FRED VITTY was one of the hundreds of members of the Durham Light Infantry who died in the muddy fields around the ruined French villages on the northern bank of the River Somme 100 years ago this weekend.

Fred was born in Wheatley Hill in 1897. His family moved to Fir Tree so that his father, William, and brother George could work in Harperley Colliery – Fred, too, gained employment there as a pony driver.

On August 4, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. On September 8, the Vitty brothers joined up. They walked to Howden-le-Wear, caught the train to Bishop Auckland and marched into the recruitment office.

George, 24, was prime material and was in. Fred, 17, was too young and shouldn’t have been accepted.

So he lied. He gave his birth date as 1895, making him 19. He, too, was in.

The brothers were sent to Newcastle to join the 14th DLI. They spent a year training in the south of England, before landing at Boulogne on September 11, 1915. Within three days, they were pitched into battle on the Western Front.

On December 17, 1915, the brothers found themselves stuck in no man’s land for 36 hours, sheltering in shell holes until the Germans sent over a cloud of poison gas.

George then discovered his gas mask had holes in it, and he elected to dash suicidally through the bullets to the British trenches. He made it, but he was forced home to recuperate.

Fred got out of his predicament in a more conventional manner, and remained with the 14th, fighting engagement after engagement along the front, until in September 1916, the battalion was sent to make its debut on the Somme.

They arrived at Flers-Courcelette late on September 16, and first of all had to dig the dead bodies of their comrades out of their trenches.

In the early hours of September 18, the Germans sent over a surprise bombardment and Fred was among 24 who were caught out.

His body was never recovered, and so his name is on the Thiepval memorial.

With many thanks to George Vitty’s grandson, John Alderson, of Fir Tree for his help with this article.