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  • Arras Memorial.  Photograph B Szowkomud
Person Details
25 Mar 1897
Kirkby in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire
Son of James Fletcher Frith and Mary Jane Frith, of 17, Nottingham Rd., East Kirkby, Nottingham (CWGC). In 1901 James Frith (28) and Mary Jane (27) lived at 51 Wesley Street, Kirkby in Ashfield, with their two sons, Arthur Lancelot (6) and Willis Hirwin (4); Willis had been born at this address. By 1911 the family was living at Nuncargate, Kirkby in Ashfield. Willis' parents had been married for 17 years and there was now a third son, James Albert, aged 1. His father was a coal miner (hewer) and his older brother a colliery labourer (underground) while Willis was still at school.
Record in NCC register describes him as a student (BSc) at University College Nottingham. He may have previously been a teacher. Member of University College Nottingham OTC.
08 Jun 1917
1557782 - CWGC Website
Enlisted Nottingham, residence East Kirkby (probably 17 Nottingham Road)
207th Coy Machine Gun Corps (Infantry)
Enlisted August 1916 in Sherwood Foresters (57480) but transferred to the Machine Gun Corps in 1916 as a founder member of 207th Machine Gun Company, which was formed on 24 October 1916. Trained at Belton Camp, Grantham. To Western Front March 1917. Frith was a mule driver and 'cold shoer' (see 'extra information'). The company is recorded at Pony du Nieppe between 1-12 June 1917 during the Battle of Messines. Willis is commemorated on the Arras Memorial. Awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Listed in Nottinghamshire County Council register of employees who served (Nottinghamshire Archives ref CC CL 2 /12/1/1). His second name is spelt 'Hirwen' on the Council memorial. Article published 22nd June 1917 in the Mansfield Reporter and Sutton Times :- “DEATH IN FRANCE. — It is with regret that we announce the death, in France, on the 8th inst., of Pte. Willis Frith of the Machine Gun Corps, son of Councillor J. and Mrs. Frith, of Nottingham-road. Private Frith found (sic) the army from Nottingham University College, where he was studying for the teaching profession, and was an exceptional and clever student.” Above article is courtesy of Jim Grundy and his facebook pages Small Town Great War Hucknall 1914-1918. The following source is quoted as the writer of the website article has linked Frith with a man named by the author, Henry Williamson, in an essay, although the number of the Machine Gun Company (208th) is not the same as that listed on CWGC (207th). Frith's death is described in Williamson's essay, ‘Reality in War Literature’, written in 1928 and included in The Linhay on the Downs & Other Stories (Cape, 1934). Williamson describes an episode that occurred when he was Transport Officer for the 208th Machine Gun Company: 'A motor car suddenly slowing down in the lane outside my window made a downward droning sound, and in an instant the sunlight on my paper was put out, and I was in deep sucking mud, helplessly and hopelessly pulling the reins of a mule, laden with machine guns, lying on its side on a slough of shell-holes, white streaks arising in a vast semi-circle wavery with shadows homeless in the light of everlasting flares. To avoid the shelled timber track, broken and congested with a battalion transport which had just received several direct hits, the guide had led the file of pack-mules a ‘short cut’ across the morass; the drowning beast snorted and groaned, while the mud glimmered silver behind its ears. Five-nines burst in salvoes around us, with ruddy glares and rending metallic crashes; bullets, arising in ricochet from the outpost line nearer the flares, moaned and piped away overhead. I stood, hot and sweating, clogged with half a hundredweight of mud . . . Then a soft downward slurring sound, followed by a dull thud; another, and another, and another. Gas shells! My box-respirator, at the alert position on the chest, was treble-weighted with mud. I could hardly discover my face, so heavy and monstrous were my arms. While I was struggling to fit the mask the brutal whine of five-nines began again along the track, and a salvo dropped in our midst. A driver named Frith started screaming for his mother, and a long time afterwards (it seemed) I was shining my electric torch on his arms and legs tangled and twisted with shreds of his waterproof cape in a heap of dark red slime. A leather-covered trace heaved under the mass, and tautened; a stricken mule reared up gaping, and sagged, and under it Driver Frith sank into the slough.' (The Henry Williamson Society: www.henrywilliamson.co.uk/component/content/article/57-uncategorised/171-driver-frith) The same source provides more details of Frith. Anne Williamson’s biography 'A Patriot’s Progress: Henry Williamson and the First World War' (1998), included as an illustration a page from one of Henry’s Army notebooks covering the period when he was with 208 Machine Gun Company. He has listed his mule drivers and Driver Frith is listed as a 'cold shoer'. 'A ‘cold shoer’s’ task was to replace shoes on horses, mules and donkeys without the necessity of a blacksmith’s bulky and heavy equipment of a forge and anvil.'
Remembered on


  • Arras Memorial.  Photograph B Szowkomud
    William Hirwin Frith - Arras Memorial. Photograph B Szowkomud
  • Arras Memorial. Photograph B Szowkomud
    Willis Hirwin Frith - Arras Memorial. Photograph B Szowkomud
  • Brian notes 'the family have a small mule shoe.... and had no idea where it was from ... The Machine Gun Corps used mules to transport.'
    Courtesy of Brian Szowkomud - Brian notes 'the family have a small mule shoe.... and had no idea where it was from ... The Machine Gun Corps used mules to transport.'
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