Tuesday, 23 April 2013

ANZAC week - Uncle Ricky

Uncle Ricky was my grandfather’s eldest brother. I have written a little about him before, here and
Frederic Ernest Terry Fitts enlisted as a Signaller on 14 July 1915, a few months short of his 22nd birthday. He had been apprenticed as a bookbinder and the printing company had to write a letter releasing him from his apprenticeship agreement.
His service number was 28 and he joined the 29th Battalion, embarking on the Ascanius on 10 November 1915.

He was the oldest son of Frederic Arthur FITTS (1864-1902) and Constance Edith TERRY (1871-1925). There is an entry in his mother’s ‘Calendar of Dates’ that my mother now has:
November 9 - said "Goodbye" to Eric
November 10 - Eric embarked for the front

Uncle Ricky served in France at the Somme, on the Western Front at Ypres Belgium, and on the Western Front at Armentieres France.
Unlike many of the other soldiers whose records I have seen lately, he had very few visits to the hospital, only once for Trench fever, and another for defective vision.

He was commended and decorated, being mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig’s despatches for Distinguished and Gallant Services, was awarded a Military Medal, and here is his recommendation for the Distinguished Conduct Medal:
On the night 7/8th May 1918, North of SAILLY-le-SEC, during an attack by this Battalion in conjunction with the Battalion on our left, all telephonic communication between attacking Coys. and Battalion H’qrs was severed by a heavy enemy barrage.  The position was obscure and critical, as forward communications of Battalion on our left had also broken down, and it was uncertain as to where their Right flank rested.
L/Cpl Fitts volunteered to repair the lines, and while doing so had to work under shell fire which cut the lines almost as soon as the repairs had been effected. During the whole night and early morning, he worked to and fro under this barrage until completely exhausted, and by his fearlessness, skill and devotion to duty, succeeded in maintaining communication to the rear, so that we were enabled to convey vital information to the Commanding Officer of the Battalion on our left, and to keep Brigade fully conversant with the situation.
This NCO has been with the Battalion since its inception, and has performed similar deeds of this description, particularly during our last winter on the SOMME.

He returned to Australia on 28 March 1919, marrying Doris Lillian OATS (of Elsternwick, Victoria) on 22 June 1922.
The Uncle Ricky I knew had problems walking, obviously not something he suffered before the war (judging by his citations). He had a huge (well, huge to us as children) built up shoe and later a wheelchair. He and Auntie Doris were a lovely couple and we all liked to visit them. They didn’t have any children.

Auntie Doris died in 1973 aged about 82 years, and Uncle Ricky lived out his remaining years in an Anzac hostel where my brother used to go and sit and chat to him for hours. Uncle Ricky died in 1983 during my brother’s university years.

His medals and memorabilia, including diaries were passed to his nephews and from them to the War Memorial.
Next time I go to Canberra, I’m going to make sure I have time to sit and read them.

Papers of No. 32 Lance Corporal Frederic Ernest T. Fitts (Headquarters Signallers, 29th Battalion, later 32nd Battalion, 8th Brigade), from between his enlistment in November 1915 and his return to Australia in May 1919. They include three diaries (one on loose sheets) describing his service between June 1916 and October 1918 in France and Belgium as a signaller, mainly laying and maintaining brigade and battalion communication cable lines in and behind the front lines, especially in battle action around Hazebrouck/Armentieres (Bois Grenier) and Albert in 1916, Bapaume (Factory Corner, Fremicourt, Beaumetz, Bancourt) and Ypres (Dickebusch, Zonnebeke) in 1917, and Mont Saint-Quentin, Blangy-Tronville, Corbie in 1918. The diaries provide details of his movements over the whole war period. Also includes a notebook and papers concerning signals procedures and technicalities; postcard photographs of Fitts and others; paybooks and service papers; and currency and souvenirs, including a copy of the German newspaper 'Deutsche Tageszeitung'. Fitts was awarded the Military Medal.

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