Foster F. D.

Private 11525 Frederick Dunning Foster, 2nd Battalion Durham Light Infantry, (formerly 8055,  3rd Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers)


Killed in action 27th October, 1914

Frederick Dunning Foster was born in Stokesley in 1890.  He was the son of Ann Elizabeth Foster who had been born in Kildale. Ann was the daughter of Robert Foster, a farmer, and his wife Maria (nee Robinson). Ann had 3 brothers: Richard, Alfred and Robinson, and 2 sisters; Emma and Rachel.

In 1891 when the census was taken, Ann and her son Frederick (then 9 months old) were visiting Ann’s sister Emma and Emma's husband William Rudd in Osmotherley.

It would seem that Ann later fell on hard times, because ten years later in the census of 1901 Ann was living in Stokesley Union workhouse with 2 sons, Frederick and George Henry, who had been born in 1894.

Frederick could have known little normal family life, for by 1911 the three of them were living separately.  Ann, a charwoman, was at Beckside, Stokesley with a boarder, John Wainwright; George was living at South Moor, Sedgefield, and working as a farm labourer to Thomas Swinbank, farmer; Frederick was living with his uncle, Robinson Foster, in Ferryhill in County Durham, where he was working as a coal miner. On her 1911 census form, Frederick's mother wrote that she had in fact three children, all still living. (There is a William Foster born in Kildale, living with Ann's parents in 1891, described as their grandson, so perhaps he is Ann's third child).

Frederick first enlisted with the Northumberland Fusiliers in Newcastle on Tyne on 1st November 1911. His attestation papers survive, and at enlistment his age was given as 21 years and 4 months. He was described as 5’ 4” tall and weighing 122 lbs, with a chest measurement of 36” expanding to 38”. His pulse rate was 72.  He had grey eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion. His religion was Church of England and he gave his address as 2 Brunel Street, Ferryhill. He listed his mother Annie Elizabeth Foster of White House, Beckside, Stokesley as his next of kin.  He appears to have listed 2 brothers on the enlistment form, but the document is so faded that the name of the first is illegible, although there is a letter 'e' in brackets after the name, indicating an 'elder' brother. This is followed by the words “address not known.” The second brother's name is also indistinct, but his address is given as “South Moor Farm, Ferryhill”. (It will be noted that this was the address of his brother George in the 1911 census).

As usual, a reference as to identity and character was requested by the army and a reply was received dated 28 October 1911 from Thomas Hammond, police sergeant, Ferryhill, who said that Frederick had been employed on farms and at Chilton Colliery and that although he did not know him personally those who did reported him to be sober and honest. Frederick was placed in the Special Reserve 3rd Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and undertook training in 1911 and 1912, including musketry for recruits. He was hospitalised from 1st-12th December 1912 with tonsillitis.

In January 1913 Frederick signed on as a full time soldier with the Durham Light Infantry. (2nd Battalion Regtl No 11525).   It may be that he had decided that moving from farm to farm to find work was an uncertain career, and that coal mining was not to his liking. Perhaps having spent time in the workhouse he would have been used to living with a large group of people and at least having regular food and somewhere to sleep. At any rate, he decided to enlist. His address at this time was 2 Brunel Street, Ferryhill.

A second reference was requested and a reply sent from Mr Maddison of Hall Farm, Byers Green.  He stated that Frederick had worked for him as a farm hand from September – 28th November 1912. He has last spoken to him on 25th December 1912.  He had ceased to employ him as he no longer needed “a lad”. Frederick had previously worked for Mr Musgrove of Elwick.  Mr Maddison described Frederick as sober, honest and a reliable good worker. Another good reference was received from the Northumberland Fusiliers

Private Foster's medical details as recorded on the second enlistment form were the same as those given when he enlisted for the Northumberland Fusiliers - except that his pulse rate was 75 and it was noted that there was loss and decay of teeth. He did in fact receive dental treatment including 5 fillings at a cost of 12/6d on 2nd February 1914.  Following this he was hospitalised whilst at Lichfield from 25th Feb – 2nd March 1914.

War was declared on 4th August, 1914, and regular soldiers were immediately mobilised. On 9th September, the 2nd Battalion of the DLI was sent to France, as part of the 18th Brigade, 6th Division, 3rd Corps, landing at St Nazaire on 10th September. The Book of Remembrance tells us that Private Foster saw action as early as 19th September, north of Troyon.  

The first real test for 3rd Corps soon came when they were ordered into action along the valley of the Lys, in what was to become known as the Battle of Armentieres. The objective of this battle was to prevent German forces from reaching the Channel coast and capturing vital ports which the British needed to keep under their own control for the purpose of supplying their army in France and Flanders.  The 3rd Corps was mobilised to take part in this action.  Travelling by train to St Omer, it was in position at Hazebrouck by 12th October. Failure could have put the continuation of the War in doubt, but 3rd Corps succeeded against tall odds.

Field Marshall  Sir John French, Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, wrote a detailed account of the movement and direction of troops throughout the Battle of Armentieres 13th October – 2nd November 1914. 

Under the command of General Pulteney 3rd Corps was ordered to move towards Armentieres.  The whole area was enclosed and rain sodden but nevertheless 3rd Corps moved forward rapidly and drove out the cavalry outposts of the enemy. From 15th – 18th October they advanced to and beyond Armentieres on both sides of the River Lys. General Pulteney had instructions to continue down the valley of the Lys but found on 18th October that the German lines had been heavily reinforced.  Further attacks would bring heavy losses and with little prospect of success.

Unable to continue the advance, Pulteney’s only option was to hold the line.  By this time, he commanded a front 12 – 13 miles long, and  had to try to hold it with forces which in the ordinary course of war would be deemed insufficient in number.  Despite this and in the face of repeated counter attacks for the rest of October, the line was held, and the German thrust towards the Channel ports was halted.

In his report on this action, Sir John French wrote of the 3rd Corps:
“Their position in the right central part of my line was of the utmost importance to the general success of the operations.”
He further asserted:
“The courage, tenacity, endurance and cheerfulness of the men in such unparalleled circumstances are beyond all praise.” 
World War, 1914-1918 — Campaigns Western Front, by Davis, H. W. Carless (Henry William Carless), 1874-1928

It was however during this critical period that Frederick Dunning Foster was reported “killed in action” on 27th October 1914.  His place of death was “not known” and there was even some confusion over his actual name; a letter being sent from HQ asking for confirmation that his name was Frederick and not Robert Dunning Foster. 

Private Foster was 24 years old when he fell.  He was awarded the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the 1914 Star and clasp. He has no known grave, but his name is commemorated on Panels 8 and 9 of the Ploegsteert Memorial.

In 1919 his mother was asked to complete a form giving the names and addresses of Frederick’s relations but she returned the form stating that he had “none”. This declaration was signed by his mother and witnessed by John Page Sowerby, the well known Stokesley lawyer. 

Despite this statement of Frederick's mother, the Book of Remembrance gives the information that he was one of two brothers who served. Perhaps the author of this entry did not know of an elder brother, but since, as far as we can tell, he was born in Kildale and never lived in Stokesley, this would not have been surprising.

(The brother referred to in the Book of Remembrance was George Henry Foster, born in Stokesley on 8th February, 1894.  See section They Also Served under Surnames D - G)

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