Tuesday, 25 January 2011

12097 Pte Frederick James Cutts, Army Cyclist Corps

Frederick James Cutts was born in Brixton on the 27th December 1897. When I interviewed him in the early 1980s he told me that he had joined the army on Empire Day - the 24th of May - 1916. Surviving papers in WO 363 confirm that to be the case, but he had attested for service in January of that year. He had given his age as 18 years, his trade as "clerk" and his address as 144 Lowden Road, Herne Hill, South-West London. He stood five feet five and a quarter inches tall and gave his next of kin as his father, William Ernest Cutts, also of the same address.

Frederick joined the Army Cyclist Corps and was given the number 12097. He told me:

"After I joined up, my brother complained because I wasn't old enough. I got ticked off but I was sent to Chiseldon training camp in Wiltshire. Before the war, each division had a cyclist company and when war broke out they formed the Army Cyclist Corps. When I went abroad, I joined the 7th Corps Battalion. Our sign was the polar bear which obviously originated from the polar bear constellation of seven stars."

Frederick told me that he'd arrived in Rouen In January 1917. He was just slightly out as his service record notes that he embarked at Folkestone on the 20th February 1917 and landed in France the same day. He was posted to the VII Corps battalion on the 11th April 1917. On arrival in France, "when the company commander saw me he said, "oh, we've got the Boys' Brigade here."

Frederick Cutts spent three days in hospital in January 1918 with "debility" possibly occasioned by the freezing cold weather, and the following month he was given leave to the United Kingdom. He was in Peronne in France when the Germans launched their major offensive in March 1918 and remembered,

"On March 21st 1918 which was a foggy day, I was out on a detachment on my own when I was called back to HQ to be told that the Germans had broken through. We retreated so fast we had to leave a hundred bikes behind which we smashed up. A colleague and I were told to stay at our post at the citadel until our B Company commander came through with his party. My comrade and I observed a party of believed German cyclists accompanied by a section of the motorcycle machine gun corps and we made our way out of Peronne without further ado. We cleared the bridge which ran over the river just before it was blown up by the Royal Engineers."

In November 1918, Frederick received two weeks' compassionate leave to return to the UK to visit his father who was seriously ill. By the time he arrived home however, his father had already died and been buried. He remembers that when he left for the UK his place on the Lewis Gun team was taken by a man who was subsequently killed and "reported as the last man to be killed in the Great War." He had previously served with the Essex Regiment.

Frederick Cutts died in Chelmsford, Essex in June 1996 aged 99. A photo, taken in France, and his demob certificateare appended below.