The Lone Survivor
5th November 2018
Chelsea Pensioner, Steve Lovelock, lost his father in the Second World War, leaving his young mother with the difficult task of bringing up a small child alone. Unable to cope with the pressures of single parenthood, Steve’s grandparents stepped in to care for the young child.
This is the story of Steve’s grandfather – Frederick Arthur John Lovelock – who was the chief paternal figure in his grandson’s life. Fred served in the First World War, experiencing unbelievable luck and devastating loss that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
When war was declared in 1914, Fred was 16 years old. From a little village in Wiltshire called Marlborough, Fred, along with his childhood friends and 250,000 other boys across Britain, falsified their date of birth and enlisted for service. By August 1914, Fred’s regiment – the Wiltshire Regiment – was mobilised and were one of the first to be sent to the frontlines.
Fred’s Regiment fought in the Battle of Mons on the French borders – a bloody battle that forced the British to retreat all the way back, more or less, to Paris. The Wiltshire Regiment suffered many casualties throughout the onslaught and it was during this time, that Fred was given leave to spend a long weekend at home. Unbeknownst to Fred, this trip back home would alter the course of his life forever.
“After a weekend spent with family,” Steve tells us, “my grandfather had to catch a train from Marlborough to Victoria in order to get the midnight boat out of Dover. Now, Fred was a good-looking chap, and whilst he was going through Piccadilly Circus, he met a lovely lady and what happened of course, was a little bit of falling in love, and he missed the boat. He thought he was going to be shot at dawn for being absent without leave as he was late reporting back for duty. However, when he got back, to his horror, he learnt that his entire company went over the top the night before and no-one had returned. If he hadn’t risked everything for an evening of flirtation with a pretty lady, I wouldn’t be here today. It’s romantic really, but of course, terribly sad – I can’t even begin to imagine the shock and guilt he would have felt when he returned.”
Following the loss of all his childhood friends, Fred was captured towards the end of 1914 and sent to a German Prisoner of War (POW) camp – the details of which he never disclosed. Although the war was over by 1918, Fred remained a POW until 1920 as the process of repatriation back to Britain was slow.
Fred was the only soldier in his village to return home from war. The lone survivor, his return was bittersweet.
“These kids” says Steve, “they thought it was like Cowboys and Indians; fun and games. They thought it would all be over before Christmas. They didn’t realise what they were going in to and that millions would be killed. My grandfather was the only one left and he felt guilty for the rest of his life for that. The awful thing about Fred – he was sound as a bell all his life. Come when he was about 70, they found him running around in his garden with a broomstick, shouting “the Germans are out to kill me!” No doubt he was suffering from post-traumatic stress that only seemed to kick in at the age of 70.”
Fred was eventually admitted to a psychiatric hospital as in his mind, he was back in the trenches again. Unfortunately, once admitted, he died within a few weeks.
Steve concludes the tale of his grandfather with a resigned sigh and the words – “That was poor old Pop.”