Fred was the son of Charlie and Rachel Atkinson and had been born in the Liverpool area. As a young man, he had followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the regular army. He served for three years, including a period in India. He had left the army some time before and had married Mary. He was working in the Marple area when war was declared and was recalled to the colours as he was still on the Army’s reserve list.
The 2nd South Lancashires was amongst the first units to arrive in France and Fred saw action at the Battle of Mons on 23 August 1914. The Battalion was involved in most of the battles of the early weeks of the War.
On 20 October 1914, Fred and his comrades were dug-in on Aubers Ridge, near the French village of Le Bassee (east of the town of Bethune) when they came under a strong attack from German infantry that was repulsed but with many casualties. The next day, the Germans again attacked in force and managed to enter the British trench system. This forced the South Lancashires to retire and, as they did so, they again lost many men to machine gun fire. In the evening, they were withdrawn from the fighting area and went into billets, where they remained for a number of days.
Regimental records published after the War (and now available on the CD-ROM “Soldiers Died in the Great War”) indicate that the Battalion suffered 160 soldiers killed in this period. However there is clearly an error in these records, which also provided the official dates of death used by the War Graves Commission. Only 7 of the deaths are recorded as being during the two days of fighting, whilst 153 are recorded as occurring on the 24th when the Battalion was not engaged in action.
Many of the men, including Fred, were posted as missing after the fighting and this may account for the error that has crept into the account. As with many others, Fred’s body was never recovered and identified and it would be many months before his family received official notification that he was officially presumed to have died.
Further information about Fred, including a photograph can be found in the book “Remembered” by P Clarke, A Cook and J Bintliff