Pte. F. Kitching

FIRST NAMES: Frederick

UNIT: 2nd South Wales Borderers

NUMBER: 45163

STATUS: Killed in Action (Died as a POW?)

DATE OF DEATH: 21st November 1917

CEMETERY OR MEMORIAL: Marcoing British Cemetery, France

AGE: 33

Frederick's parents were called Thomas and Mary and he was an older brother of Joseph Kitching whose name also appears on the Brompton Memorial. He lived at High End, Brompton. He was more commonly known as "Millbank" and he was a keen sportsman, playing for the cricket team at Brompton and also at inside left for Brompton FC.

He had previously served with the East Yorkshire Regiment (No. 17866) before being posted to the South Wales Borderers in time to serve with them as they fought at Gallipoli in 1915. He had fought through all the battles of 1916 and 1917, including The Somme, Arras and Passchendaele.

There is some doubt as to how he eventually met his fate.

One version of events says was killed, aged 33, during the Battle of Cambrai, which saw the first use of tanks in large numbers in the history of warfare.

The battle began on 20th November 1917, when the initial attack burst through the German Hindenburg Line and out into the open country beyond. The 2nd South Wales Borderers were part of the 87th Brigade of the 29th Division which followed up the initial attack, arriving in Marcoing (approx 5,000 yards behind the Hindenburg Line) to help clear the village and push on beyond it. They crossed the St Quentin Canal using a railway bridge and a canal lock, but when they tried to push forward they were caught by enfilade fire from the direction of Rumilly and could go no further.

On 21st November Frederick Kitching, having survived the first day's fighting, found himself at a pronounced bend in the canal to the East of Marcoing, waiting for more tanks to arrive to spearhead a further assault on the German positions in front of them. The tanks were an hour late, but eventually managed to cross the canal using the newly captured railway bridge and a total of 18 tanks began to trundle slowly towards the German lines.

Unfortunately the tanks worked their way laterally along the German lines instead of staying in front of the troops in their forward assault. Both the tanks and the troops came under intense artillery and machine gun fire and three of the tanks were destroyed. It also became clear that the Mark IV tanks being used were vulnerable to armour-piercing bullets (one tank later reported it had 37 holes in its 8mm armour). It was impossible for the troops to advance against such strong opposition and by 3.30pm the attack was over, and Frederick Kitching was dead.

The early promise of the Cambrai battle failed to materialise and after bringing the Allied attacks to a standstill, the Germans mounted a series of counter-attacks which regained virtually all of the ground they had lost. As the tide of war ebbed and flowed over the ground the exact location of Frederick's grave was lost. His headstone no longer marks his exact resting place, but bears the inscription "Known to be Buried in this Cemetery".

The official records, however, say that Frederick died as a Prisoner of War in Germany. It is always dangerous to argue with the official records, especially when the discrepancy is so marked. In most cases, the official version turns out to be correct. In this case, however, the official version does not explain how Frederick comes to be buried in France if he is supposed to have died in Germany.

Unfortunately, the exact location of Frederick's grave is not known and it is possible that the authorities made a mistake in saying that he was "Known to be Buried" in the cemetery at Marcoing. This would also mean that his grave in Germany has been lost, which is unlikely, as a prisoner's grave would almost certainly be recorded by the German authorities.

On balance, the most plausible version is that Frederick was killed on 21st November at Marcoing and that his grave was subsequently destroyed. It is possible that he was also reported as having been taken prisoner during the fighting and in the confusion this report was officially accepted.

It is likely that the truth will never be known. What is certain is that Frederick Kitching never returned to play cricket or football for Brompton and he died in the service of his country, whatever the circumstances of his death.