5th September 2020 marked the 100th Anniversary of the death of the last serviceman from Isle of Wedmore who died while serving in the British armed forces.
A251826 Sapper Frederick Reginald Channing, Royal Engineers (1871-1920)
Frederick Reginald Channing – normally known as Fred – was born about 1871 (uncertainty exists about his exact year of birth) at Bath in Somerset, the probably illegitimate son of Elizabeth Mary Howell. Little is known of his early life. On 13th November 1905 Frederick married at Bath Elizabeth Mary Rose Scammel from Semley in Wiltshire. In 1911, 38-year-old Frederick, his 25-year-old wife Elizabeth and three young children – Elizabeth, William and Gwendoline, were living in Shutters Lane (modern-day Mutton Lane), Combe Batch in Wedmore where George Couzens, a coal merchant, employed Channing as a general labourer. A further son Percival was born on 15th May 1915 and a daughter called Kathleen was born on 10th March 1918.
Fred Channing – falsely declaring himself as being 35 years and 3 months of age – enlisted into the Somerset Light Infantry at Weston-Super-Mare on 28th September 1914, amongst the first group of men from the Isle of Wedmore to volunteer. He had previously served with the 4th (Militia) Battalion Somerset Light Infantry – a part-time volunteer unit – for over 10 years. The examining Medical Officer described Fred as being 5 foot six inches in height, weighing 154lbs with grey eyes and fair hair and having a chest measurement of 38 inches. On 13th October 1914 Fred Channing was posted to the 8th (Service) Battalion Somerset Light Infantry. This hostilities only unit had been formed at Taunton in October 1914 as part of K3 and formed part of 63rd Brigade in 21st Division. On 10th September 1915 Private Fred Channing landed in France with the rest of his unit. On 26th September the 8th (Service) Battalion Somerset Light Infantry became embroiled in the Battle of Loos during which the 21st Division suffered 3800 casualties to no result.
The 8th (Service) Battalion Somerset Light Infantry spent a generally quiet winter of 1915-16 alternating in and out of the front line trenches and later took part in heavy fighting during the Somme campaign, initially as part of 21st Division and later 37th Division, including the Battle of Albert, the Battle of Bazentin Ridge, the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, the Battle of Morval and the Battle of Le Transloy. It appears Channing may well have escaped frontline duty with the rest of his battalion having been attached to a Royal Engineers Composite Company in which he served as part of the 38th Sanitary Section – a small sub-unit responsible for providing clean water, cooking facilities, billets and washing and de-lousing stations. This non-combat unit formed part of 63rd Brigade in July 1916. On 31st July 1916 Channing was promoted Lance Corporal. Early in 1917 he was permanently transferred to the Royal Engineers initially with the rank of Pioneer. On 20th February 1917 Channing was attached to 1st Army Workshop Company Royal Engineers where he served for the rest of the war. This large rear area unit manned a permanent factory responsible for designing and manufacturing specialist weapons and munitions, such as hand grenades and mortars, used in trench warfare, with skilled RE NCOs and tradesmen supervising a French civilian workforce.
Lance Corporal Fred Channing was recalled home on leave during the autumn of 1917 to deal with family affairs when, following the discovery of an infant’s body hidden in a well in August 1917, his wife was arrested for concealing the body of her illegitimate child the year before. At the Somerset Assizes on 24th October 1917, Lance Corporal Fred Channing pleaded for clemency for his wife for the sake of his four children and because in his own words: ‘I am just going back to France and I don’t know what may happen.’ Since Elizabeth was already pregnant with another child fathered by her husband, the Court only awarded a three-month jail sentence so that the baby would not be born in prison. While his wife served her sentence, his four children were placed in Axbridge Workhouse. By the end of the year the children had been returned with Channing’s consent to care of his wife now living back at Wedmore.
Channing was promoted Lance Corporal on 14th July 1918 once again and between 23rd October – 6th November 1918 enjoyed home leave in Wedmore just before the Armistice. Early the following year Channing was still serving at No 1 Workshop, part of the 1st Army, when he fell ill and after being hospitalised in France was eventually admitted on 22nd January 1919 to North Evington Hospital near Leicester suffering from suspect Spanish Influenza. Unfortunately, his condition rapidly deteriorated and other symptoms became apparent, including severe rheumatic pains, myalgia and general debility. On 14th February 1919 Channing was formally discharged from the army as permanently unfit for military service, but he still remained under hospital treatment. On 14th April 1919 Channing was transferred to the War Pensions Hospital at Locksbrook in Bath to be closer to his family. Unfortunately, he did not recover from his illness. On 5th September 1920 Frederick Channing succumbed to what was finally diagnosed as liver cancer.
49 year-old Lance Corporal Frederick Channing was buried on Friday 10th September 1920 at his wife’s request in the military section of Locksbrook Cemetery, Bath (C.D.170). His wife Elizabeth, now living with her family at Combe Down in Bath, received a pension of 26s 8d and a further 35s 6d for her five children. His widow later received his named 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal and later his Memorial Plaque and Memorial Scroll. Fred Channing is remembered on the Memorial Tablet inside St Mary’s Church and on the Wedmore War Memorial.