Monday, March 30, 2009

Rifleman Fred Zimber

Richard Frederick (Fred) Zimber (my great grand-uncle) was born in New Ross, Co Wexford and enlisted as Rifleman (R/10201) in 4th Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps. Probably due his German name he served under the name Frederick Richard Cairns. He died on 8th May 1915 at Frezenberg Ridge during the Second Battle of Ypres. His name is among those remembered on The Menin Gate Memorial in Ieper (formerly Ypres), Belgium. He was posthumously awarded the British & Victory Medals and the 1914/15 Star. His next-of-kin was given as Miss Kate Cairns of Co. Wexford who may have been his fiancé.  He is listed among those who died on the Fiji War Memorial Hospital Board of Remembrance and in the Fiji Times Roll of Honour.

Child Emigrant to Canada
Following the death of his mother in 1894 and father in 1901 Fred lived for a time with his step-mother and older brother Joseph. In July 1904 he went on the Ionian to Canada as part of a group of "Child Emigrant's" from Britain and Ireland. Why this happened as he had family still in New Ross is unclear but the facts that his brother Joseph followed him out there a month later and that their step-mother died in October might begin to suggest some answers. Either way we lose track of him for a few years here as his brother both married and was killed within a year of his arrival (see here) we don't know if they ever linked up in Canada. We do know that in April 1907 Fred crossed into the USA from Canada possibly on his way back to this side of the world because the next thing we know is that he traveled on the Orotava to Australia from London.

'Deserter' in Australia?
Fred arrived in Australia in April 1909 and sometime following that he must have joined the Royal Australian Garrison Artillery because in August 1914 there is an entry in the New South Wales Police Gazette listing him as a deserter. We don't know why he deserted but we do know that between March and November 1914 he served in the Australian Navy. This may have been how he got to Fiji because in December of the same year he enlisted in the Fiji Defence Force and left to fight in France.

Fiji Platoon, King's Royal Rifle Corps
Fred joined up in the Rewa district of Fiji as part of the 1st Contingent of volunteers from the Fiji Defence Force.  This group left Fiji for Britain on 1st January 1915 aboard the RMS Makura to Vancouver, from there by Canadian Pacific Railroad to Halifax and from there to Liverpool on the Scandanavia. The journey to Vancouver was calm, but the crossing of the Rockies was cold for the Fijians who were not equipped with suitable clothing and the Atlantic crossing was rough.  The 11,177 mile trip they completed to enlist was the longest undertaken by any group coming to join the war from British colonies.
On arrival in Liverpool all but six of the Fijians enlisted in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps and formed a platoon in B Company.  Fred enlisted on 1st February.
They underwent training at Winchester and Sheerness in Kent and were sent to Flanders in April 1915.

4th Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Corps in WW1
The 4th Battalion of the KRRC had been stationed in India at the outbreak of the war but was ordered back to Britain arriving in Plymouth on November 18 and sailing to France before Christmas 1914. They were deployed to trenches in the Ypres area on January 6th 1915.
On 1st March 1915 the 4th Battalion were ordered to attack a section of German trenches an attack which "never had any chance of succeeding"*. Casulties ran to 113 out of the 300 who took part. (I don't know if the Fijians took part in this attack).
(* from: "The Annals of The King's Royal Rifle Corps, Volume V: The Great War" by Major-General Sir Steuart Hare)

The Second Battle of Ypres
The Second Battle of Ypres was fought between 8 Allied Divisions and Seven German Divisions and resulted in 70,000 dead wounded or missing on Allied side and another 35,000 on the German side.
The battle is normally divided into the separate battles of Gravenstafel Ridge (22 - 23 April), St Julien (24 April - 4 May), Frezenberg Ridge (8 - 13 May) & Bellewaarde Ridge (24 - 25 May)
"The Second Battle of Ypres commenced in April 1915 when the Germans released poison gas against the Allied lines north of the city, this being the first time that the deadly weapon had been used in the war. The fleeing battle-weary troops were replaced by the fresh 1st Canadian Division who steadfastly resisted a second gas attack and stood their ground. However the force of the first attack had seriously indented the Allied-held Ypres Salient and it was necessary for the British to shorten their lines of defence by withdrawing."
("The Battle and Memorials of the Ypres Salient" - Commonwealth War Graves Commission Information Sheet)
During the Second Battle of Ypres the 4th Battalion were forced to withdraw initially without casuaties on 3rd/4th May but their new positions came under heavy bombardment on 8th May and some positions were "almost annihalated"*. This was the day that Fred Zimber was killed and the fact that there is no grave suggests that it was as a result of shelling.
(* from: "The Annals of The King's Royal Rifle Corps, Volume V: The Great War" by Major-General Sir Steuart Hare)

Battle of Frezenberg Ridge (8th - 13th May)
"During this phase of the battle of Ypres the Germans tried to smash through the front held by the 27th and 28th divisions by using their superiority in guns and ammunition. The front line trenches were obliterated, but despite this and the release of a further gas cloud on the 10th May they made little headway. By the end of the six day battle the Germans had advanced about a thousand yards."
("Overview of the Second Battle of Ypres" - Chris Morton, 2000)
9 Fijians were killed and 31 wounded in this battle which marked the end of the Fiji Platton.

Extract From the War Diary 4th Battalion, The Kings Royal Rifle Corps for 8th May 1915 (the day of Fred Zimber's death)
"5.00 a.m. Heavy Howitzers opened up on the front trenches - These continued steadily until 7 a.m. when a furious continued bombardment of field guns and howitzers commenced. This heavy fire was maintained until almost 8 a.m. fuses were lengthened.
8.05 a.m. The bombardment slackened considerably. Communication by wire to the trenches had been out since 7.15 a.m. and almost immediately the brigade line also went. The line to R.B. in support held until about 7.45 a.m.
8.20 a.m. The bombardment increased - especially about the centre of BELLEWAARDE WOOD where part of C Coy. were in support and Battalion headquarters were situated.
8.30 a.m. Heavy rifle fire opened on the front and left - The front line which had suffered very heavily during the bombardment was reinforced by LTS. POOLE, ANTROBUS and HODGKINSON taking up the remainder of C Coy. - The whole battalion was now in the firing line - This party took up a supply of ammunition.
8.40 a.m. LT. POOLE returned with information that infantry attack did not seem to be on our front.
8.45 a.m. German artillery re-opened making BELLEWAARDE WOOD a perfect inferno. Shelling with every sort of shell. Three orderlies from R.B. arrived to ask if help required.
8.50 a.m. These returned with request for one company.
9.00 a.m. A lull in the artillery bombardment - A little rifle fire was opened but was heavier further north.
9.17 a.m. A message received stated that enemy appeared to be massing in front of right of 28th Div. i.e. left of 80th Bds.
9.45 a.m. Capt. Dalby came in and reported that the Salient at Hill 50 had been shelled until the men holding it had been annihilated and that the Germans had walked unto it. Whilst explaining the situation Captain DALBY was wounded. This hill was a weak spot in the line and was the junction of ourselves and P.P.C.L.I. (Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry - KH)
10.15 a.m. A company of 4th R.B. arrived and moved up to the firing line to fill up the gaps.
10.20 a.m. The situation so far as known. A and B Coys. in front line right and centre respectively. D Coy. almost annihilated but a few still left in left of front line. Extreme left on Hill 50 held by enemy. A and B Coys. had also been extremely severely punished. One company of the R.B. was moving up to reinforce the front line and another company was in support in 'Cavalry' line just west of BELLEWAARDE WOOD.
11.00 a.m. All seemed quiet again.
12.15 p.m. Communication with the Brigade was re-established.
1.30 p.m. Shelling recommenced but not with its former vehemence.
2.45 p.m. Increased again and continued until 5.00 p.m. About dusk several small parties were assembled from different parts of the wood and returned to the firing line. So far as could be ascertained the battalion had suffered about three hundred casualties together with three officers killed and three wounded."