War Victim Goes to Bottom of the Pile

The First World War memorial outside St Andrew's church at Wellingham, Norfolk
The First World War memorial outside St Andrew's church at Wellingham, Norfolk

by Ray Setterfield


January 19, 1915 — As unsung heroes go, Frederick Pile is possibly one of the most unsung. Some would say deservedly so. Very little is known about him, though he is thought to have been a farm labourer.

What IS known is that Fred was out for a walk on this day – on the very occasion that Germany decided to step up hostilities that had been going on for six months, and introduce a new phase of conflict in the First World War. For the first time they dropped bombs on Britain.

The chosen method of delivery was Zeppelin airships, which had become a not unfamiliar sight in the skies over the previous 20 years. Whether Fred saw the Zeppelin and, if he did, whether he was troubled by it, will never be known.

But the high explosive bomb that was dropped from the aerial invader certainly put an end to Fred’s days.

It is believed that the airship’s real targets were the East Coast seaports of Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn. Why the pilot decided to unleash one of his deadly bombs on the lanes around the tiny Norfolk village of Wellingham, where Fred was walking, is not known.

But it certainly meant that Fred became one of the war’s early casualties.

When the conflict ended in 1918, this posed a problem for the villagers who had decided to erect a war memorial at St Andrew's Church honouring those local people who had given their lives in the war. They included the 34-year-old rector, the Rev Lionel Digby, who had gone to France and was killed just before the conflict ended.

Some villagers questioned whether Fred deserved to have his name on the memorial alongside those who had volunteered to fight and made the ultimate sacrifice.

A solution eventually emerged whereby the alphabetical order that governed the position of the heroes’ names would not apply to Fred, who consequently appeared at the bottom of the list.

According to scant information held by the War Graves Commission, Fred was 45 years old, possibly the son of John and Charlotte Pile of Wellingham, and probably buried in the churchyard without a gravestone.

Perhaps in the end it didn’t matter where on the list of honour Fred’s name appeared because today all the names on the weather-worn 100-year-old memorial are virtually illegible. Such fleeting fame.

Published: January 10, 2020

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