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Wallace D. French

 

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Died : 11 November 1914
 
Wallace French portrait 

 

Wallace Denys French was another of our Regular soldiers. In fact his parents, John and Christiana of New Town, Ringmer (formerly from The Village) had two serving sons in His Majesty’s Armed Forces. Another son, Harold, served during the First World War in the Royal Horse Artillery only to loose his life tragically during the Second World War by the explosion of a German ‘doodlebug’ whilst he was living at Shortgate.

Private French (number 9841) joined the 1st Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers around 1909. Born on 25th April 1891 he was 23 years of age when he was killed on or around 11th November 1914. The 1891 Census records the family as living at that time ‘near Brewers Arms’ and shows an entry for ‘Wallace C’, ‘son’ as being ‘under 1 month’. Christened ‘Wallace Denys’ on 16th August 1891 he became a pupil of Ringmer School from 23rd April 1894 to 3rd April 1903. Wallace left with a labour certificate having attained his grades each year. No doubt the idea of spending his life as a labourer, as his father was, had something to do with him signing up for the Army. The Royal Scots Fusiliers had several very persuasive recruiting drives in this area before the War and enrolled many men from Sussex into their Regiment.

The 1st Battalion of about 1,000 men landed in France at Le Havre on 14th August. By the 23rd they were heavily engaged fighting a rearguard action in and around Mons. This was to delay the enemy who was attacking the retreating British Expeditionary Force. They were in the thick of the fighting at the Battle of Le Cateau on 26th August and then formed once more the rearguard until the general retreat halted just south of the River Marne on 3rd September. The Allies re-grouped and counter attacked on the 5th. The Fusiliers again crossed the Marne on 9th September and the Germans were gradually pushed back. The tide had turned and, surprise, this time Wallace French’s battalion was in the vanguard! The push continued with several more vicious battles and mile upon mile of endless marching. By 18th October the British forces were forming a salient around the ancient Flemish town of Ypres. Our friends fought their way to this sector by 10th November. The battalion had had hardly any rest since landing in France and was exhausted to a man having marched around 500 miles so far!

On 11th November the 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers were ordered to counter attack the crack troops of the Prussian Guard. They were breaking through our defensive positions near a chateau at Herenthage, just south of the Ypres to Menin road, and had to be stopped at all cost. The fighting was continuous and vicious and the casualties heavy during the next couple of days. It was simply impossible to stop to record individual deaths and in consequence no one will ever know precisely when Private Wallace French died. He has no known grave and along with 54,895 others is commemorated on Menin Gate Memorial. By the end of this action, the First Battle of Ypres, over 200 Fusiliers had been killed and many more seriously wounded. To this day the atmosphere in the grounds of Herenthage Chateau, where so many perished, can best be described as melancholy.

 

Adapted from Valiant Hearts of Ringmer by Geoff Bridger: Ammonite Press, 1993