Corporal Fred Firth

This is one of a series of posts about local men named on the Keighley Union Workhouse roll of honour.
Fred was in the Clarendon Street Children's home which was attached to the Keighley workhouse in 1911 along with Charles Horner and Richard Horner who were there at thee same time. We could not find any evidence his younger brother Nathan was ever in the workhouse, nor their parents.

Fred Firth, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry service number 2135 and 200329. He later served with the Royal Engineers, service number 615152.

Early life:
Fred Firth was born in the latter half of 1896 in Keighley. His parents were Nathan and Margaret Firth. Nathan was an iron foundry labourer and his Margaret was a worsted operative.
In 1901 Fred was 5 years old and living at 20, Duncan Street, Keighley with his parents, his younger brother Nathan and their maternal grandmother Mary O'Hara. Their mother Margaret died in 1901 and there is no trace of their father after the 1901 census.
There is also a death record for a Nathan Firth who died in 1904 aged 2 years and this may have been Fred's younger brother.
By 1911 Frederick was aged 14 years and living at 18, Clarendon Street, Keighley which was a children's home under the care of the Keighley Guardians and he was working full time as a worsted frame doffer in a worsted spinning mill. The head of the household was Ellen Uttley aged 47 and there were five other boys of similar age living in this house and it is likely they all 'graduated' to this home from the workhouse proper.

War service:
We do not know when he enlisted but he would have been almost eighteen years old when war broke out in August 1914.
The only records we could find for a Corporal Fred Firth were some Army medal rolls and a medal index card. Fortunately this man was also named on an Army pension card stating that he lived at 49, Burlington Street in Keighley, so he fits the bill and we think this must have been him as there is no record of another Fred or Frederick Firth living in Keighley at the time.
His medal records show that he served with the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry under the service number 2315 which would have changed to the six figure number 200359 in late 1916 or early 1917. He entered France on 13th April 1915 and was wounded in the knee and arm in July 1916.

Keighley News July 22, 1916, page 4:
Corporal Fred Firth, a former inmate of the children's homes under the care of the Keighley Guardians, writing to Mr George Sayers, of Bingley, a member of the Board, states that [1] he was wounded after his battalion had taken four lines of German trenches, and is now in hospital. Corporal Firth says his wounds are in the knee and arm. He further gives it as his opinion that the war will be over in a month, as the German prisoners say they are done now. Proceeding, he says that during the attack six Germans were in a dug-out and he threw a bomb in. Going down afterwards he got five German helmets, but he lost the one he retained when he was hit. Ten of his pals were killed with the shell which wounded him, and four others were wounded. He is proud to say he was made full corporal a week before he was wounded, and considers himself the luckiest chap on earth. He hopes to go back to see the finish of the war.

These wounds may have resulted in him being medically downgraded from infantry to a supporting role with the Royal Engineers, so at some point he was transferred and given the service number 615152. He served until being transferred to the Z Reserve on 28th March 1919.

After the war:

A Fred Firth married widow Emily McCormack née Mullen in Keighley in 1921 although there was a 20 year age difference betwen them if true. Emily's husband John T McCormack died in 1919 in a railway accident, apparently he was crushed between rail cars.
There is some evidence that Fred and Emily emigrated to America, although we cannot prove they are the same couple. Certainly no further records for Fred Firth have been found for the Keighley district after 1921 and the electoral roll for him stops at that year.

Source information:
England and Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915
1901 England Census
1911 England Census
UK, World War I Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920
Keighley News archives at Keighley Library
Keighley Union Workhouse roll of honour held at Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley.

[1] The newspaper column is written in a way which implies they are talking about the first day of the battle of the Somme. If this is a reference to the first day of this battle on 1st July 1916, it suggests he was serving with either the 9th or 10th battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, which did succeed in making great advances on this day but suffered heavy losses in the process.

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