Of Boy Soldiers and Fred Miles Chester - Christchurch Newport Cemetery

In a quiet place amongst the many here at Newport's Christchurch Cemetery is a few words for a lost son. Fred Miles Chester. A lost boy perhaps. Added after his mother Amy died in 1936, on the face of it - it seems more like one of the 'typical' stories of young men who went to war and fought and died. Eternally young and eternally placed in history forever.

Fred Miles Chester
London Rifle Brigade
Beloved son of the above
Killed in action
August 7th 1918 Aged 18 years
'Pax et Amor'

Fred Miles Chester can be found in Nine Elms British Cemetery, Flanders in Belgium; not far from Poperinghe. He lies under the badge of the 11th Battalion Essex Regiment (D Company) but having enlisted with the London Rifle Brigade. And the words chosen by his parents for his epitaph:

Rest well brave heart

Fred Miles Chester was killed in action at Elverdinghe, Belgium. Just 18 years. But one of many of those young lads whose lives were adjusted by war, by high-spirited adventure and by patriotic fervour. So what makes Fred just that little bit different?

Fred enlisted to fight in the First World War in December 1914 - he was 15 years of age. When he died in August 1918, Fred had served in the war, on the Western Front, for three years and nine months.

We have heard of the boys that snuck away from school, from parents, from loved ones to join the queues at the enlistment offices. Having heard of adventure, of challenge, of a chance to make a mark for one's self - they lied and pretended, they smirked and they told amazing fibs. We can but imagine the lines - 'No, I'm just short' or 'Course I was born in 1896, what do you mean?' And then of course, the recruiting sergeants who either turned them out on their ear, to come back when you're older or the patriotic pretense of seeing boys want to become men and choosing to ignominiously ignore their lack of years... Either ways, some got through, some kept trying from recruiting office to recruiting office until someone let them in, and some, som were sent back...

But Fred wasn't one of those. He was a boy soldier. A boy soldier who served so long and hard that he became a soldier - a man of war.

Maybe it was the fact that he was the son of an army Captain - his father a Captain in the Rifle Brigade himself. Maybe it was the fact that he had been away at school when war broke out and he sensed or saw an opportunity. Maybe it was just Fred.

By mid 1915, Fred was on the Western Front with the London Rifle Brigade. And it wasn't until just before his death that he was transferred to the Essex Regiment.

His parents placed his memorial in De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour after his death. An act of respect, an honourable regard for his military service.

A bright and cheerful disposition, whose loss we all deeply deplore

His Company Commander wrote to them, after his death. De Ruvigny's Volume 4 page 30

The London Rifle Brigade were in Belgium to start - in 1915 at Bellewaarde, at Hooge, at Loos with the 3rd Division. With the 56th London Division from February 1916, they were at Gommecourt on the Somme, Ginchy, Flers-Courcelette, Morval, Transloy Ridge and then at Arras (Scarpe 1 and 2) and Langemarck. And back whence he had come to the Ypres Salient where he was killed.

Can you really imagine what that young mind took on? A boy of 15 years. A soldier who had seen so much of the Great War.

Pax et Amor they wrote on his memorial here at Newport. Peace and Love. Maybe it was a simple a that. His war ended just as he became a man in the conventional sense. For Peace and Love.

Rest well brave heart.

The memorial to Fred Miles Chester can be found at Newport's Christ Church Cemetery and here on Wars Last Goodbyes https://www.warslastgoodbyes.com/individual/Fred-Miles/Chester