Gervis Frederick Key

KOYLIPrivate 20734, 1st Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, killed in action, 8th May 1915, aged 24

Born at Medge Hall in 1891, Fred was the only son of Frederick and Harriet Key (nee Revill), both from Crowle. When Fred was born both his parents were working as domestic servants at Poplars Farm, Jaques Bank, Medge Hall. Also on the staff at the time was Walter Fretwell . His mother died in 1898, and Fred was living with his widowed father, then a bricklayer’s labourer in lodgings in Pinfold Road (Eastoft Road) in 1901. His father remarried later the same year and sometime before 1911 became the Keeper of Crowle Cemetery in Mill Road. Gervis Frederick (then known as Fred) was a general labourer living with them.

Family tradition has it that Fred volunteered for service with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry along with his cousin Alfred Key, at Doncaster shortly after the outbreak of war. He arrived in France on 4th April 1915 most likely as a reinforcement for the 1st KOYLI just in time for the Second Battle of Ypres.

After several weeks of fighting and seriously weakened by the German use of their deadly new chlorine gas, by 8th May 1915 the British had retreated to the outskirts of Ypres. The 1st KOYLI were with them, in newly dug trenches on the eastern slopes of Frezenburg Ridge.

At 5.30am on the morning of 8th May a red rocket went up in the German lines and became the signal for the beginning of what was described as the launch of a ‘tornado of high explosive’ on the British in their hastily constructed trenches. Shells were screaming overhead in their hundreds and the soldiers were literally drenched in shrapnel for four long hours. The fusillade caused massive devastation to the men, none more so that the 1st KOYLI, sited in the most vulnerable trenches on the forward slopes of the Ridge. The survivors had then to repel two subsequent infantry assaults, but were overrun by a third forcing the remainder to fall back. By afternoon a two mile gap had been punched in the British line.

Among the hundreds of casualties that day was Frederick Key. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

Fred is also commemorated on the plaque to former members of the congregation and Sunday School in Crowle Methodist Church.

Alfred Key survived Ypres but was injured and invalided out of the army before the end of the war. Another cousin, Ernest Key, died at Arras in April 1917.