Title - Albert Fretwell

Albert Fretwell was born at Penistone on 17th August 1891, the son of Charles and Crissy Fretwell. He was a steelworker living at Penistone when he enrolled in the Sheffield City Battalion on 8th September 1914 after hearing a recruiting speech by Lord Wharncliffe at the town's Rose and Crown Hotel. Like many others from Penistone, Fretwell was placed in "B" Company of the battalion in which he was assigned to No. 5 Platoon.

More than 50 years on, Fretwell recalled being in the second wave of the City Battalion's attack on Serre of 1st July 1916. If true, this is rather surprising as the main body of "B" Company was in the 3rd and 4th waves for the assault. Regardless of which wave he joined for the attack, Fretwell would have reached his assembly position in the pre-dawn hours of 1st July to find it heavily battered by the enemy artillery. For a man who had felt confident that the attack would be a walkover, it must have been a disconcerting sight. As dawn broke, the German artillery re-opened over the British lines. In contrast to Harry Bloor in the adjacent Accrington Pals battalion who recalled being allowed just a tablespoon of rum to steady the nerves, Fretwell spoke of there being as much rum as the men wanted.

In the crucial minutes around the launch of the attack at 7.30am, German riflemen and machine-gunners - numbed by the shellfire but generally unharmed - swarmed out of underground shelters to face the advancing troops. As the City Battalion moved across No Man's Land, Fretwell saw Germans coming out of the front line trench with their hands up only to drop back down again as they saw the waves of British infantry being torn apart by machine gun fire. Fretwell, in a group with 11 others, scrambled across a stretch of levelled German wire and surged into the trench beyond. A brief but savage bombing fight followed, leaving just 3 of the group standing. Fretwell himself was hit in the face by a German stick grenade, suffering no more than a superficial cut on account of the pin not having been pulled. Finding themselves isolated, the three survivors were forced to abandon the trench and take shelter in a shell hole close to the German wire. There they remained, pinned down by enemy fire until darkness fell. The sight of Germans sniping at the wounded lying in No Man's Land would be etched in Fretwell's mind for decades to come.

After 15 long hours in the shell hole, the three men moved off towards the British lines under cover of darkness. On the way they tried to find other survivors, but found only the dead, sometimes as many as 8 or 9 occupying one shell hole.

Fretwell transferred to the 7th Battalion in February 1918 and survived the war without ever being wounded. He returned to his job as a steelworker at Cammel Laird until the works closed in 1929. For the next ten years he was out of regular work, and was justifiably bitter at the sense of being "chucked on [the] scrap heap".

At the outbreak of a second war with Germany in 1939, he enlisted in the Sherwood Foresters and later guarded prisoners-of-war at Beaconsfield. With the war over, he was able to find work until his retirement.

Email author: andrew.jackson@btinternet.com

This account is based on information originally gathered by Martin Middlebrook and kindly released for this publication by the copyright holder, Ross Davies. It must not be reproduced in any form without permission of the copyright holder.

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