b. 18/12/1892 Reading, Berkshire. d. 03/11/1943 Reading, Berkshire.
Frederick William Owen Potts (1892-1943) was born on 18th December 1892, the son of Mr and Mrs Thomas Potts, at Edgehill Street in the Katesgrove area of Reading, Berkshire. Educated at the Central School and Wokingham Road Higher Elementary School, he was a regular church-goer and later became a member of the St Giles’ Branch of the Church of England Men’s Society. After leaving school, he spent three years as an evening student at the University College, Reading, studying machine construction, mathematics and mechanics. He worked as a fitter at the Pulsometer Engineering Company in the town, and lived with his parents.
In 1912, then aged 19, he joined the Berkshire Yeomanry. In 1913, Fred became a local celebrity when he rescued a man from drowning. As described in a local newspaper “The young man, dressed in his ‘Sunday best’ out for a summer stroll along the towpath of the River Thames in Reading, didn’t hesitate. Alerted by frantic screams for help he ran to towards the panic-stricken boy gesticulating wildly on the river bank. Glancing at the murky water he saw a smaller boy thrashing around helplessly; bobbing up and down below the surface. Fully clothed, the young man jumped in; reached the boy just as he sank again, then hauled him back to the river bank and began to resuscitate him. By now a concerned group had gathered and the boy began to recover as the youth tended him.”
The Berkshire Yeomanry was mobilised on 5th August 1914 and spent the first eight months of the war training in Berkshire and Norfolk before embarking for Egypt in April 1915. During August the 2nd Mounted Brigade was ordered to Gallipoli to serve as infantry. On the 14th the 1/1st Berkshire Yeomanry, having been ordered to leave behind their swords, bandoliers and spurs, embarked at Alexandria, aboard the SS Michegan. At Mudros they transferred onto SS Hythe and landed at Suvla Bay on 18th August. Three days later, in the attack on Scimitar Hill, the Berkshires suffered almost 50% casualties, and Fred would be awarded the VC.
On 21st August 1915 in the attack on Hill 70, Private Potts (although wounded in the thigh) remained for over 48 hours under the Turkish trenches with another private from his regiment (Arthur Andrews, a bicycle repair man by trade and employee of the Great Western Railway) who was severely wounded, and unable to move. He finally fixed a shovel to the equipment of his wounded comrade and using this as a sledge, dragged the man back over 600 yards to safety, being under fire all the way.
Potts’ thigh wound was so severe that he did not return to active service with his unit. Promoted to Lance Corporal, he was released from the Army on “compassionate grounds” before the end of the War. He was presented with his VC by King George V on 9th December 1915 at Buckingham Palace, and six days later, he married Ruth Wellsread, at St Giles’ Church, Reading. The couple went on to have two daughters. At first they lived in his parents’ home, where Potts launched his own credit drapery venture. He eventually became a master tailor and later ran a business from Alpine Street, Reading.
Interested in politics, he was adopted as an anti-Socialist candidate for Katesgrove Ward in the Reading Town Council Elections of 1929, but was defeated by 851 votes. Throughout his life, Potts retained his links with ex-servicemen’s associations. He was a member of the Royal British Legion, and he attended the VC Garden Party of 1920 as well as the Remembrance Day parade in London nine years later in which 300 VC recipients participated.
During the Second World War, Potts, now a prominent freemason and heavily active in St Giles’ Church, joined the Home Guard and was commissioned as a Lieutenant. Unfortunately, his duties in the Home Guard and his work helping the RAF took a huge toll on his health. In 1943, with his health failing, he entered Greenlands Nursing Home. There, on 3rd November 1943, aged just 50, he died. Three days later, following a service at St Bartholomew’s Church, he was cremated at Reading Crematorium. His ashes were scattered. Attending his funeral was Arthur Andrews, the man Potts saved on Scimitar Hill. Andrews would live to the age of 89, passing away in 1980.
Potts’ medals including his VC, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 and George VI Coronation Medal 1937 are held by the Ashcroft Collection at the Imperial War Museum. In more recent times, a campaign was set up to install a permanent memorial to Trooper Potts. The campaign brought together relatives of both Fred Potts and Arthur Andrews and led to a memorial statue being installed in Forbury Gardens, Reading, near to where Anne Ames (Fred’s grand-daughter) had unveiled his VC memorial stone in 2015. The best way to summarise the VC actions of Fred Potts should come from Arthur Andrews, who on writing to Fred on the announcement of his VC, said “my people will be forever grateful, Freddie……a great debt which I can never hope to repay.”
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: READING CREMATORIUM, READING, BERKSHIRE. ASHES SCATTERED.
Stewart Turkington and Richard Bennett – Images of the Trooper Potts VC Memorial, Reading, Berkshire.
Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Image of the Potts VC Plaque at the Royal Signals Museum.
Brian Drummond – Image of Potts’ name on the Freemason’s Memorial, London.