The gallantry of Lance-Corporal Fred Fisher, VC
22 April 1915: 21.00
Covering the Withdrawal of the 10th Battery CFA
During the battle that evening and the attempt by the 13th Canadian Battalion to block the advance of 51. Reserve Division one young Canadian soldier, Lance-Corporal Fred Fisher, carried out his duties with great courage. Lance-Corporal Fisher, aged 22, was in charge of one of the 13th Canadian Battalion Colt machine guns. At the launch of the German attack he was with the two platoons of 3rd Company from 13th Battalion in reserve in St. Julien. With approximately 60 other men he had been “Stood To” in the village and moved into defensive positions just to the north of St. Julien.(1)
From about 7pm Major King, commander of the 10th Battery Canadian Field Artillery, requested cover from the infantry for his battery situated on the St. Julien-Keerselaere road. German infantry were digging in only a few hundred metres to the west of the battery. Major King was also under orders from 9pm to withdraw the battery from this dangerous position.
A party of 60 men, under Lieutenant G W Stairs(2) of the 14th Battalion, was sent to the battery position, where the men entrenched. Lance-Corporal Fred Fisher asked for 8 volunteers for his machine-gun team. They went forward with the machine gun and got it into position in a building from where he could command the ground to the north and the west. He was under heavy fire from the Germans and four of his men became casualties. From this position he was able to hold up the German advance here. Later he took four more men with him to the firing line and again put his machine-gun into action against the enemy.
Lance-Corporal Fisher was killed in action the next day, Friday 23rd April. The official history of the 13th Canadian Battalion gives the details of the story:
“About 9 a.m. casualties along the road became so frequent that it was decided to abandon this position and retire into the trench line proper. This helped matters a little, but, as the trenches themselves had been badly battered and provided little protection against enfilade fire, the stream of wounded continued. ...
Meanwhile Lieut. Ross with his machine guns made a determined effort to cut down the enfilade fire that was causing the Battalion such heavy loses. Accompanied by Lance-Corporal Fred Fisher, who had already rendered exceptionally distinguished service [referring here to him covering 10th Battery's guns on the evening of the 22nd] he crawled out of a shallow trench and, setting up the gun, was about to open fire when Fisher was shot dead.” (3)
A letter was printed in a Montreal newspaper on 9th July, 1915 regarding the exploits of Fred Fisher. The letter was from Lieutenant Edward W Ward, Jnr. of the 13th Battalion to his friends in Montreal:
“Fred Fisher and many other poor chaps of our Battalion are lying dead near St.Julien. "Bud" [Fred Fisher] made a glorious name for himself. He was in charge of a gun team in Reserve in the little village of St.Julien. When word of the attack on our line came back he took his team and gun and started for the front trenches. No one knew the way, but he came upon some artillery trying to get some big guns out under heavy fire.
He set up his machine gun and covered their retirement. Proceeding forward again he cleared a bit of wood of Germans, becoming separated from most of his team. He also took charge of a French machine gun that had been abandoned and got it working again.
He finally found our Battalion and reported to Lieut. Ross, the M.G. [machine gun] officer. He was mounting his gun on the parapet when he was hit in the chest, dying instantly. Lieut. Ross and some of the other officers buried him in the trench.” (4)
Lance-Corporal Fisher is Awarded the Victoria Cross
For his gallant action on the evening of 22nd April Fred Fisher was posthumously awarded the highest award for gallantry for a member of the British and Commonwealth Forces, The Victoria Cross.
There is, however, a discrepancy with the date of his original action on 22nd April and the date of 23rd April assigned to it in the published citation in The London Gazette. According to the Official History of the Canadian Forces in The Great War 1914-1919 his action occurred on the evening of 22nd April as he covered the 10th Battery before and during its withdrawal. The extract from the supplement to The London Gazette reads as follows:
“No. 24066 Lance-Corporal Frederick Fisher, 13th Canadian Battalion.
On 23rd [sic 22nd] April 1915, in the neighbourhood of St. Julien, he went forward with the machine gun, of which he was in charge, under heavy fire, and most gallantly assisted in covering the retreat of a battery, losing four men of his gun team.
Later, after obtaining four more men, he went forward again to the firing line and was himself killed while bringing his machine gun into action under very heavy fire, in order to cover the advance of supports.” (5)
About Frederick Fisher, VC
Lance-Corporal Fisher was born in St. Catherines, Ontario on 3 August 1895. He served two years in the Toronto Public Schools Battalion, Cadet Corps. At the outbreak of war he was a student and enlisted in the 5th Regiment (Royal Highlanders of Canada) on 13 August 1914. He went overseas with the 13th Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He was promoted to the rank of Lance-Corporal on 22 December 1914.
According to the records of The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Frederick Fisher was killed on 24th April 1915, aged 22.(6) There is possibly a discrepancy about the date of his death, which is given as the 23rd April by the Official History of the Canadian Forces 1914-1919 and the history of the 13th Battalion. His next-of-kin details given by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records are that he was the son of Mr W H Fisher of 100, Fort Street, Montreal.
His grave in the trench where he was originally buried by his comrades was lost. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres (Ieper) [panel 24 - 26 - 28 - 30].
In 1970 a memorial plaque was dedicated in Montreal in memory of Fred Fisher.
Related LinksBritish Gallantry Awards: The Victoria Cross Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing
Acknowledgements & Notes
(1) See the page 3rd Canadian Brigade reserves “Stand to Arms”
(2) Lieutenant George W Stairs of the 14th Canadian Battalion (Quebec Regiment) died on Saturday 24th April 1915. He has no known grave and his name is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Panel 24 - 26 - 28 - 30. He was the son of George and Helen Stairs. See Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing
(3) 13th Battalion Royal Highlanders of Canada 1914 - 1919, by F.C. Fetherstonhaugh
(4) Text of the letter and additional information about Fred Fisher kindly provided by R James Steel, Secretary, 10th (St. Catherines) Field Battery Association, St. Catherine's, Ontario, Canada
(5) Supplement to the London Gazette, published on 22nd June 1915 and dated 23rd June 1915, Gazette issue 29202, page 5-6: www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/29202/supplements/6115
(6) Debt of Honour Register record for Fred Fisher, VC: www.cwgc.org/search/casualty_details.aspx?casualty=1592163
Official History of the Canadian Forces in The Great War 1914-1919, Appendices, no. 352, p. 240