The son of a Cambridge Gas Company worker, Fred was born in Cambridge in 1889, one of eight children. He grew up at the family home on New Street, where the family lived for many decades. After leaving school, Fred did not follow his older brothers into the gas works but instead found work with Eaden Lilley, where he worked in the storeroom of the Linoleum department.
Enlisting in the Cambridgeshire Regiment during the busy recruiting week of January 1914, Fred was posted to C Company. After attending the annual camp in late July he was mobilised at the outbreak of war. During the preparations for overseas service he volunteered to serve in the specialist Machine Gun Section where he soon picked up the nickname “Porkie”.
Fred sailed for France on February 14th 1915 and was soon in the front line with his gun crew. He proved to be a good and reliable machine gunner and later in the year was made Lance Corporal. After the Cambs stay at the 3rd Army School in early 1916, “Porkie” now a Sergeant, was transferred over to the 118th Machine Gun Company along with the others from the Cambs Machine Gun Section.
Still serving alongside the Cambridgeshires, providing their machine gun support, the members of the 118th MG Company arrived on the Somme in late August 1916. Their Vickers machine guns played a vital role in many actions during the later stages of the “big push” and it was during one of the most famous of these that Sgt Stearn was injured. As the Cambridgeshires and Black Watch assaulted the formidable Schwaben Redoubt, gun crews of the 118th MG Company advanced with them, setting up their guns as soon as the Redoubt was occupied.
During the bitter fighting in the Schwaben Redoubt an enemy trench mortar shell exploded nearby, burying Fred as the trench collapsed. He was recovered by his comrades but was left badly shaken and wounded. He was evacuated back to the UK where he spent time recovering at Spalding Hall, Voluntary Aid Detachment. Fred continued to serve with the Machine Gun Corps for the rest of the war, being finally discharged in June 1919.
On leaving the Army, Fred returned to Cambridge where he started training as an accountant. In 1928, now living on Sedgwick Street, he married Dorothy Harrison at St Philip’s Church, Cambridge. He died in Cambridge in 1968.
Pte Stearn after the outbreak of the War.
This site went live on the 14th February 2015 to mark 100 years since the 1/1st Cambs went off to war.
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM
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