1917, FEBRUARY 27th – UNDER ENEMY BOMBARDMENT FOR FOUR HOURS IN ABLAINCOURT TRENCHES
From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose M.C. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)
On the morning of February 27 German howitzer batteries commenced some heavy shelling on the Battalion sector, especially on the communication trenches passing under the former French titles of B.C.4 and B.C.5. Working parties who were busy digging out mud from those trenches were compelled to desist. At 10 o’clock I heard that Fry, the commander of No. 16 Platoon, had been hit by shrapnel on his way from Company H.Q. to the Sucrerie. To get him to the nearest shelter (C Company H.Q.) was difficult through the mud, and uncomfortable enough with 5.9s coming down close to the trench, but the men, as always, played up splendidly to assist a comrade.
Soon afterwards, the doctor, in answer to a telephonic summons, appeared at my H.Q. On our way to reach Fry we were both knocked down in the trench by a 4.2, which also wounded Corporal Rockall in the shoulder-blade. I regret that Fry, though safely moved from the trenches the same night, had received a mortal wound. In him died a fine example of the platoon officer. He met his wound in the course of a trivial duty which, had I guessed that he would do it under heavy shelling, I should have forbidden him to undertake. His type of bravery, though it wears no decorations, is distinguished, more than all other, by the unwritten admiration of the Infantry.
During that night I had a peculiar and interesting task. It was to report on the condition of all roads leading through our front line across No-Man’s-Land. Mud, battle and frost had so combined to disguise all former roads and tracks, that to decide their whereabouts it was often necessary to follow them forward from behind by means of map and compass. Seen by pale moonlight, these derelict roads, in places pitted with huge craters or flanked by shattered trees, wore a mysterious charm. More eloquent of catastrophe than those thrown down by gale or struck by lightning are trees which shells have hit direct and sent, splintered, in headlong crash from the ranks of an avenue. If wood and earth could speak, what tales the sunken roads of France could find to tell!
The enemy bombarded our trenches for four hours. Casualties.
— 2nd Lieut. A. C. Fry mortally wounded (died next day) and 2 men wounded.
In 1916 Arthur Charles Fry was Fry was well enough to enter an Officers’ Training Battalion, from which he received a commission in the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, and went to France on 5 January 1917 as a Second Lieutenant in “D” Company of the 2nd/4th Battalion; a month later he was killed. A fellow officer described him thus:
During the short time he was in the line he did extremely well. His Company Commander told me that it was perfectly extraordinary how quick he took to everything, and he went so far as to say that he was the best Platoon Commander he had had … he was most popular with his Platoon … and an awfully keen soldier…. In the line he was awfully good and brave, did not care a rap for bullet or shell, and was always with his men if there was a bombardment on, walking about amongst them cracking jokes and cheering them on, and the men admired him and thought of him as a little god. It was a chance shell that hit him, and he lay for hours in an Officers’ dug-out before they could take him to the Field Ambulance and then to hospital, where he died on March 1st.