The letter every mother dreaded receiving:
Dear Mrs Froggatt
I very much regret to tell you that you son died here at 5.15pm yesterday. He came here at 3am in the morning having, I believe, been wounded on Monday morning, early. He was very ill indeed when he arrived and the doctors operated at once, hoping to relieve him, but unfortunately, gas gangrene had spread too far. We did everything we possibly could for him. He left no message. He was far too ill to think of anyone or anything but himself.
With much sympathy, believe me.
E R Creagh
No. 1 South African General Hospital
Maurice was the third of John and Florence Froggatt's four sons and had lived all his life in Compstall. The family had worshiped at St Paul's Church and he had furthered his education by attending the church's Sunday school. When he started work, he got a job as a weaver at the nearby Compstall Mill but, shortly before the War, had started an apprenticeship at the boilermaking works of Tinker & Shenton Ltd in Hyde.
Reporting his death, the Stockport Advertiser said that he had enlisted in September 1914,presumably lying about his true age of 16. "His father was told he could be brought back but Signaller Froggatt said he wanted to go out and do his bit and if his father brought him back, he would go again." However, Maurice's service number confirms that, whilst he may have been in the army at that age, he did not go abroad on active service until 1917 when he was 18 or 19. The 2/8th Battalion left Britain in March 1917 and he was, almost certainly, amongst the original members.
The Battalion's early months of service were spent undertaking tours of duty in trenches near the Channel coast. On 5 October 1917, Maurice and his mates moved from camp at Brandhoek to relieve a Battalion of Australian troops in the support lines near the Belgian village of Vlamertinghe.
The next day, they moved forward to take over a section of the front line. As a signaller, Maurice would have been near to Battalion headquarters operating the telephone system that was the main source of communication back to the higher levels of command. At times he would have had to go outside of the trench system to repair any breaks in the wire. He may also have had to act as a "runner" taking messages by hand to the companies in the front trench. It was a rare relatively quiet period during the Third Battle of Ypres (often known as Passchendaele) which had been underway since the end of July.
The Battalion's War Diary for the 8th records "Considerable shelling of front line and support company.....Heavy shelling around Battalion Headquarters. Direct hit obtained on runners' shed and majority of headquarters signallers and runners became casualties."
Maurice will have received immediate treatment from the Battalion's own medical officer just behind the lines and would then have been sent to a Casualty Clearing Station (field hospital) some miles to the rear. There military surgeons would have stabilised his condition as best they could enabling him to be further evacuated to the more extensive hospital facilities at Abbeville. It is a distance on some 170 kilometres on today's roads with a journey time of two hours. In 1917, journey time along crowded, war-damaged roads was much longer.