b. 22/01/1891 Bramley, Leeds, Yorkshire. d. 04/05/1956 Boscombe, Dorset.
Fred McNess (1892-1956) was born Fred MackNess at Wilson’s Place, Bramley, near Leeds, Yorkshire on 22nd January 1891. His surname was misspelt as McNess when he enlisted. His father, John Francis MackNessm was born in Scotland, and served in the Royal Engineers, then after leaving the Army, he became a tanner, and later a caretaker at Bramley National School. He married Mary Webster at St Peter’s, Leeds on 2nd August 1873. Fred had four siblings – Francis Joseph, James William, Sarah and Isabella.
Fred was educated at Bramley National School before being employed as a carter’s assistant by Mr Joseph Henry “Harry” Boan. He enlisted in 3rd Reserve Battalion, Scots Guards, on 30th January 1915. On 7th February 1916 he was appointed unpaid Corporal and went to France on 6th April to join th 1st Battalion. He was promoted to Corporal and acting Lance Sergeant on 25th August 1916.
On 15th September 1916 near Ginchy, France, during a period of severe fighting, Lance-Sergeant McNess led his men with great dash in the face of heavy shell and machine-gun fire. When the first line of the enemy trenches was reached, it was found that the left flank was exposed and that the enemy were bombing down the trench. Sergeant McNess thereupon organised and led a counter-attack and although he was very severely wounded in the neck and jaw, did not give up. Finally he established a "block" and continued encouraging his men and throwing bombs until exhausted by loss of blood.
After the VC action, he was treated by Captain Noel Chavasse VC before being evacuated to 9th General Hospital at Rouen. He was moved to Welbeck Abbey and later to King George’s Hospital in London, where part of a rib was used to reconstruct his jaw.
On 9th December 1916 he was summoned from hospital and driven to Buckingham Palace, accompanied by a RAMC Sergeant, to be presented with his VC. At the Palace he was escorted to the King by Colonel Fludyer, Scots Guards. The King spent 20 minutes with Fred and expressing concern about his wounds.
Fred was later promoted to Sergeant. In July 1917 he received official welcomes at Leeds and Bramley. He was presented with a bronze clock and sidepieces by Colonel JW Smith-Neill, Scots Guards at Wellington Barracks, London, in October 1917. He remained in hospital until being discharged unfit for further service on 14th June 1918 and was awarded the Silver War Badge on 8th June.
When he returned to Leeds and Bramley in January 1920, he was presented with an illuminated address and £400, which he used to start a shoe repair business at 95 Woodhouse Lane. He received specialist help with the business, but sadly it had to close when staff were called up for World War II. He then worked for Leeds City Engineers Department as a filing clerk. Fred tried to re-enlist in the Second World War, but was turned down due to his injuries and his age.
Fred married Dorothy Smith on 4th October 1919 at Dover, Kent. She was a nurse who had helped care for him. They had a daughter, Winifred Barbara Mollie McNess, born in 1920. They lived for most of their lives in Leeds, before retiring to Boscombe, Dorset in January 1956. Sadly, Fred suffered from depression and headaches. On 4th May 1956, while his wife was out, Fred committed suicide by cutting his throat. He was cremated at Bournemouth Crematorium and his ashes were scattered there.
The Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance ceased paying his Army pension to his widow due to the fact he had committed suicide. She was left living on £2 a week, but the Scots Guards intervened and awarded her £10 a month from Regimental funds. She appealed against the Ministry’s decision and the Regiment also wrote to the Minister responsible. On 18th June 1957, the appeal was successful and the pension was backdated to his death. Dorothy attended the 1956 VC Centenary Celebrations at Hyde Park six weeks after her husband’s death. She would later re-marry in 1963 in Bournemouth.
In addition to his VC, Fred was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. The medals were presented to the Regiment after Dorothy’s death. The VC is held by the Regimental HQ of the Scots Guards at the Guards Museum, Wellington Barracks, London.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SCOTS GUARDS RHQ, WELLINGTON BARRACKS, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: BOURNEMOUTH CREMATORIUM, BOURNEMOUTH, DORSET.
Fred McNess' medals at Scots Guards RHQ, London (Thomas Stewart).
Leeds VC Memorial
David Rowlands painting of Fred McNess VC
War Illustrated, 11th November 1916