Who was Fredrick Snellgrove and why is he – his life – so important to Rob Ashman? An emotive short story that moves me every time I read it.
The tenth of November 2018, saw the WWI Centennial Commemoration at Harrogate Library, organised by Malcolm Hollingdrake (see here). A poignant afternoon filled with remarkable stories by those who, voluntarily and freely, came together to make a memory to be cherished – a heartfelt tribute to those, who gave their lives for our freedom.
One of the authors participating was Rob Ashman – before a captivated audience he shared his story about Fredrick Snellgrove, Private 23208. A story that moved everyone to tears – a story I have read a few times which never fails to give me goosebumps. What a tale! I’m honoured to share it with you today – on Christmas Eve 2018.
Fredrick Snellgrove, Private 23208
The white feather fluttered in the breeze. I stared into the eyes of the woman blocking my path, her young face framed with ringlet curls. She held it between her fingers and extended her hand towards me. I tried to speak but nothing came out.
I knew her, in fact, I knew her entire family – Welsh valley towns are like that – everyone knows everyone. I thought they were my friends … but not today.
I reached out and plucked the feather from her grasp. My chin sank into my chest as she gathered her skirts and scurried past. The message had been delivered.
I’m the second eldest of four brothers, all of us sons of a John Snellgrove. My dad is a pillar of the community; a lay preacher, a local councillor, a Labour Party activist, but he has a weakness – his sons are at home.
My elder brother, Will, works in a reserved occupation, and my two other brothers, George and Bert, are too young to enlist- which just leaves me.
I’ve been stepping out with Annie Maude for some time and it’s the real thing. I live in Cwm Cottage Road in Abertillery and she’s a local girl. We met in Sunday School and I’ve always known she’s the one – always.
I took the feather home; mam cried, dad was angry and used words that he would never say in
I joined the 10th Battalion South Wales Borderers and went to war. A war that would be over by Christmas.
I wrote to Annie Maude and she wrote back. We tried to keep it light but the pain of separation soaked into every line on the page.
I wrote to my father: I need you to keep a secret. When I get home, I want to ask Annie Maude to marry me. Will you buy me a ring so when I return I need waste no time? And that’s what he did.
We received orders that we were off to pastures new –a place they called the Somme. We marched south from St. Pol and arrived at the fifteen-mile front, burrowing ourselves in the mud. The rain had turned the chalky soil to glue, it didn’t take long before we all looked the same.
Then, on the 1st July, all hell broke loose.
But not for us, our objective lay elsewhere and we weren’t part of the nineteen thousand men who died that day. We were destined for two-hundred acres of dense forest called Mametz Wood.
We joined the other regiments of the 38th Welsh Division to form an eighteen thousand strong Welsh volunteer army. Three hundred yards away were the Prussian Guard, one of the best-trained forces in the world.
The top brass told us we would clear the wood in a matter of hours and at a quarter past two in the afternoon of July 7th we engaged the enemy. It was our first taste of battle. Their heavy machine guns cut us down like corn.
The Welsh Borderers took one hundred and eighteen casualties that day including our commanding officer – but I survived – as I did the next
The top brass payed us another visit, frustrated with our lack of progress. They relieved our Major General of his command and called for an all-out assault … that was when my luck ran out.
I died on Monday 10th July 1916, joining the ranks of the five hundred and eighty-four soldiers who never made it out of Mametz Wood and were never found. I’m still there, somewhere.
Annie Maude cried for a month, and the following month and the one after that. My brother George befriended her as much to salve his own grief as to comfort hers. As time went by, their friendship turned to love and seven years later they were married.
Children followed and they moved into the house on Cwm Cottage Road. The course of family life took Annie Maude into old age, when she died aged seventy-two. My brother George joined her in the afterlife eight years later.
My name is Fredrick Snellgrove, Private 23208, I’m not here to tell my story but I promise every word I’ve said is true … every word.
My name is inscribed on the Thiepval Memorial – one of the seventy-two thousand three hundred and thirty-seven men who died at the Somme and have no known grave. My name is also cast in steel on the cenotaph in Abertillery. And where I fell in Mametz Woods, a Welsh dragon now stands in our honour. It would seem, there’s some corner of a foreign field that is also forever Wales. It’s good to be remembered.
The engagement ring my father bought now lies in the jewellery box of my great-great-niece, her name is Gemma. The man standing before you is my great-nephew. Annie Maude was his grandmother and the young woman who keeps safe my ring is his daughter.
His name is Rob Ashman, he writes books or something. I told him my story so he could share it with you.
My name is Fredrick Snellgrove, Private 23208, and I promise, every word I’ve said is true … every word.
About the Author
Rob Ashman is a British author, originally from Wales but since twenty years now living in North Lincolnshire with his wife and two daughters. Rob worked, as most Welsh Valley boys did, in a coal mine before entering University. He worked in a variety of consulting jobs until he finally decided to ‘listen to the voices in his head’ and start his writing career. The story of ‘Mechanic’ is a book that somehow was stuck in his head for almost twenty-five years; when, due to personal circumstances, Rob had to take three months leave to care for his parents, writing down the story in his head became his way of coping. The result of four years of writing: the birth of ‘The Mechanic Trilogy’ a thrilling crime series.
Books by Rob Ashman:
DI Rosalind Kray:
#1 Faceless – getbook.at/Faceless – my review
#2 This Little Piggy – getbook.at/ThisLittlePiggy – my review
#3 Suspended Retribution – getbook.at/SuspendedRetribution
The Mechanic Trilogy:
#1 Those That Remain –
#2 In Your Name –
#3 Pay the Penance –