Audrey will wear her father’s war medals with pride on Remembrance Sunday
RAILWAYMAN Ralph Frost rarely talked about his First World War experiences, but in his later years he recalled his memories with his daughter Audrey Hindle. Mrs Hindle will wear her father’s medals for the first time this weekend as Fenland remembers the fallen.
COMRADES lay slaughtered around him, victims of the intense bombardment, but 19-year-old Private Ralph Frost and a handful of survivors carried on with dogged determination until they were surrounded and taken prisoners.
It was the final year of the First World War, March 21 1918 on the Somme and a long-awaited German attack finally started in the early hours. It would stay in the memory of the March railwayman for ever.
Writing about the attack, he said: “I was buried twice by shells that exploded behind and blew the earth over me. I was released with help and I can remember hearing someone say ‘Poor old Frosty has got one’ but no, I was all in one piece.
“After a time we moved on again, it was then that I had another lucky escape. We were in single file and the chap in front of me was almost cut in half and the one behind was beheaded, they would only be about a yard from me. Strange as at it may seem, I did not feel afraid.”
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The 2/7th Manchesters found themselves fighting at Brosse Wood in the German Spring Offensive, one of the most pivotal stages of the war. There were more British soldiers captured in the following 10 days than at any other battle.
Allied troops just managed to stop the Germans making a complete breakthrough. With the Americans poised to send more troops to France, the Germans knew if they didn’t finish the war then they could never win.
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Eventually Pte Frost and his company were joined by the few survivors of the 2/5 Manchesters. He recalled: “ Our Captain ordered them to join us and to dig ourselves in. After a time the fog began to clear and Captain Brown crawled along to each man with his revolver in his hand, with these words ‘The first man that turns his back on the enemy, I’ll shoot’.
“Captain Brown was killed, this left only one officer, 2nd Lt Fox. Two men were sent back for ammunition but they only made one trip, for on the second journey they were killed or wounded.”
The men were outnumbered by about 20 to one and the men either side of Pte Frost were killed. He said: “I must have had a charmed life, for a bullet went through the left sleeve of my tunic, on a level with my heart without so much scratching me.”
But far from thinking only of himself, Pte Frost managed along with a comrade to carry a wounded friend to a field dressing station. They carried him on a spade with his arms around their necks. Almost 60 years later he was to meet up again with Pte Reginald Minns.
Surrounded by Germans, Pte Frost thought his luck had run out and he would be shot but again he escaped with his life. He said: “ There were only 16 men left. I grabbed my water bottle which was half full of rum, which I had been saving in case I got cut off at any time”.
Pte Frost was taken prisoner and eventually after the guns were silent returned to the Fens and rarely talked about his time in the trenches of France. He married and raised a family in his March home but in his later years he recalled the dark days of war to his daughter, Audrey Hindle.
More than 90 years on Mrs Hindle, 81, of Elm Road will wear his medals with pride on Sunday as March remembers all those who have fought and died in that war and since then.
Until recently the medals, a British War Medal and a Victory Medal, remained in a box - just as they had been sent to Mr Frost. Mrs Hindle decided to have the medals mounted so she can wear them.
“Every time I read about what he went through I find it so moving and I am very proud of him,” said Mrs Hindle. “It was only in his latter years that he spoke about it. He saw such horrors with men either side of him being blown to smithereens.
“He came to live with us for the last four years of his life and when he couldn’t sleep at night he said he was still thinking about the poor men in the trenches.
“I was told that when he first came home from the war when he went to bed he would cover himself with the blankets to keep the rats from running over him.”
Mr Frost died aged 83 in 1981 but not before he was reunited with Reginald Minns. They met again through a reader’s letter in a Sunday newspaper.