2972 Private Frederick Alfred PEARCE – died of wounds, 18 April 1918
Frederick Alfred PEARCE was born at Victor Harbor on 20 August 1898, the second of three children of George PEARCE and Eva PEARCE (nee DARKINS). The family moved to Western Australia in the early 1900’s to take up farming opportunities in that state, as did a number of other families from the south coast. Fred, as he was no doubt known, was educated at Narpin State School, near Mt Barker, some 360 kilometres south-east of Perth.
Frederick was 18 years old and single when he enlisted in the AIF on 21 August 1916, he was a farm hand, perhaps working for his father who was farming at Woogenellup. As Frederick was under 21 years of age, he required the written consent of his parents to enlist. A short stint of basic training was followed by a posting to the 7th Reinforcement Unit of the 48th Infantry Battalion. On 9 November, the Reinforcements boarded the Argyllshire and sailed to England, disembarking at Devonport on 10 January 1917. Soon after arriving there he was hospitalised for two months with pneumonia. Upon discharge from hospital, Frederick then transferred to the Machine Gun Corps in May 1917. After training at the Machine Gun Corps Training Depot at Grantham for four months, Frederick sailed for France and joined the 1st Machine Gun Company (MGC) on 23 October; No 1 MGC had just moved into billets near Poperinge, Belgium. The Company was part of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Australian Division. MG Companies and MG Battalions were equipped with the legendary Vickers Medium Machine Gun. This weapon was served by a crew of three and mounted on a tripod. It was not easily portable and was generally sited in a prepared fixed position.
The Company was in and out of the line and on the night of 1-2 November, the Germans laid on a barrage of gas shells over a period of four hours, which required the troops to wear gas masks during their movement to relieve other machine gun companies at the front.
During the month of December 1917 the Company saw little front line activity; training wherever possible was undertaken. On 31 December, No 1 MGC relieved it sister company no 2 MGC. Over the course of the next week, the Company expended tens of thousand of rounds during night actions in support of the infantry. This became the routine for the rest of January 1918. During the days, there were regular overflights of enemy planes; the cold severe winter restricted all but essential movement. Most of February was spent at the rear where training and weapon maintenance became the daily routine. The beginning of March saw the Company back at the front supporting the infantry and countering enemy machine fire, they are positioned at Hill 60. On March 6th, the Company suffered three casualties form enemy gas shellings. As the month progressed, enemy activity increased and shellings became more frequent.
On April 1st, 1918 the No 1 Company, along with No 2, 3 and 21 Companies were rolled into one unit to form the 1st Australian Machine Gun Battalion. By April 6, the Battalion had moved to near Amiens, where they boarded trains to move south to help stem the large offensive the Germans had launched.
While supporting the infantry at Strazelle, near Hazebrouck, on 17 April 1918, the unit was heavily shelled for five hours from 0700. Two men were killed and Frederick was among the six wounded. He was admitted to the 15th Casualty Clearing Station, then the 1st Australian Field Ambulance with a wound to the head.
Frederick died in hospital the next day and was buried in the Ebbinghem Military Cemetery; the Reverend J WALSH officiated. Pte PEARCE’s personal effects were shipped to his father on the SS Barunga, however a German U-Boat sank the ship on July 16th in the English Channel and all the cargo was lost.
Service file of 2972 Frederick Alfred PEARCE, downloaded from the National Archives of Australia
Australian War Memorial database ( www.awm.gov.au ).
Compiled by the Victor Harbor RSL History Research Team, February 2017