Home Page

36058 Lance Corporal
FREDERICK JOHN BARNICOAT
Royal Engineers

by
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2002. All Rights Reserved.

1. INTRODUCTION

Unless otherwise noted, the details supplied in this narrative were extracted from the soldier’s service papers obtained from the Public Record Office at Kew, Richmond, Surrey. Barnicoat’s service papers were found in the WO/363 files and were very badly damaged by fire and water; hence, much of the information contained in the documents was illegible. The author has tried to make this narrative of his service as accurate and as complete as possible; however, many details of his service may be lost forever and some of the information contained herein may be inaccurate regarding exact dates.

2. EARLY LIFE AND FAMILY INFORMATION

Frederick John Barnicoat was born in April of 1892 in the Parish and town of St. Austell in the County of Cornwall. St. Austell was a busy market town and a commercial centre for kaolin production and the china clay industry in England [1]. The town is located approximately 28 miles west of Plymouth and has a harbour located on St. Austell Bay in the English Channel [2].

Little is known about Barnicoat’s family except that his father, Richard Barnicoat lived at 12 Ledrah Road on the western edge of the town of St. Austell prior to the Great War of 1914-1918. Frederick lived with his parents as a young man and became a plumber by trade. A search of the National Index and 1881 British Census did not turn up any information about Frederick’s family in St. Austell.

3. PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

The following is a description of Frederick John Barnicoat at the time he enlisted in the Army in 1915:

Age:

23 years.

Height:

5 feet 2 inches [3].

Weight:

138 pounds.

Chest (expanded):

35 inches.

Chest (normal):

33 inches.

Physical Development:

Muscular.

Vaccinations:

In infancy.

Physical Defects:

None.

4. ENLISTMENT AND TRAINING

When the Great War broke out in 1914, Frederick Barnicoat was employed as a plumber in the town of St. Austell. He had not been allowed to enlist in the Army immediately after hostilities began because he was shorter than the minimum height requirement for enlistment at that time [4]. On the 10th of April 1915 he submitted an application for special enlistment to Lieutenant Colonel W.L. Harvey, D.S.O. [5], Officer Commanding the 32nd Recruiting Area, Regimental District No. 32, the recruiting area of The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. The purpose of Barnicoat’s petition for special enlistment appears to have been an attempt to allow his enlistment in the Royal Engineers although his height of 5 feet 2 inches did not meet the Corps minimum requirement of 5 feet 4 inches. The basis for Barnicoat's request was the fact that he was a trained plumber who possessed a skill required by the Royal Engineers.

Captain R. Peel, the Recruiting Officer of the 32nd Recruiting District at the Regimental Depot in Bodin, Cornwall was given the task of evaluating Barnicoat’s request. On the 14th of April 1915 Captain Peel made a favorable recommendation to the War Office stating that Barnicoat "appears to be a suitable man for the Royal Engineers, but is under height." This less than glowing recommendation was passed on to the Officer Commanding the Royal Engineer Depot Battalion at Chatham who made the following statement with regard to Barnicoat’s special enlistment:

"Approved. If he fails at his trade on joining at this station, he will be retained as a Pioneer. His final approval will be adjusted at Chatham."

It is interesting to note that the Royal Engineers did not contemplate denying his enlistment if he failed his trade test as a plumber even though he was under the minimum height requirement. The Colonel at Chatham was perfectly willing to have Barnicoat in the ranks as a Pioneer, even if he was only 5 feet 2 inches tall.

Barnicoat enlisted for General Service in the Army on the 22nd of April 1915 at Bodmin, Cornwall. His was a Short Service enlistment for the duration of the war. To the customary questions put to a new recruit on enlistment, Barnicoat stated that he was not married, that he had never been convicted by civil power, and that he had no prior naval or military service. He was given a medical examination on this date and except for his height, was found fit for service in the Army. The Attesting Officer also certified his enlistment on this date and he was sent off to prove himself worthy of special enlistment in the Royal Engineers.

5. ASSIGNMENTS AND CAMPAIGN SERVICE

Chatham (1915-1916)

Barnicoat proceeded immediately to Brompton Barracks at Chatham, Kent where he was tested on his skills as a plumber. On the 28th of April 1915 the Superintendent of Workshops R.E. at Chatham classified Barnicoat as a "Skilled" Plumber. He had met the requirement stipulated by the O.C. of the Depot Battalion and therefore was not condemned to the pick and shovel work of a Pioneer. Once he proved himself as qualified in his trade, Barnicoat’s enlistment received the final Certificate of the Approving Officer and his special enlistment was approved. He was now 36058 Sapper F.J. Barnicoat, R.E. and he was posted to "F" Depot Company, R.E. at Chatham to undergo his recruit training as an engineer soldier.

France (1916-1918)

Upon the completion of his training at Chatham, Sapper Barnicoat was ordered to proceed to the 132nd Army Troops Company, R.E. with the British Third Army (General Sir Julian Byng) in France. The Third Army engineers (not including the divisional Field and Signal Companies) where commanded by Major General Sir William A. Liddell and consisted of the following number of engineer units:

2 Independent Field Companies
9 Army Troops Companies
2 Siege Companies
8 Tunnelling Companies
1 Electrical & Mechanical Company
1 Army Workshops Company
1 Field Survey Battalion
1 Pontoon Park
1 Transportation Works Company
3 Advanced Royal Engineers Parks
9 Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Sections

Army Troops Companies were new units to the British Army starting in July of 1915. They were organized along the lines of Field Companies and many were formed from existing Fortress Companies. The allocation of Army Troops Companies was one per division of the Expeditionary Force. While the mission of the Field Companies was to supply direct support to the brigades of the divisions, the Army Troops Companies worked in general support of the divisions [6].

Sapper Barnicoat joined the 132nd Army Troops Company in France on the 24th of January 1916. During this period the company was working directly under the control of Third Army in preparation for the large British offensive on the Somme. Barnicoat’s records show that for one day, the 22nd of June of 1916, he was attached to the 116th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery. After doing whatever was required of him with the Gunners, he rejoined his company on the following day.

The 132nd Army Troops Company was not engaged in the initial phase of the great offensive on the Somme that commenced on the 1st of July 1916. It was not until the 14th of July that the company, directly under Third Army control, became engaged in the Somme campaign at the Battle of Bazentin. This action lasted until the 17th of July, after which the company remained behind the front lines during the winter of 1916/1917. The 132nd Army Troops Company lost its first man during this period. 96871 Sapper George H. Charles died on the 24th of November 1916 [7].

In the spring of 1917 the 132nd Army Troops Company saw a great deal of action, all during the Battles of the Scarpe. While under the control of VII Corps, the company participated in various phases of the Scarpe battles from the 9th to the 14th of April, from the 23rd to the 24th of April, and finally from the 3rd to the 4th of May 1917. The company suffered no losses in any of these actions and remained behind the lines for the remainder of 1917 and into the spring of 1918.

Sapper Barnicoat and the men of the 132nd Army Troops Company became heavily involved in the fighting in the spring of 1918 when the Germans launched their great offensive in March of that year. From the 21st through the 23rd of March 1918 the company was engaged in a defensive action at St. Quentin under the control of VI Corps. During this action the company lost its second man when 486100 Sapper H. Bird was killed in action on the very first day of the German attack. The Germans pushed the company back to the area of Bapaume between the 24th and 25th of March and back to the Arras area by the 28th of March. The 132nd Army Troops Company was at Ancre on the 5th of April 1918 when the front was finally stabilized by the British. 89882 Pioneer John Robert Brown was the company’s third casualty. He died in the Ancre area on the 5th of April.

The 132nd Army Troops Company was able to rest for a while and get back to its engineering duties following the action at Ancre. While still under VI Corps control the company next took part in the Battle of Albert from the 21st to the 23rd of August 1918. On the 27th of August Barnicoat, by then a Lance Corporal, was authorized 14 days of leave in the U.K. Presumably he went home to Cornwall. While he was in England his company was engaged in the Battle of Bapaume, which lasted from the 31st of August to the 3rd of September 1918.

Barnicoat returned from leave on the 10th of September 1918, just in time to become engaged with his company in the action at Havrincourt two days later. The 132nd Army Troops Company was still under VI Corps control and in fact remained so until the Armistice was declared. After Havrincourt the company participated in a number of battles as the Germans retreated and were pursued by the British Forces. Barnicoat saw action at Canal Du Nord (27 September to 1 October), Cambrai (8 to 9 October) and the Selle (17 to 25 October). The company lost 80667 Driver William Cook on the first day of the action on the Selle and 101383 Sapper Albert Stone died on the 31st of October 1918. The company’s final action was the Battle of the Sambre on the 4th of November 1918. When the Armistice was declared on the 11th of November 1918, units of the British Third Army occupied an 11-mile front between a point north of Rouveroy to Cousoire. Barnicoat’s company became part of the occupation forces in Germany.

Germany (1919)

On the 18th of January 1919, while Lance Corporal Barnicoat was still on the continent, the London Gazette announced his award of the Meritorious Service Medal "in recognition of valuable services rendered with the Armies in France and Flanders"[8]. In addition to the M.S.M., Barnicoat was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal for his service during the Great War of 1914-1918.

6. PROMOTIONS AND CONDUCT

a. Promotions: Frederick John Barnicoat received the following promotions during his time in service:

  1. Date of Promotion or Appointment

    Rank or Position

    29 April 1915

    Enlisted as a Sapper

    5 May 1918

    Appointed paid Lance Corporal

Barnicoat’s appointment to the rank of Lance Corporal was authorized by the Commander Royal Engineers of VI Corps Engineer Troops.

b. Conduct: Lance Corporal Barnicoat received one Good Conduct Badge during his time in the Army. The badge was awarded to him on the 22nd of April 1918. A Regimental Conduct Sheet and a Company Conduct Sheet are included in Barnicoat’s military service papers. Neither sheet carries an entry indicating that he ever committed an offence while in the Army.

7. EDUCATION AND QUALIFICATIONS

a. Education: Barnicoat’s military records do no indicate that he earned any Certificates of Education during his time in service.

b. Qualifications: Barnicoat was classified as a "Skilled" Plumber on the 28th of April 1915.

8. MEDICAL INFORMATION

The following medical information was taken from Lance Corporal Barnicoat’s service records during his time in service:

Location

Date

Ailment

Period of Hospitalization
or Treatment

St. Austell, Cornwall

22 Apr 1915

Medical examination

Examination made upon application for enlistment.

Chatham, Kent

25 May 1915

Pneumonia

In hospital for 17 days. Released from hospital on 10 June 1915.

Chatham, Kent

10 Jun 1915

Relapse of pneumonia

In hospital for 15 days.
Released from hospital on
25 June 1915.

Fovant, Wiltshire

9 Apr 1919

Medical examination

In preparation for demobilization. Classified in Medical Category "A" [9].

When he was discharged from hospital on the 10th of June 1915 the doctor wrote the following note in Barnicoat’s medical record: "Good recovery. No apparent complications." The doctor evidently was mistaken as Barnicoat was readmitted to hospital on the same day that he was released, apparently having suffered a relapse. At the time of his second release from hospital the doctor wrote the following concerning Barnicoat’s condition: "Quite recovered. Returned to Fort Pitt" [10]. Barnicoat appears to have actually been cured of pneumonia this time.

9. MARRIAGE AND PERSONAL INFORMATION

Frederick John Barnicoat was not married during the period of his service in the Army. His military records reveal little about his personal life or about his family, other than the fact that his father was listed as his next of kin.

Barnicoat appears to have been a football player. While serving with the Army of Occupation in Germany after the Great War, Lance Corporal Barnicoat was awarded a silver medal for his participation on a team of the VI Corps Royal Engineers Football Association. The medal is dated on the reverse "Germany, 1919" [11].

10. DISCHARGE

Lance Corporal Barnicoat was posted to No. 1 Dispersal Unit at Fovant in Wiltshire after returning to England from Germany. He was issued a Protection Certificate and Certificate of Identity at Fovant on the 27th of April 1919. The certificates indicated that his pay and record offices were located at Chatham and that his place of rejoining the Army would be at Chatham in the event of a future military emergency. Barnicoat’s Specialist Military Qualification was listed as "Plumber" and his intended place of residence after demobilization was shown as 41 Greenaway Terrace, Victoria Road, St. Austell, Cornwall.

Barnicoat was transferred to the Class "Z" Army Reserve on the 24th of May 1919. His total service was reckoned as shown in the tables below:

Location

Period of Service

Home

22 April 1915 to 23 January 1916

France

24 January 1916 to November 1918

Germany

November 1918 to 26 April 1919

Home

27 April 1919 to 24 May 1919

 

Location

Period of Service

Home Service

303 days

Service Abroad

3 years and 92 days

Total Service

4 years and 30 days

11. POST SERVICE LIFE

Except for the fact that he intended to reside in St. Austell in Cornwall after the war, nothing is known of Frederick John Barnicoat’s post-war life.

REFERENCES

Books

1. ADDISON, G.H. The Works of the Royal Engineers in the European War, 1914-1918. MISCELLANEOUS. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1926.

2. INSTITUTION OF ROYAL ENGINEERS. The History of the Corps of Royal Engineers. Volume V. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1952.

3. LETTS, C. Roadbook of Britain. Charles Letts and Company Limited, London, 1977.

4. McINNES, I. The Meritorious Service Medal: The Immediate Awards, 1916-1928. The Naval and Military Press and Liverpool Medal Co. Ltd., 1992.

5. MERRIAM WEBSTER. Geographical Dictionary, Springfield, MA, 1997.

Documents

Soldier’s Service Papers WO 363, consisting of the following documents:

a. Short Service Attestation.
b. Descriptive Report on Enlistment.
c. Application for Special Enlistment.
d. Trade and Special Qualifications.
e. Medical History.
f. Regimental Conduct Sheet.
g. Squadron, Troop, Battery and Company Conduct Sheet.
h. Casualty Form – Active Service.
i. Statement as to Disability.
j. Protection Certificate and Certificate of Identity.
k. Medal Index Card.

Periodicals

1. The Monthly Army List, April 1915.

2. Battle Honours of the Royal Engineers. The Royal Engineers Journal. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1925-1932.

Computer Software

1. 1881 British Census and National Index. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, 1999.

2. Soldiers Died in the Great War. The Naval & Military Press Ltd., Heathfield, East Sussex, 1998.

ENDNOTES

[1] MIRRIAM WEBSTER, p. 1019.

[2] LETTS, p. 27.

[3] Barnicoat did not meet the minimum height requirement for service in the Army.

[4] This was early in the war, before the Bantam Battalions, when the British Army could afford to pick and choose their men based on physical size.

[5] William Lueg Harvey won his Distinguished Service Order as a Major in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry during the South African War of 1899-1902 (London Gazette, 27 September 1901).

[6] ADDISON, p. 12.

[7] Soldier Died in the Great War states simply that Charles died. His death may have been from disease or may have been accidental.

[8] London Gazette, 18 January 1919, p. 982. According to Ian McInnes there were 4,407 awards of the Meritorious Service Medal listed in the London Gazette on this date. Barnicoat’s Meritorious Service Medal is in the author’s collection.

[9] Barnicoat made no claim of disability from his military service at the time he was demobilized.

[10] Fort Pitt was located in the town of Chatham.

[11] This medal is also in the author’s collection.