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Memorabilia from the Great War and a soldier's tireless service in local politics

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: June 01, 2014

  • Fred Mitchell, his wife Ethel and son William, photographed in Wolverhampton in 1916

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THE response from Bugle readers to the appeal for Great War stories has been magnificent, and as each new name is mentioned week upon week, a collective pride is beginning to grow as we commemorate the sacrifices made by all the young men of the Black Country in this WWI centenary year.

Fred Mitchell, a soldier who was mentioned in an article published back in January when he appeared in a photograph with his best mate and brother-in-law Billy Box, has again been brought to our attention by his grandson Dave Hinsley who has provided us with comprehensive details of Fred's war record, and information about his postwar activities as a local government candidate, and later councillor for the Heath Town Ward in Wolverhampton.

One of the most interesting artefacts that Dave had in the items he provided was Fred's army pay book, albeit a little worse for wear, but precious both for its Great War provenance and of course of great value to his descendents. The book instructions on page one included one that spelt out the stark reality of fighting in a war: "When you have been placed under orders for active service (and not before), you may make a will, if you so desire, on page 13."

The book stated that Frederick Mitchell enlisted at the age of 22 on October 13, 1914, and his rank was Driver with the Army Service Corps, 144 Company. It then went on to add, "If appointed to a unit formed on mobilisation, the designation of such unit should be 113th Field Ambulance." His rate of pay to begin with was 1s 2d. He had married Ethel Maud Box in June 1913 and it was to Ethel he left everything in his will as the 113th Field Ambulance, part of the 16th Division, landed in France on February 18, 1916.

An interesting postcard sent to Fred in France from his family at home in the Black Country had the message "With hearty greetings and all good wishes for Christmas and the New Year". The picture was based on a sketch by A. E. Corbyn and was a running commentary of the war from 1914 -1917. Corbyn showed his sense of humour, disguising 1918 with a question mark and depicting an English officer playing golf with a German soldier standing in as the subservient caddy and a woman from WRVS selling teas at 6d a cup from an old tank.

After completing his service and following demobilisation, Fred worked as a painter on the railway, but he soon got involved in politics. He joined the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers (NFDDSS), an organisation for British veterans, and at the 1918 General Election a considerable number of candidates were sponsored by the Federation. A poster under the banner of the NFDDSS with Frederick Mitchell as a candidate, suggests he was one of those chosen, but none of the NFDDSS candidates were successful.

In the early thirties Fred and his family moved to Lawrence Avenue in Heath Town, Wolverhampton, and between the wars Fred became a Labour councillor, and with the support of his wife Ethel and family he worked tirelessly for his party and the people he represented. Another poster picture of Fred shows him as a candidate for the St. James' Ward Wolverhampton Municipal Elections on Wednesday November 1, 1933. There is no suggestion to which party he was representing, just the name Mitchell to vote for; how times have changed.

The final election poster was for Thursday November 1, 1945, when Fred was representing the Heath Town Ward where he lived. The local elections came on the back of the Labour Party's landslide victory in July, 1945, one of the biggest upsets in British political history, and Fred was successful in his campaign to continue to represent his constituents on behalf of Labour. Fred's energy in local politics was never questioned, but it finally caught up with him in February 1958 when he died of a heart attack. As a fitting tribute to his public service the Mayor of Wolverhampton and many local dignitaries attended his funeral.

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