Frederick Thomas Willis

From towers to trenches, we remember Frederick Thomas Willis

Except for the words “He was also a member of the band of church bellringers “ within the Bucks Standard newspaper report we would not have known that Frederick was a ringer at St James the Great Church, Hanslope. The remainder of the article reads: “Private Frederick Thomas Willis, Bucks Battalion, Oxford & Bucks L. I. The only son of Mrs Cook of Hanslope, was we much regret to learn killed in action in France on the night of the 19th”.

Frederick was born in Hanslope on the 19th February 1893 and was baptised at St James the Great Church on the 30th July 1893. He was the eldest child and only son of Mary Jane and Thomas Willis. He had two younger sisters, Elsie and Amy.

In 1901 his mother Mary was a 33 year old widow living with her son Frederick and two daughters at Church End, Hanslope. No occupation was given for her on the census record. Following Thomas’s death his mother remarried in 1905 to a Frederick W Cook and a year later added another daughter to the family – Minnie Cook.

In 1911 Frederick Willis was 18 years of age and was employed as a Body Maker at the L & N W railway.  He was living with his mother and stepfather in a house on the High Street, Hanslope which had 5 rooms excluding the kitchen.

A few years later Frederick enlisted at Aylesbury and served in the 2nd first Bucks Battalion of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry.  He was Killed in Action on the 19th July 1916. The long long trail website advises that the service of the 2nd First Battalion was the same as the 2nd 4th Battalion. A history of the 2nd 4th Battalion shows that an offensive to hold German reserves opposite XI Corps was ordered for the 19th July. Although this objective was achieved the memoirs relate the cost: “object achieved, but at the cost of severe casualties to the divisions engaged, which were launched in daylight after artillery preparations, which results proved to have been inadequate, against a trench-system strongly manned and garrisoned by very numerous machine guns.” It is probable that Frederick died during this attack.

The sacrifice of 23 year old Frederick is recorded on panel 83 to 85 of the Loos Memorial. The memorial bears of the names of 20,000 men who have no known grave, who fell in the area from the River Lye to the old southern boundary of the First Army, east and west of Grenay.

Information sources

Census records for 1911, 1901

Commonwealth war graves commission

Buckinghamshire remembers

In Touch (November 2010)

The Long, Long Trail