Military Record of Frederick Robert William Chapman

Grandfather Chapman served in the First World War (1914-1918) and was wounded while at the front with the Gloucestershire Regiment.

He joined the Regiment on Tuesday, 1st December 1903 shortly after his 18th birthday, when he trained as a bandsman, learning to play the clarinet.

When I was a young boy, probably about 14 years old, I distinctly remember him telling me that he was in a battle. He went over the top of the trench with his platoon of about 20 others when there was a tremendous explosion. After he came to, he realised that he was the only one left alive and was wounded in the foot. He could not move and lay out in no-mans-land eventually getting to a field hospital 3 days later. By that time his foot was gangrenous and the medical officer gave him two choices - amputation or to plunge his foot into a bucket of boiling hot water to kill the infection. He chose the latter and lost only his middle toe.

In later years my sister told me that his brother-in-law, Harry Pemberton, who was with another unit in the area, on hearing that the Glosters had suffered heavy casualties, went out into no-mans-land to find him and brought him back.

This was about all I knew of his war experiences until in May 2006 we sorted through a bag of old photos from my parents attic and found two postcards written to Granddad when he was a young soldier. They were dated 1905 and 1907 and addressed to bandsman William Chapman, 2nd Glosters and had his army number 7348. Without this number, it would have been nearly impossible to find his army records out of the 20 million men who served in the First World War as he was christened Frederick Robert William and Chapman is quite a common name, but I had read recently that 1st World War Medal Index Cards (MIC) had been put onto a searchable database. Typing in his number gave me an image number and a payment of £3-50 allowed me to download a copy of his MIC, which unlocked a lot of important information.

Medal Index Card

Regiment: 1st Gloucester
1914 Star: Given to soldiers serving in France from Aug to the end of 1914
Theatre of war 1 (this was France)
Date of entry to theatre of war: 13-8-14
Silver War Badge: given to soldiers wounded.
Discharge: 8th June 1915

From other sources I found that the 1st Gloucesters were stationed in Bordon, near Aldershot as part of the 3rd Infantry Brigade, 1st Division of the BEF under the command of Lt. General Haig.
They were among the first troops to disembark at Le Havre on the 13th August. (War had only been declared on the 4th August).

Granddad had been a professional soldier in 1905-1907, and he left the army to get married in 1910 and was working as a civilian. When war was declared he was called back to the colours and reported to his regiment a few days before embarkation. The following extract suggests this:-
The order to mobilise was received at the Depot at about 4.30 pm on the 4th August and reservists poured in during the next two days.
The mobilization of the Regular reservists was completed and the required number had been dispatched to the 1st Battalion by Friday, 7th August.

The same book titled THE GLOUCESTERHIRE REGIMENT IN THE WAR 1914-1918 by Everard Wyrall, published in 1931 continues:
It was still dark in the early hours of the 12th when the 1st Gloucesters, without bands playing or any of the flag-waving usually associated with the departure of troops to take part in an overseas war, paraded and marched to Bordon Station where they boarded two trains, the first of which arrived at Southampton at 5 a.m. and the second at 6.30 a.m.
On reaching Southampton the 1st Gloucesters went aboard (curiously enough) the S.S. Gloucester Castle, which sailed at 12.10 p.m. on the 12th

S.S. Gloucester Castle
S.S.Gloucester Castle
See larger picture

The Battalion went ashore next day at Le Havre on the 13th, which corresponds to the date on the Medal Index Card. It also shows that William Chapman was discharged on the 8th June 1915, so he would have been wounded between the first engagements with the Germans in August 1914 and June 1915. The above mentioned book was obviously written from the battalion's war diaries and gives a virtual day by day account of their movements and fortunes.

I had assumed that if he had been wounded in an explosion and had lost his platoon (his words were "I was the only one left of my platoon") it must have been a large battle. The only battle in which the Glosters suffered heavy casualties was the battle of Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915 in which in the space of a few minutes they lost 10 officers and 252 men. A batallion was about 600-700 men. The 9th of May fitted in with his discharge on the 8th June.

The next step in solving the riddle was to e-mail the Gloucestershire Regimental Museum to ask for their help.
David Read then e-mailed some interesting information. Apparently Grandad was reported wounded on the 2nd December 1914 and on the 18th January 1915. The Cheltenham Echo reported that he was wounded on the 20th January. As his foot wound would have incapacitated him, I assume that the December 2nd wound was minor and allowed him to return to the trenches and that the January 18th-20th wound was the foot wound. It was pointed out that the dates reported did not always coincide with the actual date of the wound, as men often had to wait for several days before receiving proper medical attention.
David Read also said that the 1st Batallion spent the end of January in the trenches at Givenchy , the companies being rotated every 2 days or so. Casualties were light, but on a daily basis mostly from shelling. As Grandad said he was wounded in an explosion, this would fit in with what was going on in his sector.
By the 11th November 1914 barely 2 officers and 100 men remained of the batallion that had landed in France in August, so by the time grandad was wounded two months later he was probably the last from his original platoon and this is what he meant when he said he was the only one left. I had assumed that they were all killed in a single explosion, but it is more likely that they had been killed or wounded in the previous months.