Frederick Charles Riggs VC MM

b. 28/07/1888 Bournemouth, Dorset. d. 01/10/1918 Epinoy, France.

Frederick Charles Riggs (1888-1918) was born the ‘natural’ child of a domestic servant named Mildred Reeks. His birth took place in the Christchurch Union workhouse on the 28th July 1888, as shown on his birth certificate. According to the Registrar’s records no other child was born on that day and Reeks was written as Riggs with the full names as Frederick Charles RIGGS. He was baptised on the 5th September of the same year. From the census of 1891 Mildred gave her place of birth as Cheselbourne in Dorset. The last trace of Mildred Reeks is the 1891 census where she is described as a servant working at 11 Solent Cliff Road, a boarding house. The same census shows Frederick to be fostered with a family living at 55 Garfield Road, James and Elizabeth Fowler. His age is given as 2, his place of birth as Christchurch and he is described as an orphan.

Frederick C Riggs

The 1901 census shows Frederick living at 77 Durnford (Capstone) Road with an Anne Riggs described as his Mother!! Was Mildred actually Anne Riggs? The census clearly shows her place of birth was Cheselbourne. Frederick went to Malmesbury Park Council School. His school reports described him as a tough fit young man of average attainments and full of boyish spirits. Leaving school at 14 he worked as an errand boy and then as a carrier with Pickford’s who had a Depot near Holdenhurst Road.

Frederick along with his chum Sam Blatchford (who survived the war, and lived to age 78), signed on aged 25 and 9 months as 26526 in the 14th Reserve Cavalry Regiment, the 15th Hussars on the 1st September 1914. He and Sam went to Hilfield Barracks in Bristol. Records describe him as 5′ and 5 3/4qtrs inches in height, weighed 135 lbs., having a fair complexion, blue eyes and fair hair. He was transferred as 20696 to 6th Bn York and Lancaster Regiment on the 7th June 1915. Frederick was one of 29 Officers and 928 Other Ranks who sailed from Liverpool on the 3rd July 1915. Frederick was probably part of a reinforcement draft arriving on the Gallipoli Peninsula about the 9th September 1915.

The months of September and October passed relatively quietly for Frederick and the 6th Bn occupying Jephson’s Post, a position on the slopes of a range of hills forming part of the Kiretch Tepe range at Suvla Bay. Planned evacuation of the peninsula began at Suvla in December and the battalion finally reached Alexandria on the 2nd February 1916. Frederick was promoted LCpl on 2nd June 1916.

Some five months after arriving in Egypt the Bn was ordered to depart for France departing on 28th June and disembarking in Marseilles 3rd July 1916. The Battle of the Somme was just three days old. The 6th Bn, part of 32nd Bde 11th Division was almost continually involved in the major battles of the Western front. The Division, until disbandment in 1919, suffered some 32100 casualties! Frederick along with the Bn took part in the latter stages of the Somme sometime around September. It was here that he suffered a serious wound to the head. He was evacuated back to Blighty and following his recovery he moved to the 3rd Bn, eventually re-joining the 6th Bn just after the Battle of Messines on the 22nd June 1917 and was promoted Sgt 10 October. He would take part in all of the major battles from then on. He was in A Coy (certainly at the time of his VC). The battles fought by the 6th Bn were all later to become battle honours of the Regiment: Langemarcke, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcapelle, The Scarpe, Drocourt-Queant, Canal du Nord. The award of his MM was published in the London Gazette on the 21st Oct 1918.

On the 19th September 1918, after arriving at Bailleul-aux-Cornailles near Cheles the 6th Bn York and Lancs were making preparations for the final forcing of the Hindenburg Line and the crossing of the Canal du Nord. There was one final move to Barelle on the 24th where final preparations were made for the advance fixed for the 27th. On the 28th the advance was resumed, Fontaine-Notre Dame was captured, as was Raillencourt and Sailly and the Marcoing Line as far as the Cambrai-Douai Road. Whilst the 11th Division advanced into the south-west outskirts of Aubencheul-au-Bac, and on its left worked down to the Sensee canal and joined hands with the 56th Division north of the Bois de Quesnoy. During these two days, known as the battle of the Canal du Nord and leading up to the Battle of Cambrai the Bn had 10 men killed, 74 Other Ranks wounded and 5 men missing. The Canadian Corps was to attack the enemy on the 1st October with the object of (a) securing the crossings of the Canal and (b) of gaining observation of the Sensee River. The 11th Division was to assist in the second phase by safe guarding the left flank as far as the Douai-Cambrai road. This particular task was entrusted to the 6th Bn York and Lancs. A, B, D Companies were to be in the front line with C Company in support, and a company from 2nd Yorkshires in reserve.

On 1st October 1918 near Epinoy, France, Sergeant Riggs, having led his platoon through strong uncut wire under severe fire, continued straight on and although losing heavily from flanking fire, succeeded in reaching his objective, where he captured a machine-gun. Later he handled two captured guns with great effect and caused 50 of the enemy to surrender. Subsequently, when the enemy again advanced in force, Sergeant Riggs cheerfully encouraged his men exhorting them to resist to the last, and while doing so was killed.

Frederick has no known grave but he is commemorated with eleven others of the Battalion who have no grave and died that same day on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial. His medals, including the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, are on display at the York & Lancaster Regiment Museum, Rotherham.