2Lt Freddie Wheatcroft
5th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment (att'd B Coy 13th Battalion)
The son of a grocer, Freddie was born in Alfreton, Derbyshire and trained as a schoolteacher, combining that career with a highly-successful playing career.
He began his footballing career with his hometown club, where he scored a hat-trick on his debut in an FA Cup tie against Longfleet St Mary, before moving to First Division Derby County in May 1903 and by the following April he had made his First Division debut, against Everton. In January 1905 Freddie moved to Swindon to start a see-sawing career that saw him play for both Derby and Swindon on three separate occasions.
After a season in Wiltshire, Freddie moved back to Derby for a short spell, before returning to Swindon. 1906 saw him move to Fulham, where he was a member of the team that won the Southern League title in 1906-07 and he was capped for England Amateurs against Ireland in December 1906. At the end of that season it was back to Derby for his third and final spell with them and it was during this spell that he finally turned professional, in February 1907, although he carried on teaching.
In May 1908 Freddie signed for Reading FC, at the same time as another of Reading’s subsequent war casualties, Jack Huggins who, by coincidence, was also a schoolteacher. A stocky forward, weighing 12st 4lb and standing 5ft 10 tall with a dapper, moustached appearance, Freddie was a fine dribbler with an eye for goal.
After a slow start with Reading, that saw him score his first Reading goal in the last game of October, Freddie hit the best goal scoring form of his career to date, ending as top scorer with 15 Southern League goals (some records say 14) in 35 of our 40 games, plus another two FA Cup goals in three games. Like his teammate Jack Huggins, Freddie was prolific over the Christmas period, netting five times in a three game spell. He would probably have been ever-present but for his teaching commitments, which meant he sometimes missed midweek games and also the club’s first ‘overseas’ tour to Guernsey at the end of the season. As befitted his nomadic career at that time, Freddie stayed just one season at Elm Park before returning to Swindon for the third and final time in May 1909, with Alex McCulloch moving to Reading in exchange.
After eight transfers in six years, Freddie finally settled at the County Ground, where he became a Swindon legend by playing a major role in one of the Wiltshire club’s most successful periods. In his first season he scored 22 times in 38 games as the Robins reached the FA Cup Semi-Final, a feat they repeated in 1911-12, losing to the eventual winners on each occasion. Freddie was also virtually ever-present as Swindon won the Southern League titles in 1910-11 and 1913-14, again missing some midweek games as they clashed with his teaching at a private school in Putney. These commitments also saw him miss out on Swindon’s Dubonnet Cup win in Paris during the summer of 1910 and their South American tour in 1912, although he made good use of his absence, marrying fellow teacher Jessie Jobson that summer.
With Southern League football continuing during the first year of the First World War, Freddie played his last game in April 1915, having scored 98 goals in 245 games for Swindon although he did subsequently make the occasional guest appearance for Fulham.
In November 1915 Freddie enlisted as a private in the East Surrey Regiment’s 5th Battalion with the Mayor of Swindon providing him with a reference. He was placed on reserve, which meant that he was not deployed straight away and was not mobilised until May 1916. He immediately demonstrated leadership qualities and after being promoted through the non-commissioned ranks he began an officer training course that saw him commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 29th May 1917.
In November 1917 he was attached to 13th Battalion of the East Surreys leading a platoon charged with holding important high ground to the north west of Bourlon Wood, near Cambrai in Northern France. At 6.15am on 25th November, Freddie’s platoon was due to advance, with tank support, towards Bourlon village, held by a large German force. Despite the non-arrival of the tanks the attack went ahead, to try to link up with the Highland Light Infantry, but only made limited progress before being raked by heavy machine-gun fire and mortars. Taking heavy casualties, the decision was made the following day to rescue the exhausted survivors but again the promised tank support failed to materialise.
Freddie and his men had advanced further than the main body and were sheltering in a farmhouse, which was gradually being destroyed by heavy fire. Under continued German fire, the withdrawal got underway, but they were only finally relieved on 27th November, when the death toll was six officers and 233 men. Sadly, one of those casualties was Freddie, who was mortally wounded having stayed at his post until his death on 26th November 1917. Freddie was buried in the nearby Anneux British Cemetery and his death is also recorded on the Alfreton War Memorial. He left a wife, Susan Jessie.
Killed in action at Bourlon Woods, 26th November 1917.
Buried at Anneux British Cemetery, France.