14546 Private Frederick William Purton, 6th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment,
(147225) 5th Mortar Battalion, Special Brigade, Royal Engineers
Born on 23rd March 1895 in Little Gaddesden
Died 25th April 1916 in Audruicq, France – as the result of an accident
Frederick William Purton was the fourth of the six children of Heber Purton and Elizabeth, née Purton (sic). He was born at Home Farm where his father worked as an Agricultural Labourer.
His siblings were:
- Ellen Elizabeth, born in 1888
- Edwin Arthur Purton, born on 6th December 1889
- Reginald Purton, born on 12th November 1892
- Daisy Agnes, born on 25th September 1897
- Elizabeth, born in July 1900
However, the 1901 Census shows that, by 31st March that year, Frederick’s family had moved to 5 Hudnall. His father then worked as a Domestic Coachman and his mother and his sister Ellen, 13, were at home. Edwin Purton, 11, Reginald Purton, 9, Frederick, 6 and Daisy, 3, were all at school while Lizzie was a baby aged 8 months.
Frederick’s uncle and aunt James and Sarah Purton lived next door at 6 Hudnall, with his cousins Ernest Purton, 18, a Carpenter’s Apprentice, Bertie Purton, 15, a Domestic Garden Labourer’s Boy, Violet, 9, who was at school and James, a baby aged 10 months.
Frederick Purton started at Little Gaddesden School on 18th April 1898, as an Infant aged 3 years and 1 month.
Frederick hoped to leave school in 1908. Therefore, in June that year he, Albert Barlow, Arthur Maunders and Arthur Whitman sat their Standard 5 Labour Exam. If they passed, they could leave school and go out to work before the age of 14. However, although Albert Barlow and Arthur Whitman passed, Frederick and Arthur Maunders did not.
The School Log Book entry for 5th January 1909 notes that Frederick broke his collar bone badly while tobogganing on Hudnall Common. Then, on 29th March 1909, once he was 14 years old, Frederick left school from Standard 7.
The 1911 Census shows 16 year old Frederick Purton at 5 Hudnall, working as a Farm Dairy Lad. Also at 5 Hudnall with their parents were his brothers Edwin Purton, 21, a Butcher and Reginald Purton, 19, a Bricklayer’s Labourer on the Ashridge Estate and his sisters Daisy, 13 and Elizabeth, 10, who were both at school. Their cousins still lived next door at 6 Hudnall.
Frederick attested for the Bedfordshire Regiment at Hertford. He was one of 16 men on the Little Gaddesden Roll of Honour who volunteered for the Bedfordshire Regiment in the first month of the War.
12473 William Wells volunteered on 26th August followed by 12589 William Grant, 12591 George Cash and almost certainly 12593 Charles Batchelor on the 27th. 13330 Frank Dove R.I.P. and 13724 Horace Halsey then joined on or before 3rd September 1914 and a further 10 men attested on 3rd September. These were 13785 Edward Saunders, 14374 Harold Catt, 14532 John Mayling, 14553 Victor Collier, 14546 Frederick Purton, 14457 Ernest Bearton, 14575 Arthur Maunders, 17221 Bertie Purton, 17231 Herbert Fenn and 3/8219 Jesse Holland.
The Sixth Battalion
Frederick was then posted to the 6th Battalion, in which he served as a Private, Service Number 14546.
The 6th Battalion was a “Service” battalion, raised in August 1914 specifically for the duration of the War. Other local volunteers who served in this Battalion included Private William Wells, Private William Grant, Private George Cash, Private Charles Batchelor and, initially, Frederick’s cousin Private Bertie Purton.
The Battalion was formed around a cadre of 200 experienced soldiers from the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, one of whom was Private Jesse Holland. They trained at Aldershot and then on Salisbury Plain until July 1915.
However, on 29th July 1915, the Battalion boarded trains at Ludgershall Station near Andover, arriving at Southampton late that afternoon. They then left for France at 6.30pm on board the Empress Queen and landed at Le Havre at 7am on 30th July 1915. They were based around St Omer before moving forward to the front line. The Battalion served entirely on the Western Front. However, Frederick Purton was later transferred to the 5th (Mortar) Battalion, Special Brigade, Royal Engineers, in which he was serving as a Pioneer at the time of his death.
Frederick died from accidental injuries – burns and shock – following an explosion at the ammunition depot at Audruicq, France. He was recorded “dead on admission” to No 35 Lahore British General Hospital at Calais.
The Long, Long Trail quotes from the 25th April 1916 entry in the war diary of the army’s Director of Ordnance Services:
…Two tents had been pitched in the Trench Munition Area for the removal of the charges from 4-inch mortar bombs and substituting in them ophorite [a different form of explosive]. This work had been arranged by GHQ with the Director of Artillery and two experts were sent over from England to supervise the work.
So far as can be ascertained at present it is believed that the ignition of the ingredients was spontaneous. The fire from the tent in which the explosion first occurred communicated to the second tent and the contents of both tents were destroyed – somewhere about 200 rounds [of mortar bombs] altogether.
Four or six men have been killed and about 40 wounded. The casualties occurred amongst Army Service Corps Labour Corps and men from the Royal Engineers Special Brigade who were doing the work.
21 year old Frederick and the 11 other men killed in the explosion at Audruicq were subsequently buried in Calais Southern Cemetery – https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/471326/purton,-frederick-william/
His CWGC headstone (Plot C, Row 3, Grave 14) shows the badge of the Royal Engineers beneath which is the inscription:
F. W. Purton
25th April 1916
We will remember them 6
Frederick Purton is commemorated on the War Memorials on the village green and in St Peter & St Paul’s Church Little Gaddesden. He is also named on the Rolls of Honour in the church. His older brothers Edwin Purton and Reginald Purton, his cousin Ernest Purton and Edwin‘s brother-in-law George Liberty are also named on the Rolls of Honour. His cousin Bertie Purton has been added to the 2018 Centenary Revision of the Roll. Frederick was posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Allied Victory Medal. His next of kin would also have received a memorial plaque and scroll; an example of the scroll and covering letter can be seen in William Mayling’s entry.
Commemorated on his Sister’s Grave
Frederick Purton is also commemorated on the grave of his sister Ellen Elizabeth (Nellie) Purton, who was buried 20th October 1937 in the old churchyard of St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden.
The grave is half way along the Northern edge of the old churchyard next to the hedge, NW of Leonard Hing’s grave.
On the following map, Nellie Purton’s grave is marked in gold. Other family graves commemorating those who died at war are marked in grey – click on the markers to see names.
To find out more about the others buried abroad but commemorated on family graves in the churchyard, see the section headed Family Graves Naming War Dead Buried Abroad of the main War Remembrance page. And to learn about those buried in the war graves, see the War Graves section.
The location of Nellie Purton’s grave can also be found by the following three word address: ///falters.envisage.icon.
This link opens in a new What3words tab. Location is easier if you use the aerial view rather than the map view. See here for an explanation of What3words.
The inscription reads:
In loving memory of
Ellen Elizabeth “Nellie” Purton
who departed this life
16th October 1937 aged 49 years
Thy will be done
also of Frederick William Purton
Bedfordshire Regt. died of wounds
in France 26th April 1916
4. Little Gaddesden School Log Books 1887 – 1906
8. https://www.findmypast.co.uk Wo 363 – First World War Service Records ‘Burnt Documents’, Purton 14546 R.E., No 35 Lahore Brit. Gen. Hospl. Roll of men suffering from injuries caused by an explosion at Audruicq 25/04/16. The ‘burnt documents’ were First World War documents that survived a fire in a War Office store caused by an incendiary bomb in September 1940. Charred and water-damaged, they were unfit for consultation until microfilmed in a large programme started in 1996. See https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C14567.
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