Alfred Thomas Henry Free

Essex Regiment
Date of death 
3 May 1917
Age of death 
1 Fullers Road
South Woodford
E18 2QA
Address source 
1911 Census
Cemetery / Memorial 

Born in 1876 at Woodford, son of William (Cellerman) and Charlotte Free, he was Baptised in Walthamstow. 1881: With his parents at Leyton High Street. In 1898 he married Emily Elizabeth Darby. 1901: A School Porter with his wife and daughter Dorothy, boarding with William Smith and family at 4 Grove Hill, South Woodford. 1911: An Under Porter at Bancroft’s School, with his wife, children Dorothy and two year old Harry plus his widowed mother Charlotte (63), at 1 Fullers Road, South Woodford. In the years which followed the Census, he left Bancroft’s for a job as a Postman at the Sorting Office in Woodford Green. He enlisted at Woodford and was allocated to 2 Essex.

On 1st May 1917 the Battalion was in the front line near the Roeux Chemical Works at Arras, and casualties were inflicted by sniper and artillery fire. At 03.45 on 3rd May 1917 the Battalion advanced under an artillery barrage to secure ground to the left of the Chemical Works. “A” & “C” Companies attacked, “B” supported, while “D” remained as a reserve. The attacking Companies were quickly engaged by machine guns and cut down, as were men from “D” Company who moved forward to replace them. They made some progress in Crook and Crow trenches, but with the smoke and darkness accurate observation was difficult. By 05.00 it was clear the attack had failed; the chemical works was still in German hands, and little progress could be made in the face of German fire. A later enemy counter attack was repulsed, but 24 hours after the attack began what remained of 2 Essex had retired to the positions they had started from.

Of the 207 NCOs and men recorded as “Missing”, most had been killed. Among them was Alfred Free, whose body was not recovered.

On 4th May 1917 the remnants of 2 Essex were pulled back from the front line to support positions.

Memorial: Roll of Honour: Woodford Green Sorting Office.

Research by Adrian Lee, Local Historian