Fred Bancroft’s WW1 War effort

Bull Sand Fort
When I normally write an article about Bancroft individuals who were involved in WW1, the story is usually about their efforts fighting on the front line, or even worse being a casualty of the fighting, but here’s a story from a different angle…where a man’s skills made him more valuable working on the country’s defences rather than being sent to the trenches.
This is the story of a Fred Bancroft, born in Cullingworth near Bradford, and his military record in WW1.

!891 census - Mill Lane Cullingworth

Fred was born in the Cullingworth area in 1889, the son of Willie and Annie [Brogden] Bancroft, and grew up in a household where his father was a quarryman in the local quarry. It’s therefore not surprising that he followed in his father’s footsteps and went into the same trade. Fred is shown on early records as a stonemason, no doubt working at the same local quarry, although in a more skilled job than his father’s one.

Fred & Susan's marriage record
Fred married Susan Gertrude Ramsden, a Spinner from Haworth, on 23rd August 1913, and the couple settled down to married life back in Cullingworth.
Fred’s army record shows that he was not called up until 9th August 1916, and his attestation papers show he was initially allocated to the Durham Light Infantry as a 'Building Contractor'

Attestation Record

By 28th April 1917 he had been transferred to the 7th Labour Corp and is still listed as a ‘Building Contractor', by this time he and Susan had two children, Willie b 1914, and Eda b 1916.
I am not sure why he was transferred to the Labour Corps rather than sent to fight abroad, but it is probably due to the fact that his skill made him a valuable worker, because at that time much of the war effort was concentrated on securing sea defences around our coastline, and by June 1917 he had been posted again and was attached to the 169th Coastal Workers unit based in Hornsea in the East Riding of Yorkshire, under orders from an HQ in Hull. His medical records also show him as having deafness in his left ear, which may also have had some bearing on his posting.
Records also show that on 3rd September 1917 he had to pass some sort of a skills test because he was awarded a ‘Certificate of Trade Proficiency’ which gave him the qualification of a ‘Skilled Bricklayer’ whilst still working on the Humber Defences.

Trade Proficiency

It was not until 6th March 1919 that Fred was officially demobilised, and transferred to Class ‘Z’ Army Reserves, while he was stationed at Nottingham, at which time he was listed as being of ‘good’ character.

The history of the Humber coastal defences, which Fred Bancroft was assigned to and helped to build, started in 1914 with the planning of two off-shore forts in the estuary. The original plan was that they were to stand 59 feet above the water and had a diameter of 82 feet, and were designed to accommodate 200 soldiers each. Construction work stated in May 1915 and the work took over four years to complete, finally finishing in December 1919.
The irony was that by the time the fort was ready for use, the war was reaching its conclusion and the fort's guns were never called into action in WW1. However, they remained a deterrent to the enemy during the Second World War when both forts were continually attacked.
Haile Sand Fort

Haile Sand Fort or Sand Haile Fort is the smaller of the two and is situated around the low-water mark between Cleethorpes and Humberston on the Lincolnshire coast. In February 2016 the fort was put on the market for £350,000

Bull Sand Fort

Bull Sand Fort is 1.5 miles from shore off Spurn Head. It is a 4-storey concrete building with 12-inch (300 mm) of armour on the seaward side, and originally armed with four 6-inch guns. It was built with great difficulty as its sandbank is 11 feet below low water.
During the Second World War both forts were reactivated and modernised. The forts were regularly attacked by enemy aircraft, and during this time, the authorities installed a netting arrangement to prevent enemy submarines from travelling up the estuary to Hull or Grimsby.  The forts were finally abandoned by the military in 1956.
In the present day, Bull Fort is used as a navigational aid for shipping.


After being demobbed, Fred then seems to have gone back to his employment as a stone mason in Cullingworth, but by the time of the start of WW2, when the 1939 census was taken, he had moved to nearby Springfield Farm with his wife and two children, and was listed as a ‘Dairy Farmer’. In later life Fred, took up a hobby of breeding and exhibiting Perkin Bantams, and was a well know local Judge of the breed at local agricultural shows. He also served on the committee of the Airedale Agricultural Society.

Fred died on 10th April 1959, age 70 years, at Rook Street, Bingley, and his funeral was conducted at nearby Nab Wood Crematorium, Shipley.

Fred Bancroft

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