b. 03/08/1894 St Catherines, Ontario, Canada. d. 23/04/1915 St Julien, Belgium.
Frederick Fisher (1894-1915) was born at Church Street, St Catherine’s, Ontario, Canada on 3rd August 1894. His father, William Henry Fisher, was a bank clerk originally from Perthshire in Scotland, and became an accountant for the Canadian Bank of Commerce and later manager of Sovereign Bank, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. His mother was Alice nee McGibbon. The family eventually moved to Montreal when Fred was 11. Fred had three siblings, two brothers (Donald and William) and a sister (Alice). His grandfather, Donald Fisher, had served as an officer in the Black Watch Regiment, before he became a hotel keeper in Scotland.
Fred spent two years in the Toronto Public Schools Battalion Cadet Corps. He abandoned his university studies and enlisted in 5th Regiment (Royal Highlanders of Canada) on 16th August 1914. He was described as 5ft 9in, with hazel eyes, light brown hair and a fair complexion. He trained at Bleury Street Armoury before being posted to 13th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force at Camp Valcartier on 24th August, where he was attested on 23rd September.
The 13th Battalion embarked on SS Alaunia at Gaspe Basin, eastern Quebec, sailing on 3rd October and arrived at Plymouth on 14th October. The Battalion moved to Larkhill on Salisbury Plain for further training. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on 22nd December and joined the Battalion Machine Gun Section.
The Battalion arrived at St Nazaire on 14th February 1915. The Canadians were immediately sent to the Armentieres area to gain experience in the trenches under instruction until the Division took over a section of the line on 3rd March at Fleurbaix. In mid-April, it moved to the Ypres area in Belgium, where Fred briefly had a spell in the Canadian Field Ambulance Rest Hospital with illness.
On April 22, 1915 in the neighbourhood of St Julien, Belgium, the Germans unleashed the first effective poison gas attack in history. Caught by surprise, the French division to the left of the 1st Canadian Division was routed—with very heavy casualties. After a short pause to wait for the gas to clear, the Germans launched an attack into the gap, while the British and Canadians desperately tried to establish a new defence line. Thousands of German troops were moving in the open towards the hasty defence created by elements of the 14th Battalion CEF around St. Julien. As the improvised defence crumbled, the enemy were only 200 yards away and threatening to overrun a Canadian artillery battery. Lance-Corporal Fisher, along with six other men, went forward with his Colt machine-gun and, under heavy fire, covered the retreat of the battery, losing four men in the process. This action allowed for the Canadian 18 pounders to be hauled out of danger.
Later, when Lance Corporal Fisher had obtained four more men from the 14th Battalion, he went forward again into St Julien to fire on the swarming Germans, however only Fisher made it. The remainder were killed or wounded.
Meanwhile, the 13th Battalion (which was on the extreme left of the Canadian Division) was under heavy fire from three sides and suffering heavy casualties. Fisher set up his gun at another position to attack the oncoming Germans and was subsequently killed on April 23 while yet again bringing his machine-gun into action under very heavy fire. Sadly, his body was not recovered when the grave he was buried in by Lieutenant J G Ross was lost, and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres.
He was the first Canadian-born man to be awarded the VC while serving in the Canadian Army. The VC was sent to his parents by post on 5th August 1915 and was followed by a letter from King George V on 5th October. When his mother died in 1946, Fred’s sister presented the VC to the Black Watch and it is held by the Canadian Black Watch Museum, Montreal. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. In 1920, his mother received the Memorial Cross, a gift from Canada to the mothers or widows of all Canadian servicemen killed during the War.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CANADIAN BLACK WATCH MUSEUM, MONTREAL, CANADA.
BURIAL PLACE: MENIN GATE MEMORIAL, YPRES. PANEL 24/26/28/30
The Black Watch Museum, Montreal – Image of Fisher’s VC medal.