|Private 8289 John Frederick Fisher
1st Battalion, Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment.
John Frederick Fisher was born in October 1888 in the parish of St. Marys, Reading Berkshire. His father was named William
Fisher, and was employed as a labourer. He made the decision to move his family to Islington, London in the late 1890’s.
|The 1914 “Mons” star |
of Private John
After completing his education, John Fisher also found
employment as a labourer, as well as joining the 6th Militia
battalion of the Middlesex regiment. Within a short while, he
made the decision to join the regular army for short service.
This entailed serving seven years with the colours and a
further five years in reserve. He presented himself in
London for examination and was attested on the 7th January
1907, being described as 5’ 5 ½” tall, weighing 120 lb, with a
fresh complexion, hazel eyes and dark brown hair. When
asked in which regiment he wished to serve, he stated the
West Yorkshire regiment.
After undergoing training at the regimental depot in York
for three months, he joined the 1st battalion of his new
regiment on the 5th April 1907 with the service number of
The West Yorkshire regiment was raised at Canterbury and was formed as Sir Edward Hale’s regiment of foot, before becoming
the 14th regiment of foot in 1751. It then became the 14th (Bedfordshire) regiment in 1782, the 14th (Buckinghamshire) regiment in
1809, before finally becoming the Prince of Wales’s own (West Yorkshire regiment) in 1881. When John Fisher joined the regiment
it was serving in India, where it had been stationed since 1899. He became part of the cadre which had been left behind to garrison
the Fulford depot and in due course, became an officer’s servant with the role of valet. This comfortable lifestyle continued when
the 1st battalion returned from India in 1911. They were based at Lichfield, Staffordshire, being the headquarters of the 18th
brigade, to which they belonged.
John Fisher remained at York, which had become the headquarters of the Northern command area, and met Kathleen Geraughty, who
lived only a few minutes walk from the regimental depot. Kathleen was the daughter of a cattle drover and worked in a printing
works. The pair married in the summer of 1911 and their first child, Alfred was born in December of the same year. Their second
child, Emily was born in July 1913.
On the 7th January 1914, John Fisher had completed his seven years with the colours and was placed on the army reserve, within
the section B category. This meant that he had to attend twelve training days a year for the next five years, for which he was paid
the sum of 3/6d per week. Section B reservists could only be called up in the event of general mobilisation. This was soon to occur
and the 1st battalion West Yorkshire regiment would then form part of the 18th Brigade in the 6th Division of the III Corps.
War was declared on Germany on the 4th August 1914 and orders for mobilisation were received at 10 p.m. on that day. John
Fisher reported at Fulford barracks on the 5th August and was posted on the 6th August to Lichfield, where the West Yorkshire
regiment were currently based. The regiment then moved to Dunfermline on the 7th August and then on the 15th August, with the
arrival of two more brigades from Ireland, concentrated in camps in the neighbourhood of Cambridge, and then Newmarket on the
18th August. Time here was then spent in hard training until the 7th September when the regiment entrained for Southampton and
then by sea to St. Nazaire, with the first men arriving on the 9th. However, most of the brigade had to spend two days in rough
seas, riding out a severe storm in the Bay of Biscay, before being able to land.A long train journey then took the men east of Paris
where they concentrated in billets in the area of Coulommiers, Mortcerf, Marles and Chaume by the 12th September.
Ever since the German advance had been stopped on the river Marne, they had been steadily falling back. However, the decision was
taken that once they had crossed the river Aisne, then they would consolidate this position. A British attack by three Corps had
managed to push troops across the river and I Corps had managed to advance across the Chemin des Dames ridge. This position now
became the target for a concerted German offensive to recapture the ground. The 6th division, which had originally allotted to III
Corps, had been placed on reserve, but the continued German attacks supported by heavy artillery fire, meant that the men of I
Corps were extremely tired and needed relieving. The 6th Division were ordered to perform this operation.
|Above: Rudimentary trench system along the banks of the river Aisne|
Below: Position along the Aisne on the 20th September 1914
The next six days were spent in
marching towards the Aisne in
heavy rain, which had commenced
on the 12th September.
Immediately on the 18th
Infantry brigades arrival it was
ordered to relieve the 2nd
Infantry brigade on the extreme
right of the British line.
The West Yorkshire regiment
carried out its relief duties
during the night of the
19th/20th September with two
companies in the very basic
forward trenches, one company
echeloned in the right rear and
one company in support.
The heavy rain had turned the
ground into deep mud and the
shallow trenches offered little
At dawn on the 20th General Von
Heeringen, commanding the
German 7th army, ordered a
general attack by the whole of
the VII. reserve Corps. The day
was cold with occasional showers
A section of Moroccan troops on the right of the British line were driven back and the commanding officer of the 1st battalion
West Yorkshire regiment ordered a company of his men forward to cover this exposed flank. However, the Moroccans came
forward again and not understanding what had take place, opened fire on this company and inflicted about thirty casualties. The
line then settled down again and came under heavy German artillery and rifle fire. Between 10 11a.m. a second German attack
occurred, which was quickly checked by the West Yorkshire regiment.
Between noon and 1 p.m. and in heavy rain, a third attack was launched, and again the Moroccans fell back. Once again, a company of
West Yorks were ordered to advance towards the east to protect this vulnerable flank. The German troops had by then occupied
the trenches previously held by the Moroccans and enfiladed the West York’s position, causing heavy casualties.
The Germans then turned the flank of the West Yorks and annihilated the right flank company. Within half an hour the Germans
were in complete occupation of the entire trench positions of the battalion. The remnants of two forward companies were collected
together and went into captivity.The remaining company withdrew and then tried to counter attack but were unsuccessful,
eventually falling back to the village of Paissy.
This disaster then meant that the Durham Light infantry on the left were exposed to heavy German fire and in turn had to be
supported by an attack of the East Yorkshire regiment. This was beaten back by sustained rifle and machine gun fire. Troops
stationed in Paissy were then ordered forward to occupy the support line of trenches in rear of the captured front line. With the
arrival of these additional troops, including cavalry, the position was stabilised. A late counter attack at 4.30 p.m. by the
Sherwood Foresters, regained the captured trenches but at a cost to them of 200 casualties, mostly from machine gun fire.
It was a harsh introduction to the 18th brigade in trench warfare, with the West Yorks suffering casualties of 22 officers and
632 men in their first action in France.
This amounted to 7 officers and 86 men killed, 7 officers and 110 men wounded and 8 officers and 436 men taken prisoner.
Following an enquiry into the temporary evacuation of trenches by the West Yorkshire regiment , Sir Douglas Haig wrote that:-
“I find it difficult to write in intemperate language regarding the very unsoldierlike behaviour of the West Yorks on the 20th....
It rests with them to regain the good name and reputation which our infantry holds and which they have by their conduct on the
It is equally difficult to understand what more the regiment could have done under the circumstances on that day.
Amongst the dangerously wounded laying on the battlefield was John Fisher, who had been shot in the right leg. The bullet had
caused a compound comminuted fracture to both bones in the leg, reducing those bones to fragments. Casualty evacuation from the
battlefield was, at this stage in the war, a difficult procedure. As the war was only six weeks old, the complex successive layers of
clearing stations and base hospitals simply did not exist. John Fisher would have been collected by stretcher bearers and moved a
little to the rear, to a regimental aid post. A quick field dressing would have been applied to try and stem the bleeding, but they
would have quickly discovered that he would require far more attention than they could provide. He would then have been loaded
onto a field ambulance wagon for evacuation toward the rear.
It can only be imagined the pain which he must have suffered from the violent jolting as the ambulance bumped over the rough
tracks away from the front line. On his arrival at a casualty clearing station (there was one at Soissons), the leg would have been
examined and the conclusion reached that he should be evacuated to the United Kingdom for extensive surgery to the injury. He
would have been transported to the coast and was loaded onboard a ship on the 4th October, reaching home the following day.
He was then transferred to the Newcastle infirmary, where surgeons operated on his leg and plated the shattered Tibia. He
remained convalescing at Newcastle until the 24th March 1915. The plate was removed and doctors reported that the Tibia was
much thickened, the arch of his foot was flattened, there was stiffness in the phalangel joint and the right leg was now about 1 ¾”
shorter than the left.
He was also issued with a hospital “Blues” uniform, which would identify him as a convalescing soldier. The uniform consisted of a
white shirt, a bright red woven tie and a blue jacket. For economy measures the uniform was only made in a few sizes and most
recipients’ uniforms fitted very badly.When leaving the hospital, the patient also wore his service dress cap with regimental
insignia. This would show the public that he was a serving soldier and had been wounded.
John Fisher was discharged on leave and admitted to the military hospital at York on the 6th April 1915. The hospital could do
little more for him and he was discharged in July 1915 and given the task of performing light duties at the Fulford depot.
On the 7th October 1915 a report was prepared by the doctor in medical charge of his case. It concluded by stating that the
doctor recommended discharge from the army due to John Fisher being permanently unfit. A medical board agreed on the 22nd
October that his capacity to earn a living had been reduced by a half and also agreed to the recommended discharge.
A further medical board report on the 9th March 1916 again recommended discharge due to total disablement and he was finally
discharged to pension from the army, on the 20th March 1916.
His conduct for his entire service career was noted as being “exemplary”.
In June 1916 his third child, named Florence, was born at York. Following the birth of this child, John Fisher and his family moved
back to Islington, London. The reason for this move is unknown, although the possibility exists that if he was living in army married
quarters, the accommodation would be forfeited after his discharge.
It may have simply been to move closer to his family living there or the fact that his health was deteriorating.
He was admitted to Fulham military hospital in 1917 suffering from Neurosyphilis, which was affecting his brain and cerebral
arteries. There was little prospect of successful treatment and John Fisher died on the 10th June 1917. The doctor treating him
recorded that the gunshot wound to his leg was a secondary cause of his death, although his service papers confirmed that the
injury had healed well. The commonwealth war graves commission were informed that he had died of his injuries.
John Frederick Fisher was buried at Kensal Green All Souls cemetery and is remembered on the memorial screen wall with a
reference of 213.7.28.
He was later issued with the 1914 star, the British War medal and the Victory medal. The star, commonly known as the “Mons” star,
was issued to all who had served in France and Belgium, between the 5th August 1914 until the 22nd November 1914. About 378,000
stars were issued and recipients who had come under fire within this period were entitled to attach a bar which showed the qualifying
dates, and was sewn to the ribbon. This has now become detached. His name, service number and regiment were shown on the reverse
of the star. All of these have become separated and John Fisher’s 1914 star is now the only known survivor to mark this man’s service
Kathleen Fisher would also receive a bronze plaque which was issued to the next of kin of members of the armed forces, who had lost
their lives during the course of the war. This was accompanied by a parchment scroll which showed the deceased’s name and regiment.
again, to a William
Bannister, in the
autumn of 1919 at
remained at Islington
until her death on
the 26th May 1968.