Fred (Fred Gaskill) GASKELL
Rank: Private
Number: 396812
Unit: 171st Company LABOUR CORPS (MANCHESTER on mem)
Date of Death: 16 September 1917
Age: 34 (approximately)
Cemetery: Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery, Ieper, Belgium

Identification of Fred for this project proved a little more difficult than for most other men. His name is spelt Gaskill by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as is his name in the medal entitlement records held at the National Archives. However, all local information suggested the spelling was Gaskell. It is likely, in a time when standards of literacy were lower than those today, that different branches of the family spelt the name both ways.

The second difficulty was that his inscription of his name on the Stockport War Memorial is amongst those who served with the Manchester Regiment. This was Fred's original unit although he was definitely with the Labour Corps when he died.

The family history website, CheshireBMD records that Thomas Gaskill (sic) married Ellen Hanson at Christ Church, Heaton Norris in the early 1870s. It is not known how many children they had together, although it is known that Fred had a brother called Arthur. Arthur Gaskell (sic) was killed in action on 7 July 1916 whilst serving with the Manchester Regiment. Fred was born in Dukinfield.

In the latter months of 1903, Fred married Emma Gardiner at St Mary's Church, Stockport. She must have been pregnant at the time as their daughter, Lucy, is recorded as having been born the same year, her birth being registered in the December quarter

Nothing else is known of Fred's life until he enlisted into the army at Newcastle under Lyne. It is not known why he enlisted in the town, although it is possible that he had moved there for work. He originally joined the Manchester Regiment and was allocated 2871 as his service number. This number is consistent with him serving with one of the Regiment's Territorial Battalions. This service may have been quite brief as it is known he was later serving with the 24th Battalion. This unit was a Pioneer Battalion - comprising trained soldiers but ones whose primary responsibilities were in the construction of strongpoints and trench defences.

At some later point, he was transferred to the Labour Corps. The Corps was formed at the beginning of 1917 mainly of men no longer deemed fit enough for the rigours of fighting in the front line trenches, but who could still perform vital manual work in the rear areas. They would undertake such tasks as road building, grave digging, unloading ships, etc. These tasks would often be carried out fairly close to the front line and, certainly, within range of the enemy artillery and casualties were not uncommon.

There are now no records of the daily activities of Labour Corps units but it is known that in the weeks prior to his death, Fred and his comrades spent most of their time burying the dead. These would be casualties from the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) which had started on 31 July. Fred was killed in action but, of course, there are no details of what happened.

   
           
   
     
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