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158073 Sergeant
FREDERICK T. HAMPSON, M.M.
Royal Engineers

by
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2001. All Rights Reserved

1. INTRODUCTION

The research trail on Sergeant Hampson dates back to the mid-1970’s when the author acquired his Military Medal. Very little information regarding his military service was known until the Public Record Office at Kew opened up the Great War records to the public. Even then the results on Sergeant Hampson were disappointing, since his military records were not to be found at the PRO. His Medal Index Card was available and verification of the award of his Military Medal and a Mention in Despatches also were located. However, it was not until May of 2001 that additional information became available when the great niece [1] of Sergeant Hampson contacted the author via email, having seen her great grandfather’s name on the author’s web site. The following is the story of Sergeant Hampson’s life to the extent that it could be set down in writing given the limited information available.

2. FAMILY INFORMATION AND EARLY LIFE

Frederick T. Hampson was born in Snelston, Derbyshire in 1874 [2]. A check of the 1881 British Census indicates that a Frank and Mary Hampson resided at Hammersmith in Ripley, Derbyshire in 1881 [3]. They had a 7-year old son named Frederick at the time whose birthplace is listed as Ripley, Derbyshire. The Letts Roadbook of Britain [4] shows that the town of Ripley is located approximately 17 miles northeast of the town of Snelston. The proximity of these two towns is too much to be a coincidence. The evidence would indicate that Frank and Mary Hampson were the parents of Frederick Hampson, the subject of this research work.

Frank Hampson was 51 years old at the time of the 1881 Census. He had been born in St. Peters, Derbyshire, and was an engine fitter at an iron works. His wife Mary had been born in Wingfield, Derbyshire and was 48 years old in 1881. In 1881, the Hampsons had three other children besides Frederick. The oldest child, William, was 17 years old and a boiler makers apprentice. Their daughter Annie was 15 years old and a student, as were 10-year old Samuel and 7-year old Frederick. All the children had been born in Ripley. It also appears that the Hampson had another child, Thomas, who was born after the 1881 Census [5].

Frederick Hampson apparently became a miner as a young man and would work in this occupation for the rest of his working life, including the time he spent in the Army during the Great War of 1914-1918. He married prior to the war to Miss Hannah Broad. Frederick and Hannah settled in Kennington in the Greater London area, south of the River Thames and very near Camberwell and Battersea. It was while living in Kennington that he probably was employed on the construction of a portion of the London Underground [6].

3. SERVICE IN THE GREAT WAR

Enlistment in the Royal Engineers

Frederick Hampson enlisted as a Sapper in the Corps of Royal Engineers in about May of 1916. He would have been 42 years old when he enlisted, but his skills as a miner were probably very much needed by the Royal Engineers, especially for service in the increasing number of tunnelling companies being formed for duty in France. After some basic training as a soldier, Sapper Hampson was posted to the newly formed 257th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers.

Mission of the Tunnelling Companies

Trench warfare and the stalemate in France and Flanders caused both sides to embark on mining operations in a determined struggle for tactical superiority in those areas where conditions were favourable. In areas where the opposing trench lines were relatively close together and the geology was suitable for mining, the tunnelling companies sought ways to not only place mines under enemy positions, but also developed measures of detection of the enemy mine systems. When detected, an enemy mine would be immediately destroyed by the explosion of a camouflet, or countermine, often at the cost of severe damage to ones own tunnel system. There were many underground encounters, as one tunnelling team, breaking into an enemy gallery, met the enemy underground. Sometimes encounters included fighting at close quarters, hand to hand, in the tunnels and subterranean chambers.

The blowing of mines below enemy front line positions became a regular feature of local actions. Infantry tactics developed that would enable the rushing and capture of the crater formed by the explosions. The craters were often themselves a dominant terrain feature, as the lip of earth thrown up was usually higher than the surrounding ground in the area, giving possible observations over the enemy. The crater, once captured, also provided the attacking force with a defensive position that could be exploited to consolidate the captured portion of the enemy’s trench line. Crater fighting became a highly dangerous and unpleasant feature of many actions on the Western Front. It was into this very precarious line of work that Frederick Hampson was soon thrust after leaving England for the front. The valour of the tunnellers must be admired for the courage it took simply to work underground in very confined spaces just digging the tunnels. Add to this the courage it took to fight an enemy soldier under these conditions in total darkness and in the foul air of the tunnels, and one can only admire Frederick Hampson for the brave man that he was.

Service with the 257th Tunnelling Company

The 257th Tunnelling Company was serving in the Chipgny Sector north of Neuve Chapelle in April of 1916 under the control of General Headquarters of the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders. By May of 1916, when Hampson enlisted, the company was at No. 4 General Base Depot in Rouen, France. In June of 1916 the company, under the command of Captain Hannay, R.E., was attached to the 3rd Australian Tunnelling Company for duty near Bethune, in the British line from Winchester to Sign Post Lane. The attachment to the Australians gave the men in the 257th Tunnelling Company the opportunity for some training in the field from an experienced unit. Following this brief orientation period, the company took its place in line. Their first mission was not one of tunnelling, but rather one of fighting. Soon after their arrival near Bethune, No. 3 Section of the company, under 2nd Lieutenant L.B. Templeton, R.E., assisted the 5th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment in repelling a German attack near the Ducks Bill.

The 257th Tunnelling Company served in many of the major actions fought on the Western Front during 1917 and 1918. The following table summarizes those actions and gives some idea of where Frederick Hampson served during the war [7,8].

Major Headquarters

Location

Dates

Canadian Corps

Vimy

9-14 April 1917

General Headquarters

Nieuport

June 1917

British VI Corps

St. Quentin

21-23 March 1918

British VI & XVII Corps

Bapaume

24-25 March 1918

British XVII Corps

Arras

28 March 1918

British VI Corps

Ancre

5 April 1918

British Fifth Army

Pursuit to Mons

28 September –
11 November 1918

While at Nieuport in June 1917, the 257th Tunnelling Company was employed on the construction of subways from the front lines to the support lines immediately behind the front. Subways were underground passages from one location to another that allowed men and supplies to be moved below ground, unobserved by the enemy and safe from direct small arms fire. In the Nieuport area this work was done in sand under difficult conditions and unlike soil conditions on any other part of the front.

The great German offensive in March of 1918 placed Frederick Hampson and his comrades of the 257th Tunnelling Company in a very precarious position for a number of weeks. The superior numbers of the Germans enabled them to overrun the British front line trench system occupied by the infantry. Hampson’s company soon became involved in the fighting and sustained many casualties. The men of the 257th Tunnelling Company had been accustomed to long periods in settled billets or camps. They now found themselves involved in a war of movement. Day after day they had to hurriedly evacuate camp and were continually marching and countermarching, digging and holding posts, beating off enemy attacks and counterattacking, bombing and machine-gunning and executing all the tactical maneuvers usually done by the infantry. In addition, they were tasked with blowing a number of road craters and were required to prepare bridges and other structures for demolition. The tunnellers continued these combat activities until early April when the German tide was finally stemmed.

During the war Frederick Hampson rose to the rank of Sergeant. While serving as a Corporal, he was mentioned in the despatch of Sir Douglas Haig dated the 7th of November 1917 as one of the individuals deserving special mention for services in the field [9]. This recognition probably was earned by Corporal Hampson during operation in the Nieuport area earlier in 1917.

As a Sergeant, Hampson was subsequently awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field [10]. Although a specific citation is not included in the London Gazette, this medal may have been won by him for his actions during the pursuit of the Germans in the final stages of the war. Additionally, for his service during war, Sergeant Hampson was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal. Hampson was undoubtedly an outstanding soldier as well as a valiant tunneller. In addition to the Mention in Despatches and the award of the Military Medal, he was able to rise from the rank of Sapper in 1916 to Sergeant in 1919. Although casualties in his company would have given rise to opportunities for promotion, the fact that he was chosen speaks well for his performance.

4. POST MILITARY SERVICE LIFE

Sergeant Hampson was demobilized at the end of the war and returned to civilian life and his occupation of mining. It appears that he and his wife may have moved to Balham, just southwest of their former residence at Kennington. At this time it appears that he took a job on the construction of the River Mersey Road Tunnel known as the Queensway [11]. The proposal to construct this tunnel came at a very opportune time for Frederick Hampson, as he found himself released back into civilian life in need of a job like so many other soldiers returning home from Great War in 1919 and 1920. His skills as a tunneller and miner surely worked to his advantage in enabling him to get work.

In the early 1920's, the leader of the Liverpool City Council, Sir Archibald Salvidge, was concerned about the ever-increasing queues of cars and lorries waiting for a boat at Liverpool Ferry. He formed a committee to look into possible alternative ways of crossing the River Mersey. Although several options were considered, it was decided that a tunnel offered several advantages - particularly cost advantages in that, compared with a bridge, it would be only half the cost to build and annual maintenance should be much less.

Although the towns of Wallasey and Bootle had been included in the original committee, Liverpool and Birkenhead eventually decided to undertake the project alone. During the week before Christmas 1925, work began on the pilot tunnel at the Liverpool end and, in March the following year, from Birkenhead. It may be at this time that Frederick Hampson was employed to work on the tunnel.

On 3 April 1928, Salvidge and Miss Margaret Beavan, the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, went underground and broke through the last thin wall of rock. On the other side, was the outstretched hand of Alderman Naylor, the Mayor of Birkenhead. After taking suitable measurements, the engineers proudly announced that two tunnels had met in the middle to within an inch.

The tunnel was opened to the public by King George V on 18th July 1934 and, in honour of Queen Mary, who was also at the opening ceremony, it was named Queensway.

According to family history, Frederick Hampson continued to work as a tunneller and took jobs in the United States and in Japan [12]. The time frame of this employment is not known to the author.

5. EPILOGUE

Frederick and Hannah Hampson had at least one child; a son named Charles Thomas. Charles Thomas Hampson served as a Sergeant during the Second World War and was present at the evacuation at Dunkirk and at landings at Normandy [13].

Frederick Hampson was a kind and gentle man. He was also a courageous and hard working man who served his country well during the Great War of 1914-1918 and did not shirk at performing the arduous and dangerous work associated with construction underground in peace and in war. He died in 1950 at the age of 75 years [14].

REFERENCES:

  1. LAWRENCE, K. Email to the author dated London, 16 May 2001.
  2. LAWRENCE, K. Email to the author dated London, 17 May 2001.
  3. 1881 British Census. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. FHL Film 1341817, PRO Ref RG11, Piece 3414, Folio 60, Page 17. Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 1999.
  4. LETTS, C. Letts Roadbook of Britain. Charles Letts and Company Limited, London, 1977.
  5. Battle Honours of the Royal Engineers. Royal Engineers Journal. The Royal Engineers Institute, Chatham, Kent, 1925-1932.
  6. GRANT GRIEVE, W. & NEWMAN, B. Tunnellers: The Story of the Tunnelling Companies, Royal Engineers, during the World War. Herbert Jenkins Limited, London, 1936.
  7. Medal Index Card of Sergeant Frederick T. Hampson, R.E. Public Record Office, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, 2001.
  8. Fifth Supplement to the London Gazette of the 11th of December 1917.
  9. Mention in Despatches Index Card of Corporal Frederick T. Hampson, R.E. Public Record Officer, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, 2001.
  10. Second Supplement to the London Gazette of the 22nd of July 1919.
  11. Military Medal Index Card of Sergeant Frederick T. Hampson, R.E. Public Record Officer, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, 2001.

 ENDNOTES

[1] Ms. Kim Lawrence of London.

[2] LAWRENCE, K., 16 May 2001.

[3] 1881 British Census. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. FHL Film 1341817, PRO Ref RG11, Piece 3414, Folio 60, Page 17.

[4] Letts Roadbook of Britain, Map 21, Coordinates SK45.

[5] LAWRENCE, K. 16 May 2001.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Battle Honours of the Royal Engineers.

[8] GRANT GRIEVE & NEWMAN.

[9] London Gazette, 11 December 1917.

[10] London Gazette, 23 July 1919.

[11] LAWRENCE, K. 16 May 2001.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] LAWRENCE, K. 17 May 2001.