Swavesey and the Great War

Sam Froment

The picture of Swavesey Cricket Team (see below) taken shortly before the Great War is a poignant reminder of how the conflict destroyed the heart of a generation. Of the young men in whites, at least six saw service in the trenches. The story of Frank Beaumont (top row, left, in pale jumper) has already been told in a previous article. Frank survived the war having been discharged unfit following exposure to gas at Loos on 25th September 1915. His brother George (top row, third from right, hands in pockets) was killed at Bourlon Wood in 1917 having won the MC a year previously. The Reverend Sharpe (to the right of George) served as a chaplain in France (he officiated at the burial service of another Swavesey man - George Norman - on the Somme). Charlie Wood and Sam Mitham (middle row, centre and extreme right respectively) survived having seen considerable service.

This article concerns Sam Froment, the team's renowned bowler (cross legged, bottom right).

 Swavesey cricket team c1910

Sam Froment, younger son of Mr Arthur Froment of High Street, Swavesey, had worked as a baker in Swavesey up until four or five years before the start of the Great War. At that point Sam had continued his trade in Huntingdon before giving up baking in order to work as an attendant, with responsibility for games,  at St Audry's Mental Asylum at Melton, near Woodbridge, Suffolk.

Sam enlisted voluntarily as a baker with the Army Service Corps (ASC) on the 6th August, 1915 a few weeks prior to his marriage on the 15th September of the same year. On the 31st March Sam moved from the ASC into an Infantry Training Battalion before being temporarily attached to the Border Regiment. Sam went overseas for the first time on 28th June 1917 and was transferred to a permanent position with the 10th Royal West Surrey Regiment (The Queens) on 19th July.

Coincidentally Sam found himself in the same Company as another Swavesey man - Alfred Prime. When the two first met up in France, Alfred was brewing tea for his fellow soldiers. The Prime family lived at 11 Taylors Lane, Swavesey  (which happens to be my home now) up until the time of the 1913 fire.

Alfred Prime M.M. of Swavesey

Alfred and his two younger brothers, Harry and James, survived the war all three having seen considerable active service. Both Alfred and James served throughout the Battle of Passchendaele whilst brother Harry who was serving with the Manchester Regiment first went to France on the 15th October 1917 from where he found himself on a train following the Italian defeat at Caporetto and Lloyd George's decision to bolster the Italians by transferring two British Divisions from the Western Front. Harry who had escaped from the mud of Flanders, wrote a letter to his sister on the 28th November,1917 :- 

"You will, I daresay be surprised to hear that I am in Italy. We got on the train a week ago yesterday, and did not get off until sunday. We had a lovely journey, and the weather was very bright, it was a real picture. We passed through the place where Aunt censored lives. It is a very pretty place, big mountains at the back, with houses built on the side among beautiful fir trees, and in front there is the sea. Now for a little news. On friday night, as we were passing through one station in Italy, I saw a train load of Yeomanry, and I called out and asked if any Cambridgeshire lads were there. They said, "yes, from Swavesey". The next morning we were stopped, and they caught up and, as I was looking out of the window I saw Frank Hepher, so I was soon out of the door - you may bet your life on that. While I was talking to him, who should come up but Sgt Cyril Day, and on the same train was John Taylor as well. So I met three Swavesey lads together ... I saw W. Goad one day before I left France, but I was riding on a motor van, so could not talk to him ... I have an idea he is out here to, and close to us. Cheer up, we will soon be home for good."

By this time both James and Alfred Prime had been awarded Military Crosses for bravery. Jim, who was serving with the London Regiment, had been in a front line trench in front of the Messines Ridge, near Ypres, on the 25th May 1917. His citation reads thus :-

"Anticipating an enemy attack following a heavy bombardment, Private Prime mounted the parapet with his Lewis gun and opened a machine gun barrage for all his worth, thus preventing the enemy from reaching the British trench. Although knocked over several times, he kept up his barrage for an hour, and providentially escaped unhurt, though battered and bruised." 

Cpl Jim Prime M.M.

Jim Prime's elder brother, Alfred, had joined up on 8th April 1916 and had gone to France for the first time on the 25th August 1916. Alf won his Military cross at Ephey on the 21st September 1916 for excellent conduct when bringing in wounded under heavy barrage fire.

The following year, Alfred Prime had been mentioned in dispatches for his involvement in a rearguard action in June 1917 when he had volunteered to join three other soldiers and an officer who had been tasked to hold a trench whilst the rest of the Battalion retreated.

Alfred was wounded on 1st August 1917 and subsequently spent time at a military hospital in Bagthorpe in Nottingham. A few days later, on the 5th August 1917 Sam Froment was killed at Hollebecke some half a mile south east of the infamous Hill 60, one of the few pieces of high ground in the Ypres Salient.

The defence of Ypres had already cost the Allies 430,000 killed, wounded or missing. Of the 250,000 men lost in the Battle of Passchendaele some 90,000 were posted as missing and their bodies never identified. Sam Froment was identified and buried but his grave was destroyed/lost in subsequent fighting and his name is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial.

Sam's Company Commander wrote to his widow :-

"It is with extreme sorrow that I have to inform you that your husband, Pte S.J.Froment, was killed in action on the 5th August while doing his duty. He had not been with the company very long, but it was long enough to prove him a good and willing soldier, and his loss will be felt by all of the company. He was killed instantaneously, and was buried within our lines."

Samuel John Froment

Sam Froment's old friend, Alfred Prime, returned to his Regiment on the 25th January 1918 and served through until the end of the war. In total, he was wounded three times and on the 11th October he wrote to his parents in Swavesey, describing himself as a stretcher bearer with the Queen's.

"We have been over again twice since I wrote last, and have liberated French civilians who have been under the Germans since the war began. It was a sight to see. They kissed us and gave us coffee and everything they could. They were half mad with joy, poor beggars. It was a grand day for them, but I expect you will have seen all about it in the papers. Really, I think it will soon be over, and if so, I shall thank God that I was able to live to be in the finish, and I know you will be too. I am very tired, having been walking since 1a.m. yesterday until 5 p.m. today, without food or rest, but I have just had a good feed and drink, and want to got to sleep. I have just taken off my boots, the first time for fifteen days. I am writing this on a table, and am sitting on a chair. The people have gone from here, but not from the other villages where we have been. It is a lot better to get where people live, as it cheers us up as well as the people."

Clearly the end was in sight. Mrs Prime was one of the lucky ones. All three of her sons returned unscathed. Many others in Swavesey were not so fortunate - Sam Froment's loved ones, in particular.

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