Frederick William Holmes was a native of Bermondsey, London. He signed up for seven years service with the army 1907. He completed these years just before the outbreak of the First World War, and so was immediately called up for active service at the start of the war.
Serving with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry as a Lance Corporal, Frederick was involved in the early fighting of the war. On the 26th August 1914, the British forces were given the order to retreat following dangerous fighting during the Battle of Le Cateau. As the men made the hazardous run to retreat under enemy fire, Frederick made the decision to risk his own life to save a Bugler who’d broken both of his legs and couldn’t escape himself. Frederick picked up Bugler Woodcock and carried him on his back out of the firing line and to some stretcher bearers. He then returned to the front line, and found an unattended gun surrounded by dead and dying artillery men. Lance Corporal Holmes rode one of the horses used to pull the gun, and removed the gun and the wounded gun team out of the line of fire.
Lance Corporal Holmes was awarded the VC, a medal awarded for gallantry in the face of the enemy, for his actions at Le Cateau. He was awarded his medal by King George V at Buckingham Palace. Lance Corporal Holmes was also recognised by the French and awarded the the Medaille Militaire, a French bravery medal.
In July 1915 the Doncaster Chronicle excitedly reported on ‘Stirring Scenes at the Halls’ of Doncaster, as Frederick visited local theatres on a recruitment tour. Frederick had a whirlwind tour of Doncaster, giving two talks at the Palace Theatre and two at the Grand Theatre. The previous day he’d been speaking at a large meeting in Pontefract. Frederick described himself as ‘one of Kitchener’s representatives’ and appeared at these talks on behalf of the Parlimentary Recruiting Committee with the express aim of enlisting men. Frederick was particularly blunt with his delivery and had a lot to say at these recruitment talks about men who had not yet joined the army. He said
‘Men staying at home between the ages of 18 and 40 who are not doing Government work and have no home ties or responsibilities should be downright ashamed of themselves for not being in khaki.. Many a man claps me at a theatre who ought to go out himself and do his bit.. I told people there would be ‘registration’ three months ago and I have told them there will be conscription.’
Frederick took particular issue with men who worked in shops, arguing that they had ‘girlish’ jobs and stating he wasn’t interested in the men making munitions but wanted men ‘from behind the drapers’ counters’ to join the army. The Chronicle stated it was clear that Frederick did not enjoy the work he was doing, but was just following orders. As quickly as he arrived he left to catch the late train back to London.
Frederick rejoined his battalion, later transferred to the Green Howards and was injured twice throughout his time at the Front. The last injury, a serious fracture of his skull, resulted in him being sent home from the Front. Frederick left the army after the war, and ultimately moved to Port Augusta in Australia where he died in 1969.
In 2014, Bermondsey Council laid a commemorative paving slab close to where Holmes was born at Abbey Street, Bermondsey, and where he was baptised, St Mary Magdalen Church, to mark 100 years since his VC win. Holmes is also commemorated with a plaque in Gladstone Square, Port Augusta.