A Far Cry from Teesdale

By Gail Bishop

On 14th December 1914, a young soldier with Teesdale connections boarded a military transport ship on a voyage from which he would never return. Nothing unusual about that, you might think. Except, Frederick Thomas Cameron was from New Zealand and was off to fight for a country he had never set eyes on.

Fred was the fourth son of William and Margaret Cameron of Holwick, who emigrated to New Zealand in the late 1870s during a depression in the lead mining industry. As the Bowes Museum’s WW1 Project has discovered, Fred and his brothers, Harry and Frank, were not the only young men with local links to serve in the Great War despite growing up overseas. Often, it was heartrending circumstances that brought them to England for the first time.

We can only guess how Fred might have felt as he embarked at Wellington with the Auckland Infantry Battalion, 2nd Reinforcements, bound for distant Suez in Egypt. Whatever his thoughts, misfortune soon followed. Fred was wounded in the leg during the initial Anzac landings at the Dardanelles and was sent to hospital in England. After he had recovered, he went to Egypt, then to France. By that time, he was a Second Corporal with the New Zealand Engineers. Tragically, he contracted pneumonia in France and never recovered. He died at the North Cambridge Hospital in England on 5th October 1916, a month short of his 23rd birthday.

Fred’s funeral was at Laithkirk on 9th October. The funeral report in the Teesdale Mercury describes how the coffin went by rail to Middleton-in-Teesdale, then to the Strathmore Arms at Holwick, the home of Fred’s uncle, Jeremiah Cameron. The chief mourners were Jeremiah, Fred’s brother Frank of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, uncles, aunts and cousins – the Lowes, Collinsons, Lees and Bells – and other relatives and friends from townships in the valley. Holwick School records show that 6 pupils were absent that day to attend Fred’s funeral.  

Fred’s grave is in Laithkirk Churchyard. His headstone also remembers his brother, Private Harry James Cameron, who served with the Wellington Regiment, 2nd Battalion, and the Advance Party, Samoa. Harry died on 18th July 1918 aged 28 and is buried and commemorated at Serre Road Cemetery No 1. in France.

We’d be pleased to hear from anyone who has more information about Harry or knows anything about Frank. And, as always, we’d love to hear about anyone from Teesdale involved in the First World War.