Sgt. F. P. Kitchen

Sgt. F. P. Kitchen

69124 Sergeant Frederick Percival Kitchen,
Royal Army Medical Corps

Map of Exeter Cathedral and Cathedral School (National Library of Scotland)

Frederick Percival Kitchen, known by all as Percy to differentiate between him and his father, was the elder of two sons born to the marriage of Frederick Cooper Kitchen and Alice Elizabeth (née Tyler). He was born in Taunton on 11th March 1889.

Frederick Cooper Kitchen was a Brewer’s Traveller at the time of his son’s birth, working for S W Arnold and Sons Ltd at the Rowbarton Brewery, near Taunton. Frederick Cooper Kitchen was originally from West Derby, near Liverpool, and his wife, Alice, was from Doncaster. The family’s second son, Donald Marsland Kitchen was born in 1900.

Percy Kitchen was educated at Exeter Cathedral School, the ancient school established by the cathedral in the 12th century. He was a boarder at the school, and it is likely that he was a chorister in the Cathedral Choir.

After leaving Exeter, Percy Kitchen trained as a civil engineer, and it was in this capacity that he travelled to Argentina. It has not been possible to find the date he left for Argentina, but there is no entry for him on the 1911 census, so it appears that he was out of the country at the time. Percy Kitchen was still working in Argentina when the Great War began, but like hundreds of other Britons who were living and working in South America at the time, he returned home to the UK.

Percy Kitchen left Buenos Aires aboard the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company liner Araguaya and landed at Liverpool on 16th December 1914. Since 1910, Percy Kitchen’s parents had lived at Stockheld Grange Farm, and so when he returned from Argentina, for the first time, his home would be in Scholes.

Despite returning to England at the end of 1914, Percy Kitchen did not immediately enlist into the army. He enlisted towards the end of September 1915. At the time, enlistment was still wholly voluntary, but the rate at which men were joining the army of their own volition was not sufficient to meet its requirements for replacing casualties and expand the army to the size that was required. To remedy this shortfall and to regulate the flow of men into the army, the Director General of Recruiting, the Earl of Derby, devised a scheme whereby men could enlist voluntarily and choose to either begin their military service immediately, or they could enlist and be transferred to the reserve, known as deferral, to await their call up when the army needed them. Men who deferred their service and went into the reserve were organised into groups categorised by their age and marital status. Because of this aspect of the scheme, it was officially called the Group System, but was more commonly known as the ‘Derby Scheme’.

Group System Recruiting Poster © IWM Art.IWM PST 11983

The scheme was scheduled to commence in October 1915, but prospective recruits were warned that if they waited until the scheme began, they could not be guaranteed their choice of regiment or corps whereas if they enlisted before the scheme began, they could still retain some control over which unit they would join. The timing of Percy Kitchen’s enlistment suggests that he did not intend to give up his right to choose the regiment he would serve in. Because of his age and the fact that he was unmarried, Percy Kitchen would have been in one of the first groups to be called up from the reserve.

Percy Kitchen volunteered for the Royal Army Medical Corps on 27th September 1915 and reported for training in Aldershot during the first week of October. His service records have not survived, but of the men who reported for training at the same time as Percy Kitchen, it appears that none of them had any previous medical training before joining the army. The time spent in training at Aldershot, before being sent to their units was a little over two months, during which time, they would be given very rudimentary military training, including the safe handling of the weapons that infantrymen would carry. Although men of the Royal Army Medical Corps were not themselves armed during the Great War, they still had to know how to make safe the weapons the men they would be called upon to help were carrying. The remainder of their training would be centred on basic first aid techniques and general military hygiene methods. Most men without any specialist medical backgrounds were destined to serve as General Duties Medical Orderlies, and they could be found serving in every type and size of Royal Army Medical Corps unit, as well as being attached to the Regimental Medical Officers of front-line fighting units. They could also be found employed on Ambulance Trains, Ambulance Barges, and Hospital Ships.

Hop Store in use as a Field Ambulance, 1915 © IWM Q 50241

Percy Kitchen deployed overseas, arriving in Egypt on 19th December 1915, which coincides with the arrival of the medical units attached to 31st Division, and is suggestive of Percy Kitchen belonging to one of the Field Ambulances in the Division. Because the infantry battalions of the division arrived in Egypt a few days later, it seems unlikely that Percy Kitchen would have been attached to any of them, as the battalion and its attached personnel would travel as one body.

The 31st Division was made up of soldiers of the ‘New Army’, often referred to as Kitchener’s Army, and they were the men who flocked to volunteer in response to Lord Kitchener’s appeal for recruits in the first weeks of the war. The battalions they belonged to were some of the most famous of the ‘Pals’ battalions that were raised on the back of an attractive promise that the men who volunteered together, would train together and fight together, and, so it turned out, they would also die together, sometimes in huge numbers. Hull raised an entire brigade of four battalions of the East Yorkshire Regiment, with the battalion nicknames reflecting where their soldiers originated from. There were the ‘Commercials’, the ‘Tradesmen’, the ‘Sportsmen’, and for any man that did not fit in to any of those, the ‘t’Others’. Barnsley and Bradford raised two battalions each, while Accrington, Durham, Leeds, and Sheffield raised a battalion each, all of them happy to be known simply as ‘Pals’, except the Sheffield men, who insisted on being called the ‘City Battalion’. The battalions made up three brigades of four battalions each, and each brigade had a RAMC Field Ambulance to support the medical needs of their men. After their arrival on the Western Front, it became the norm for the three Field Ambulances to work on a rota system, with one or two of them being on duty at any time to receive sick and wounded from the entire division. During major offensives, the two duty Field Ambulances might stipulate that one would receive only thoracic and head wounds, while all other wounds and the sick would be directed to the other, and in this way more effective use of the available personnel, equipment, and stores could be made.

Vlamertinge Hop Store as it appears today

The role of the Field Ambulance was not to act like a hospital, and provide accommodation for wounded soldiers while they recovered, but was to be more of a staging post. Those wounded men who could be treated and returned to their units, were, while those who were seriously wounded might be cleaned up and have the wounds redressed before being sent further back (to a Casualty Clearing Station), they may undergo immediate emergency surgery to stabilise their condition before being sent back. In many respects the Field Ambulance acted as a triage centre to decide on the best course of action for each wounded or sick soldier it received. Across the Western Front, the sites where Field Ambulances worked are now the sites of some of the medium sized cemeteries that litter the landscape. They are generally larger than the true battlefield cemetery, and generally more easily accessible, as they would have needed to be sited near a reasonably good road or track to allow the wounded to be brought in and taken away.

The medical orderlies working at a Field Ambulance would either form part of the evacuation chain between the unit medical posts in the front lines and the Field Ambulance, or they might be in the Field Ambulance, assisting the Medical Officers to clean and dress wounds, or ensuring that those who were, had a supply of bandages and dressings with which they could work. In many respects RAMC Orderlies, because of the way the Field Ambulances worked, could find themselves, if not in the front lines proper, close to them, more often than the fighting men of the infantry they supported.

Auxiliary Firefighters following an air raid © IWM D 2650

Percy Kitchen appears to have got through the war without wounds or injuries. When he was discharged from the army, he came to live at Stockheld Grange, and he appears on the electoral roll for Scholes at that address in 1920. He married Annie Lilian Proctor in early 1920, but soon afterwards, the couple moved to Cheshire, where their daughter, Margaret, was born in 1923.

In 1936, Percy Kitchen joined the Ministry of Labour as a clerk. He remained as a civil servant, and the family moved to Marple. During the Second World War, he served as a volunteer fire fighter, while still working for the Ministry of Labour.

Annie Kitchen died in Colchester in Essex in 1946, after which, Percy Kitchen moved to Bristol, where he died in 1955.