Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Walter Fryatt, Winnipeg Grenadiers

Walter Butcher Fryatt was born in York, England on 22nd November 1900. He was the youngest of eight siblings. He was killed in action on 21st December 1941 while serving as Company Sergeant Major (CSM) of 'B' Coy Winnipeg Grenadiers in the Battle for Hong Kong. This is an attempt to put together some details of his life, and through feedback from readers I hope that I can add more to this story. This is also a tribute to a Canadian soldier who died in Hong Kong in the service of his country. 

He married Florence May Firth in 1925 in Barnsley, Yorkshire. They had four children Walter Dennis (1926-1996), Jean Margaret (1927-1933), Robert (1934-2011) and Joan who was born in 1938. Florence May Fryatt died in Manitoba, Canada in 2004 having reached the age of 100 years. She lived on for  nearly sixty-three years after she lost her husband in December 1941. As far as I can see she never remarried. She lost her second born child,  Jean Margaret aged six, in 1933. 

Walter Fryatt joined the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) in World War 1. He served with this unit from June 1917 until October 1919. In 1922 he joined the York & Lancashire Regiment until 1925. In 1927 he served with the Green Howards  referred to as the Yorkshire Regiment. He was a Yorkshireman and a soldier.

He emigrated to Canada in 1928. I don't think he had a very happy childhood and he did not keep contact with his remaining family in Yorkshire after he left England.  I found a record of him traveling on the White Star liner  RMS Cedric in August 1928 as part of the Harvesters Scheme for Manitoba in which immigrants were recruited to work as farm laborers in the Canadian farm belt. He sailed from Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia to make a new start for his young family. 

RMS Cedric
I found a record of Florence May traveling in 1930 from Liverpool to Quebec on the White Star Liner Albertic. A beautiful ship but Florence like Walter travelled Third Class. She was traveling with her two oldest children Walter Dennis and Jean Margaret. She had two more children after reaching Canada.

The family settled in Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba. Walter was later employed as an Operator for the Winnipeg Electric Company. After arriving in Canada Walter joined the Winnipeg Grenadiers which at that time was a militia  unit. His military records show that he completed annual training from 1931 to 1937. On the outbreak of war in September 1939 he re-joined the Winnipeg Grenadiers on a full time or mobilized basis and was quickly promoted  to CSM given his previous military experience. In June 1940 he sailed for Jamaica with the Grenadiers where the regiment undertook garrison duties. He returned to Canada in 1941 just before the Grenadiers were sent to Hong Kong in November 1941.

In Hong Kong he served as CSM of 'B' Coy which was under the command of Major Henry Hook. Three weeks after arriving in Hong Kong war started with Japan. Initially the Canadian troops were based at Sham Shui Po Barracks in Kowloon. When war started the Grenadiers were deployed to their war stations on Hong Kong Island. 'B' Coy were deployed at Pok Fu Lam Reservoir on the south western side of Hong Kong Island.

Many of the splinter proof war shelters that housed the Coy's three platoons and the Coy HQ still remain, with one string of shelters located north of the reservoir, and another string in a ravine to the west of the reservoir.

Pok Fu Lam Reservoir

War shelter across a ravine occupied by 'B' Coy WG in December 1941

'B' Coy WG  shelters as they appear today 

A steel door survives the test of time
The Japanese landed three infantry regiments on the north shore of Hong Kong Island on Thursday 18th December 1941. By Friday 19th December they had captured Mt Parker, Mt Butler, Jardines Lookout, Stanley Gap Road and the police station at Wong Nai Chung (WNC) Gap. Counterattacks were made throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st to try and regain WNC  Gap  but all efforts failed as the Japanese were there in overwhelming strength.

On Saturday 20th December 'B' Coy were ordered to report to Battalion HQ at Wan Chai Gap and thereafter to counterattack WNC Gap by way of Blacks Link, a road track linking WNC Gap and Wan Chai Gap. The attack commenced in the afternoon and the Coy proceeded down Black's Link led by Major Henry Hook, CSM Walter Fryatt and Sgt Ken Porter. Having passed Middle Gap, about one third of the way along Black's Link, they came under attack from a Japanese patrol and incurred a number of casualties.  The Coy withdrew to Middle Gap, and the attack was to resume at dawn the next day. The Coy spent an uncomfortable night in the open with low temperatures and rain.

The Japanese by this time had a large number of troops on Mount Nicholson which overlooked Black's Link and they were able to fire down on Black's Link. Lt Hugh Young and CSM Walter Fryatt were both killed by machine gun fire on Blacks Link whilst trying to press forward to reach WNC Gap during the morning on Sunday 21st December. Florence May Fryatt was not officially notified of Walter's death until 1943. He has no known grave although his name is remembered on a panel at Sai Wan Military Cemetery.

Florence May was survived by two of her children (Robert and Joan). At the time of her death she had eight grandchildren, thirteen great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.


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