The Curious Case of Private Trigg

Between 7 and 7:30a.m. the sentries saw through their periscopes a man, dressed in British uniform, carrying a rifle, and wearing his equipment less pack, in front of our wire moving towards the German lines along the extreme western edge of the craters.”

Report Written by Brigadier General C J Deverell, commanding 20th Infantry Brigade 12th June 1916

As preparations for the Battle of the Somme were being made, it was imperative that absolute secrecy was kept by all ranks of the British Expeditionary Force leading up to Z day (1st July 1916). Failure to do so would threaten the entire operation.

The British 7th Division were preparing for an assault in the vicinity of Mametz (Somme, France) amongst them, men of the 2nd Battalion, Border Regiment, part of the 20th Infantry Brigade. The Brigade itself was under the command of Brigadier General Cyril John Deverell, a career soldier of over 20 years by 1916.

Major General Cyril John Deverell © IWM HU 121222

Amidst the men of the 2nd Battalion Border Regiment was a private soldier by the name of Frederick James Horace Percy Trigg.

Pte Trigg had been a pre-war regular soldier who had transferred to the army reserve on the 6th July 1912. Like the thousands of other army reservists, Frederick Trigg was recalled to the colours in August 1914, and he arrived at Zeebrugge with the 2nd Battalion Border Regiment on the 6th October 1914. He had for sometime been Batman (orderly/personal servant) to the Officer Commanding (OC) D Company.

Pte F J Trigg (Luton News 31st August 1916)

Fast forwarding to June 1916, Pte Trigg was still serving with the battalion, now on the Somme and preparing for the upcoming great offensive. With the OC of D Company in hospital, Pte Trigg was working as an orderly for the Company Sergeant Major (CSM), arriving in the trenches near Mansel Copse (Somme) on the 11th June 1916.

In the early hours of the next morning, Pte Trigg was sent by the CSM to retrieve rifle oil from a store in the trench they were already occupying – F.10.3. This was a frontline trench directly opposite the German trenches, with only “no-mans land” in-between.

Location of Trench F.10.3 – Map from the 2nd Battalion Border Regiment War Diary May 1916. Below: Modern day location of Trench F.10.3.

Shortly afterwards, Pte Trigg was seen by two sentries crossing “no-mans land” and heading towards the German frontline.

Between 7 and 7:30a.m. the sentries saw through their periscopes a man, dressed in British uniform, carrying a rifle, and wearing his equipment less pack, in front of our wire moving towards the German lines along the extreme western edge of the craters. The lines at the point in question are about 50 yards apart.

He was seen by two sentries in posts 20 to 30 yards apart, and both sentries stated to me that they thought that the man had gone out from the post of the other sentry; both state that no man passed along the trench between them at the time , and both state that when they got up on the fire step no one was in sight between the lines. Neither sentry fired.

Men further to the left along the trench state that they saw a man move quickly over to the German line – halt for a moment on the parapet, and then jump into the trench.

Report of Brig Gen C J Deverell.

So why did Private Trigg venture out into “no-mans land” and directly to the German front line? We will never know what was going through his head or the true motives, but we can speculate.

A model of the area on display at The Keep Military Museum, Dorchester. Photo courtesy of The Keep Military Museum.

One possibility is that he wanted to pass information to the Germans. I personally don’t think this is the case and it’s unlikely he would have information that would be of huge use to the Germans. As a pre-war soldier and a man who had already endured two years of war, I can’t see why he’d want to give information to the enemy, or what benefit this would of been to him. His attitude in letters home to his parents published in the local paper, certainly don’t sound like a man who would go out his way to sell out his comrades.

Brigadier General Deverell summarised the potential intelligence loss in his report. “He had no knowledge whatever of our trenches, and as far as is known could have no knowledge of future operations, except that the battalion had been trained over a theatre. I have been careful when training men over the theatre to impress on all ranks that I had caused the trenches opposite them to be dug as making the practice more interesting – though probably the men amongst themselves would discuss the real motive for which the trenches had been dug.”

Another theory is that he planned to end his life by going out into “no-mans land”. Why the Germans didn’t fire on him when he exposed himself will never be known. Could they have just been stunned by what they were witnessing, or were they just unwilling to shoot at an unarmed man? Whatever the reason, he continued all the way to the German line and then entered the trench, which gives some doubt to this theory. Having said that, Pte Trigg would likely have known another man from the 2nd Battalion Border Regiment had done exactly the same thing only 4 months earlier, but was shot and killed by the Germans in no mans land.

That leaves what I believe is the most plausible reason – Pte Trigg wanted to sit out the rest of the war as a prisoner, whatever the reason may have been.

The original report by Brigadier General Deverell gives us a slight glimpse into what might have motivated Pte Trigg’s actions. “He had been very worried by domestic troubles at home, and has been endeavouring to get his wife’s separation allowance stopped as she was living with some other man in his absence.”

Separation allowance was paid to wives, children and dependants of soldiers who were serving away from home. It gave them financial support whilst the main household earner was away.

Frederick Trigg had married Mary Hyde in 1909 at Biscot. By 1914, they had two children together, Arthur and Phylis. The marriage certainly had its challenges, and Mary along with her two infant children were in and out of the Luton Union Workhouse before Frederick left the Army in 1912. On mobilisation in August 1914, a heavily pregnant Mary and the children returned to the workhouse for another week. A third child, Constance was born on 26th August 1914, but sadly died in late 1915.

Frederick had suffered further misfortune in 1913, when he was injured whilst at work for Vauxhall Motors Ltd, leaving him struggling to provide for the family and later refused compensation. The case was dismissed as the judge deemed that it was most likely fraud, with well-rehearsed testimonies which were almost identical. Frederick’s brother James had received £80 in compensation for a work place accident in 1912, so I’ll leave readers to reach their own conclusions.

The troubles at home were clearly forefront in Frederick’s mind in June 1916. Had all this mis-fortune pushed Mary into the arms of another man? We will never know the true motives and extent of the domestic troubles over a hundred years later. Having spent a considerable time researching Frederick Trigg, I suspect that he may have given himself up to the Germans in a desperate attempt to stop Mary receiving Separation Allowance.

Frederick continued to write home, and a passage of a letter sent to his mother was published in the Luton Reporter in October 1916: “Don’t you worry over me as I am alright. Don’t forget to keep the home fires burning till the boys come home.”.

Sadly, after the war, Frederick remained troubled by his experiences, and spent most of his life as a psychiatric patient in the Three Counties Asylum, Arlesey – supposedly placed there by Mary. Frederick died in 1975 aged 89.

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