9TH AUGUST 1917 AGE 20


There's something about this inscription: Mr James Freer, who chose it for his son, didn't give his son's Christian name (I got that from his medal card), didn't give his age (I worked that out from the census), didn't provide any of the usual family information for the War Graves Commission's records, but did give the family's address as his son's personal inscription. A precise inscription, but quite anonymous too as I can't be the only person not to know where Pollokshaws is. And why didn't Mr Freer provide any other information about his son? Pollokshaws, by the way, was once a separate community but is now a suburb of Glasgow.
Yesterday's casualty lived at 51 Evelyn Gardens, South Kensington, today's at 52 Pollok Street, Pollokshaws, two very different residencies although unfortunately I can't tell you exactly what Pollock Street was like since the whole area was redeveloped in the 1950s and very little of it remains. I know enough to be able to say that it was a tenement, a flat, probably built in the early 20th century. It won't have been grand since James Freer senior obviously made money where he could: in the 1881 census he was an umbrella maker, in 1891 a coal salesman and 1901 a wood merchant who sold firewood, whereas the owner of 51 Evelyn Gardens was the Senior General Manager of the National Provincial Bank. But the two fathers had the same instinct - in using the family address for their son's personal inscription they were bringing him back home where he belonged.
Freer served with the 1/6th Black Watch and was most likely wounded on 31 July
1 August when the battalion took part in the opening attack of the Third Ypres campaign at Pilckem Ridge. I say most likely because the battalion had spent most of July in training for the attack and, having been relieved on 1 August, it spent the rest of August resting, cleaning kit and training again.
The 1901 census shows there to have been three Freer brothers: Hugh, Andrew and James. Andrew Freer, serving with Drake Battalion Royal Naval Division, was killed in action on 23 March 1918 in the German Spring Offensive. His body was never identified and he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.