PURVIS F.

FRED PURVIS 1894-1918

340630 Private Fred Purvis, 1/5th battalion, the Northumbrian Fusiliers died 9 December 1918 and is buried at Niederzwehren Cemetery near Kassel, Hessen, Germany.[1]  He is commemorated on Evenwood War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood.

Family Details

 Fred was born c.1894 at Evenwood to George and Mary Jane Purvis.  There were 6 children, all born at Evenwood:[2]

  • Sarah Elizabeth bc.1892
  • Fred bc.1894
  • Margaret Alice bc.1896
  • Mary Edith bc.1899
  • Jane bc.1902
  • Elias bc.1905

In 1901, the Purvis family lived at Stones End where George worked as a colliery banksman.[3]

By 1911, George and Mary Jane had been married for 23 years and George still worked as a colliery banksman.  Edward Bradbrook was a 30 year old gas labourer from Fulford, York who boarded with the family.  They still lived at Stones End, Evenwood.[4]  By 1918, it is recorded that Fred Purvis lived at 22 Rochdale Street.  [5]

 Military Details

 Fred Purvis enlisted 22 June 1916 at Bishop Auckland joining the Northumberland Fusiliers.  He entered France 21 April 1918.  He joined 1st/5th Battalion, the Northumberland Fusiliers.

The 1/5th Battalion, the Northumberland Fusiliers were formed in August 1914 in Walker, Newcastle as part of the Northumberland Brigade, Northumbrian Division.  In May 1915, it became the 149th Brigade of the 50th Division then in July 1918 it was reduced to cadre strength and transferred to Lines of Communication. [6]

The 149th (Northumberland) Brigade included the following:

  • 1/4th Battalion, the Northumberland Fusiliers
  • 1/5th Battalion, the Northumberland Fusiliers
  • 1/6th Battalion, the Northumberland Fusiliers
  • 1/7th Battalion, the Northumberland Fusiliers
  • 3rd Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers
  • 13th (Scottish Horse Yeomanry) Battalion, the Black Watch (joined July 1918)
  • 149th Brigade Machine Gun Company to Division MG Battalion
  • 149th Trench Mortar Battery (formed 18 June 1916)

The 50th Division was involved in action on the Somme and Lys battlefields when the German Spring Offensive was thrown against the British and Commonwealth Forces.  Following a most trying time, the Division was withdrawn and sent to IX Corps then on the Aisne which was believed to be a much quieter sector.  The did not prove to be the case as the Germans opened their offensive in the Champagne region of France,  27 May to 6 June 1918, known as at the Battle of the Aisne. [7]

340630 Private Fred Purvis: some service details provided by Ann Davidson

22 June 1916: Private Fred Purvis enlisted

21 April 1918: Private Fred Davis entered France

27 May 1918: Private Fred Purvis was captured on the first day of the Battle of the Aisne. [8]

Leave

From enlisting in 1916 until April 1918 there is no evidence of Fred seeing active service abroad.  Army leave was:[9]

  • 24-29 November 1916
  • 3-8 February 1917
  • 23-28 November 1917
  • 23-28 December 1917

5 March:  It is possible that he was training during this time, but the need for men was so great that nearly two years training seems improbable. It is possible that Fred was classed as unfit to go to the front until the need for men was so great that they had to send him.

April 1915: Zeppelin attack on Hull

Fred sent a postcard to his sister Alice of the Zeppelin attack on Hull in 1915.  He appears to be staying with his elder foster brother Will who lived in Hull. Fred has written on the postcard that he would like Alice to send him some money if she can spare it and to remember him to his pal at Cragwood.  Alice died 15 May 1918 in the `flu pandemic that claimed more lives than the war. Another postcard is of a sentry in Flanders sent to Edith after he had gone to war. The Northumberland Fusiliers saw much action in France and Flanders.

To France 21 April 1918

 His sister Edith records that Fred went to France 21 April 1918 a part of a Lewis Gun team. His New Testament gives an address on the inside cover:

Lewis Gun Coy.

222 Infantry Brigade,

Ethelbert Square,

Westgate-on-Sea,

Kent.

Spring 1918: The German Offensive

 To discover what happened to the 1/5 Northumberland Fusiliers on the Western Front in Spring 1918 when Fred went to France it is necessary to look at the War Diaries.

21 March 1918:  General von Ludendorff launched an offensive which was intended to bring victory to the German forces on the Western Front. His aim was to drive the British from the Somme to the Aisne, then to threaten Paris. It was looking good for Germany, Russia was out of the war and the German division on the Eastern Front were being moved west.

Ludendorff`s attack was unexpected (Haig expected it to be further south), artillery bombardment was long and heavy. With intense fighting the German army pushed on at an alarming rate with British forces retreating to the Somme. Paris was bombarded with specially manufactured guns from 74 miles away. At the end of March the French and British held and halted the German advances only 50 miles from Paris. Then the tide was turned by a counter attack by British, Australian and Canadian troops. When the battle closed on 5th April Germany had taken 90,000 prisoners, however their own casualties were 250,000 compared to 240,000 allied casualties. 100,000 infantry replacements were sent from Britain many only 18 or 19 years old and had never seen action before. The poverty and ill-health of many industrial workers in pre-war Britain meant that many men failed to reach the minimum health requirements for military service. In some areas as many as 70% of             men were classified as unfit for overseas duties, by 1918 the manpower situation was serious and the bottom of the barrel scraped sending many men to France who would otherwise not have gone.

The Second Offensive

 9 April 1918: Ludendorff launched his second offensive and a storm of gas and high explosive shells tore into the Allies, the British were pressed backwards and Haig issued his famous `Backs to the wall` order. Telling men to fight and die where they stood, the freedom of mankind depended on it. The attack ran out of steam as the German troops were exhausted, their guns short on ammunition and depressed by the resistance they were meeting. There was a lull at the end of April beginning of May.

By April 1918 the Division was much depleted and set to work to rebuild its decimated ranks. Reinforcements arrived made up largely of youths and inexperienced men: this is when Fred is sent to the front. The Division was in the Roquetoire area but received orders to move to the area of the Sixth French Army on the Aisne, they had been warned that they probably would go to the front line about  5 May. The following days were quiet and the men were working on improving trenches, resting and cleaning up. No Man`s Land was very quiet.

25 May: 8/DLI raided the enemy and brought back a wounded prisoner who provided them with vital information. At 11am on the 26th of May news was received at Divisional Headquarters of a suspected German attack on the morning of the 27th; preliminary bombardment to begin at 1am followed by infantry assault with tanks at 4.30am. The war diaries describe clearly the run up to May 27th and give detailed account of the first day of the Battle of the Aisne: the day that Fred was posted missing. The picture is of a terrible battle with “intense barrage” and “heavily shelled” repeated every other line. The loss was so great that by the end of May the Division could only muster 700 fit infantrymen.

POW

8 July: Edith records that a letter was received from the War Office to say he was posted “Missing”,

29 July:  A letter from the Red Cross was received to say he was a prisoner. No doubt despair turned into hope at this point. Fred was in a POW camp at Kassel, the Headquarters of the 11th Army Corps. The camp itself was placed on a hill overlooking the Fulda Valley, one mile from Niederzwehren a suburb of Kassel. The barracks were of wood and accommodated some 20,000 prisoners, who worked in factories and workshops. Edith records the dates of a number of cards sent by Fred when he was a POW:

  • received card from Germany 18 August 1918, sent June 22 1918;
  • received card from Germany November 7 1918, sent October 7 1918;
  • received card from Germany 18tNovember

The contents or any information on the cards is not noted. Edith’s last recording is:

“Fred died on the 9th December 1918 at Quedlinburg, Germany received letter from War Office on 12th May 1919”.

 What happened to Fred in the months that he was a POW is not known.  Evidence from survivors of the camps tells us that conditions were very poor. Norman Cowan of the Northumberland Hussars was a survivor of Quedlinburg.  He was captured in August 1918 he would have been there at the same time as Fred:

This dismal camp was situated well outside a large village and had many compounds: the main one was for British prisoners. Quite early after our arrival, we were ordered to parade in the compound to be checked for vermin. Two pairs of horse clipping shears manned by German soldiers were brought and all the hair on our bodies and scalps was cut off.”

 “The rations that the Germans gave us were rye and potato bread, divided into five sections and shared by five men. Food was so precious that we made a little balance with a piece of cardboard and string on a stick to weigh it, so that one man didn’t get a thick slice or a thin slice. We got the food the night before for the next day, so if you ate the bread straight away you went hungry. We also had a variety of mangel-wurzel soup, cooked in a big cauldron on a fire in the compound. We used to say, “Come on stir the bloody pot up” so that we might get something solid from to eat from the bottom”.

 Germany was exhausted by the war as all resources had been marshalled for the war effort. There would be little food, clothing or medicine for prisoners. Owing to their weakened state men were vulnerable to disease. Most died from their wounds, nearly as many died from pneumonia, some died of starvation, dysentery, tuberculosis and typhus. Fred’s cause of death is not known.

“Limburg was one of the first places of registration for a PoW whether they were actually there or not. Some were at several places whilst still registered at Limburg. A registration camp acted as a postal address for Red Cross parcels and as an administration centre for prisoner movements. Quedlinburg was another centre for registration. Generally the Red Cross was only interested in the registered address which is why few of the work camps get a mention. Red Cross parcels were sent to the registered address and redistributed by the post office at the camp. Keeping track of where prisoners were was a mammoth task as they could change work places every few weeks.” [10]

The details of his death remain unknown but there was the great flu pandemic raging across Europe throughout the summer of 1918 so perhaps he eventually succumbed to pneumonia.

Another report of the camp is given below:

Quedlinburg lies just below the Harz Mountains in Saxony and about 30 miles South West of Magdeburg. This is where Frederick Lavender died as a prisoner of war. He is not listed among those held prisoner in Germany in 1916 but this does not necessarily mean that he was not captured before that date.

Little is known about the camp. A Foreign Office card index contains a substantial number of complaints against its administration. Three specific references are made with regard to the treatment of prisoners, especially the hospital. The Index notes that HM Government protested vigorously against the filthy condition in which prisoners from Quedlinburg were repatriated, and another reference states that their “condition showed evidence of much neglect.” [11]

Reports of “Missing”

The Evenwood Church Magazine of August 1918 reported as follows:

“Included in the list of Missing believed to be Prisoners of War are Sergt. F. Britton M.M. and bar, Ptes. F. Purvis, Reggie Howard (wounded).  Definite news has now come that Norman Dowson previously reported as missing is now a prisoner of war in Germany.” [12]

Following the death of Rev. G. J. Collis in September 1918 and the end of the war in November 1918, the new vicar of Evenwood, Rev. R. E. Ragg re-commenced the Church Magazines in March 1919.  The April 1919 edition included the following report:

“Much sympathy will be felt by the parishioners of Evenwood for Mr. and Mrs. G. Purvis.  Their son was reported missing in July 1918 and nothing has been heard of since.” [13]

Confirmation of their worst fears was reported in June 1919:

“We deeply sympathise with the parents and relatives of Frederick Purvis who, after being missing for a long time, is now reported to have died in hospital in Germany.”[14]

Private Fred Purvis’ official date of death is the 9 December 1918.  Private F. Purvis was awarded the British War and Victory medals.

 Burial

Private Fred Purvis is buried at grave reference VIII. E. 19 Niederzwehren Cemetery, Germany.  The cemetery is located 10km south of Kassel in the region of Hessen, Germany.  The cemetery was begun by the Germans in 1915 for the burial of prisoners of war who died at the local camp.  During the war, almost 3,000 Allied soldiers and civilians including French, Russian and Commonwealth, were buried there.  In 1922-23, it was decided that the graves of Commonwealth servicemen who had died all over Germany should be brought together into 4 permanent cemeteries.  Niederzwehren was one of those chosen and in the following years more than 1,500 graves were brought into the cemetery from 190 burial grounds in Baden, Bavaria, Hanover, Hessen and Saxony.  Private Fred Purvis died at Quedlinburg POW Camp so presumably was buried at the camp cemetery then re-interred at Niederzwehren.

There are now 1,796 First World War servicemen buried or commemorated in the Commonwealth plot at Niederzwehren.  [15]

Family Headstone, Evenwood Cemetery

The following words are written below that of Alice Purvis;

“Also of Pte. Fred Purvis NF

Brother of the above

Who died in Germany December 9th 1918

Aged 25 years

Thy will be done”

References

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] 1901 & 1911 census

[3] 1901 census

[4] 1911 census

[5] The 1918 April: Absent Voters’ List – Bishop Auckland Division – Evenwood Polling District L, Parish of Evenwood and Barony

[6] www.1914-1918.net/northfus.htm

[7] www.1914-1918.net/50div.htm

[8] Family details research by Ann Davison

[9] Family details

[10] Great War Forum

[11] http://www.leatherheadweb.org.uk/warmemorials/lavender-fr-121018.htm

[12] Evenwood Church Magazine August 1918

[13] Evenwood Church Magazine April 1919

[14] Evenwood Church Magazine June 1919

[15] CWGC

Photographs

PURVIS F.  photo

PURVIS F.
photo

PURVIS F.  Headstone

PURVIS F.
Headstone

PURVIS F.  and Brian Carter Brian's great uncle

PURVIS F.
and Brian Carter
Brian’s great uncle

PURVIS F. Family Headstone

PURVIS F.
Family Headstone