War tales of a crack shot told by Bridlington resident

Margaret Fothergill of Bridlington pictured with family memories of WW1. (NBFP PA1415-3c)
Margaret Fothergill of Bridlington pictured with family memories of WW1. (NBFP PA1415-3c)

Crack shot Fred Hart’s eye for a target, speedy and steady hand got him through some of the bloodiest battles of the Great War.

The sniper served in Belgium and France – including the battle of the Somme – and was never away from his battalion when it went to the front line.

Fred Hart.

Fred Hart.

He was one of 12 soldiers recruited from his battalion to become marksmen – and the only one of the original dozen to make it through the four years of World War One unscathed.

His medals, memorabilia – including a picture of him at the Somme, knives with ‘Somme’ and ‘Ypres’ enscribed in the handles and a silk cushion cover depicting Cloth Hall in Ypres – have been kept by his daughter Margaret Forthergill and her husband David.

The couple, who live in Wheatley Drive, Bridlington, visited the battlefield and cemeteries of France last year.

“I didn’t know anything about this until my mother died and I found these things among her possessions,” said Mrs Fothergill, who was born and brought up in Scarborough.

“My father was a quiet, lovely, well-liked man. He never talked about the war, so when I found all these things they came as a bit of a shock,” she said.

Born in 1891 in the same cottage as his father in Irton, near Scarborough, Frederick William Hart, to give him his full name, was interested in guns from being a boy. He was 16 when he bought his first gun – an air rifle – for 13 shillings and 6d, the pocket money he had saved.

He left school in Seamer aged 13 and earned 15 shillings a week as an architect’s groom – and was the scourge of the gamekeepers on what was then Lord Londesborough’s estate.

He moved to Leeds to work on the trams to earn more cash – but unable to settle in the city he made an extraordinary decision.

With the 19 shillings and 10d he had saved up he sailed to Australia and landed in Perth in May 1911. He had the grand total of five shillings in his pocket.

He helped lay a 200-mile railway from Wongan Hills to Mulewa in Western Australia – and kept his eye in as a gunman by hunting kangaroo – for their pelts – and wild turkey.

At the outbreak of the war he enlisted in the 16th Battalion Australian Imperial Force and was shipped to Egypt early in 1915 to guard the Suez cannal.

It was after a shooting contest that he was picked as a sniper and scout.

His battalion was with the first Australian troops to go to France in May 1916.

His accuracy and speed with a gun saved his life and earned him the Military Medal for bravery in the field in 1918. He was sent with two other men to locate the enemy. They found a 13-man machine gun sction in an orchard.

When Mr hart spotted them he was starring down the muzzle of a rifle 20 yards away.

The German, however, aimed too high and missed Mr Hart - and he did not get a second chance. The rest of the enemy section never even got time to bring their machine gun into action.

“He was deaf in one ear as a result,” said Mrs Fothergill. “It’s a pity that those who served during World War One will never know the recognition they have now earned,” she said.

After the war, Mr Hart returned to Australia and kangaroo hunting. After three years he returned to Scarborough and became its only gunsmith with premises first in King Street and then Queen Street.

He became a member of the local rifle club and was its champion for many years.