Maidstone Friends Killed at Zillebeke

Privates Frederick Shepherd Filmer and Owen Gilbert James Williams of Maidstone, Kent were two of over 20 men of the Regiment who were killed in action on 22 February 1915.

The Kent Messenger reported the deaths of the men in its 13 March edition and profiled Filmer and Williams the following week.

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Both men were from Maidstone and had long been friends, having been pupils together at All Saints’ School. According to the paper in its article ‘Friends Fall in Action’:

Private Fredeick Filmer

They enlisted in the West Kent Yeomanry during the Boer War…Feeling it their duty to “do their bit” for their country, they joined the Royal West Kent Regiment last autumn (on 9 November according to Private Filmer’s service records) and left for the Front on 2 February. On the previous day they spent a few hours’ leave at home. Before departing they intimated that they would not have willingly gone to France without each other, and they made a mutual promise that, should either “go under” the other would regard it as a sacred duty to interest himself in the widow and children. Unfortunately, both have been killed.

The paper continued:

Private Filmer was born in St Philip’s parish, and had worked since he left school for Mr T Stannett, greengrocer. It was on Lord Mayor’s Day that he enlisted in 1st Battalion Royal West Kent Regiment. He was married fourteen years ago (to Olive), a daughter of Mr Vinten, one of the Corporation workmen, who is left with eight children, the eldest being only eleven. She is now confined to her bed in very enfeebled health, having given birth to twins nine day’s after her husband’s death.  Naturally Mrs Filmer is very anxious to hear further particulars of the action in which her husband fell, and she will be very grateful if any of his comrades can supply her with some information.

Private Owen Williams

Before the war, Private Williams had worked as a painter, having previously been employed at a tannery. He had been married for 15 years and had five children. 

Williams’ wife had last received a letter from him dated ‘Rouen , February 14th’:

I have not had an answer from you yet, although I have sent four postcards and two letters. You might write so that I can get a letter once a week, just to hear some news. 

The Gurkhas and Sikhs here are fine fellows, with shining eyes and teeth. Many of them can talk English. You might send me out some fag papers. We get two ounces of smooth mixture a week, and they are allowing us five francs weekly – that is 4s 2d. We get plenty of food; jam and tea for breakfast. Today we are leaving for the trenches, so we shall soon know what’s what but I shall keep cool and do my best. We have had a lot of rain the last few days, and I have got a shocking cold. I suppose it is sleeping under canvas.

On 22 February both privates Filmer and Williams were based at Zillbeke about one and a half miles south-east of Ypres.

The War Diary for the 1st Battalion records:

During the morning a furious artillery and rifle fire began about 10 am and continued for about half an hour on our left.

At 4.20pm a message was received by runner from C company that part of B company’s trench had been bombed by the enemy with a trench mortar and had had to be evacuated. 

Soon after Pte WRIGHT who was the signaller in charge of the telephone in B company’s part of the trench came down and reported to the same effect the telephone wire having been broken.

2 platoon of the Duke of Wellington Regiment which were in close support were ordered to reinforce the firing line at dusk in case the enemy should try to rush the damaged trench at dusk.

The enemy however did not attack and the battalion was relieved in the trenches in accordance with previous instruction. Relief was completed by 11pm when A & B companies returned to billets in YPRES C company and 100 men with 2 officers of D company remaining in close support to the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, which Battalion had taken over the trenches.

During the afternoon B company had suffered severely from the enemy’s bombing which lasted from about 2.15pm till 4.30pm.

Lieut BROWN, B company, 2nd Lieut FROST, A company, were killed. Lieut Brown’s body was brought back to some brick works just north of ZILLEBEKE where the battalion first aid post was established. Here he was buried with 8 men whose bodies had been recovered. 2nd Lieut FROST’s body could not be found.2nd Lieut BURBURY, B company was severely wounded and died during the night in the 3rd London field ambulance. Captain MOLONY was slightly wounded. 18 men of A & B companies were killed and 19 wounded.

The Rev ROYCE chaplain to the 3rd London field ambulance conducted the burial service over Lieut BROWN and the 8 men whose bodies were recovered.

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Owen Williams is buried in the Tuileries British Cemetery. Frederick Filmer’s body was not recovered and he is remembered on the Menin Gate.

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