ridge North of Bouleuse between 29th and 31st May 1918. (Steve Morse). We have not been able to find the citation but believe it was awarded for rescuing, from no-man’s land, a fellow soldier – a Mr. Needham from Nottingham who after the war would periodically visit us. The medal is in our safe keeping. In August he was again in action with his battalion at Arras and in the offensive which culminated in the Armistice of November 11th 1918. He was demobilised in February 1919. In addition to his Military Medal his other Campaign medals were – The 1914/15 Star, The British War Medal and the Victory Medal ( Pip, Squeak and Wilfred)
On return to civilian life he lived with his family in Belph and for the rest of his life worked in the local mines. He gained his Deputy’s Certificate via a Bennett College Correspondent Course, and between 1944 and 1947 was First Aid Attendant at Whitwell Colliery. He met and on 11th May 1921, married my mother, Dollie Cartwright, a local girl. His first daughter Freda, was born in 1922, followed by Olga in 1931 and myself in 1933. Throughout his life he continued to play an active role in the St. John Ambulance Brigade receiving his Long Service Medal in 1938. He read widely and was a keen participant in local Workers Education Classes – we still have some of his essays. Like many of the veterans of the Great War he was reticent to talk about his wartime experiences, nor did he grumble about working conditions underground nasty as they may well have been, obviously seeing them from the perspective of the horrors of the trenches.
Prior to enlisting he had been connected with the Methodist Church, but his wartime experiences effectively weakened his faith. To the end of his days he retained his radical, republican views, a philosophy absorbed by his daughters and , it seems by his three grandchildren. Not surprisingly given his character, personality and wartime experiences he would say that, had he had the opportunity, in another life he would have liked to be a doctor.