b. 16/05/1890 Killamarsh, Derbyshire. d. 11/06/1973 Brimington, Derbyshire.
Fred Greaves (1890-1973) was born at Killamarsh, Derbyshire on 16th May 1890. His father, Jude Greaves, a coal miner hewer, married Edith Louisa Rodgers at St John’s Church, Ridgeway on Christmas Day 1889. They had twelve children in all with Fred the eldest.
Fred was educated at Bonds Main Council School. He was employed as a miner at Bonds Main and later at Barlborough No 2 Pit and Markham Colliery. He survived a number of accidents and suffered a broken jaw and ribs. At Barlborough No 2 Pit he was run over by a coal truck, which broke both his legs and crushed his pelvis. He spent two years recovering in Chesterfield Hospital and when he was discharged he had to walk nine miles to get home because his parents could not afford the bus fare. For the rest of his life part of a bone protruded under his skin, causing him some discomfort, which he relieved by tightly binding his leg. He took up cycling to help rebuild his muscles, and joined Sheffield Cycling Club. He began cycling great distances, and won several prizes.
He was turned down for service in September 1914 due to the severity of his injuries suffered in the pit, but was accepted on 26th February 1915. He served at Gallipoli from 20th July 1915, in Egypt from 1st February 1916 and France from 6th July. He was wounded at the end of 1916 and on his return to the unit was put in a Lewis Gun section. A bullet remained embedded in his back until 29th January 1952, when he winced as he climbed onto a coal wagon and exclaimed “Ouch, that’ll be my bullet.” His colleagues assumed he was joking until he had it removed later that day at Chesterfield Royal Hospital.
Fred was recommended for the MM for rescuing wounded men under fire, but it was not granted. It was not an isolated incident as a fellow NCO recorded. “Before the acts that won him the Cross, he had already come under the notice of his superiors for his coolness and dash.” At some point he was taken prisoner by the Germans, who jabbed him so often with bayonets, his uniform ended in tatters. He was saved by an officer who shouted “Keep still Greaves” and shot his two captors.
On 4th October 1917 at Poelcapelle, east of Ypres, Belgium, when the platoon was held up by machine-gun fire from a concrete stronghold and the platoon commander and sergeant were casualties, Corporal Greaves, followed by another NCO, rushed forward, reached the rear of the building and bombed the occupants, killing or capturing the garrison and the machine-gun. Later, at a most critical period of the battle, during a heavy counter-attack, all the officers of the company became casualties and Corporal Greaves collected his men, threw out extra posts on the threatened flank and opened up rifle and machine-gun fire to enfilade the advance.
On his way to London by train to attend his investiture, he was in civilan clothes to protect his worn uniform. He was presented with a white feather by a lady and simply smiled at her. His uniform was in such a state of disrepair that the Regimental Sergeant Major at Wellington Barracks ordered him to get a new one. The VC was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 2nd January 1918. At a Sheffield garden party in June 1918 he was presented with £100 by General Jackson on behalf of friends and admirers. He was later promoted to Sergeant and was demobbed on 28th January 1919.
He returned to the mines and became a pit deputy and later a safety officer at Markham Colliery, where he was also a member of the Colliery’s St John’s Ambulance Division. On 10th May 1938, an accident led to the deaths of 79 miners, and Fred spent a week tirelessly trying to dig the men out and help the injured.
Fred married Harriet Hallam nee Broughton on 2nd April 1923 at Barlborough Church. Harriet had been previously married to Charles Hallam and had a daughter, Beatrice. Charles served in the Royal Field Artillery and died of his wounds in 1917. Fred and Harriet had two children of their own – Cyril born in 1924 and Hazel born in 1925. Sadly, Harriet died in 1927, and Fred remarried to Gladys Maria Jepson nee Bilham, a widow, on 20th October 1930 at Harthill Church, Chesterfield. Fred and Gladys had no children.
Fred was a quiet and reserved man, a teetotaller and a prominent member of Barlborough Primitive Methodist Church. He served in the Markham Colliery St John’s Ambulance and due to this work was appointed Serving Brother of the Most Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem on 22nd December 1948. He was also awarded the St John’s Ambulance Brigade Long Service and Good Service Conduct Medal with two bars for 25 years’ service. During the Second World War, he served in Civil Defence.
Fred attended the VC Garden Party in 1920, the VC Dinner at the House of Lords in 1929, the Victory Day Celebration Dinner at the Dorchester 1946 and the VC Centenary Celebrations of 1956. He also attended six of the first eight biennial VC & GC Association reunions at the Café Royal, London between 1958 and 1972. Approaching Buckingham Palace for one of these events in a taxi, the driver asked which entrance he would like to be dropped off at, and Fred replied “any”. When the driver looked back and saw Fred putting on his medals, he saw the VC, and commented “You’re definitely going in the main entrance, mate!”
Fred died at his home, Whitelands, 48 Ringwood Road, Brimington, Chesterfield on 8th June 1973. He was cremated at Chesterfield and District Crematorium, and his ashes were buried in Brimington Cemetery. In addition to his VC and Order of St John of Jerusalem, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 and St John of Jerusalem Service Medal (two bars). In accordance with Fred’s wishes, his son presented the medals to the Trustees of the Sherwood Foresters Collection on 8th December 1973. They are held by the Sherwood Foresters Museum, Nottingham Castle.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SHERWOOD FORESTERS MUSEUM, NOTTINGHAM.
BURIAL PLACE: BRIMINGTON CREM, CHESTERFIELD, DERBYSHIRE. ASHES SCATTERED.
Fred Greaves' medals including VC on display at the Sherwood Foresters Museum, Nottingham Castle (February 2014).
War Illustrated, 9th February 1918
Updated medal display September 2016 (Brian Drummond)