Victoria Cross recipient Frederick Barter was originally denied in his attempt to serve in the military due to his small size. What he would eventually do in battle would show that heroism does not equate to physical stature.
Barter was born in Cardiff in Wales. He was turned away from service because he stood only five and a half feet tall and weighed only 115 pounds. But he persisted and was allowed to serve in the Royal Welch Fusiliers beginning in 1908.
Not much happened while he was in active service and he was serving in the reserves when World War I began. In 1914, he was called back to active service as a Sergeant Major.
Barter was sent to France with the 1st Battalion of the Regiment to fight in the Artois region. The British were engaged with the Germans over a battle line 3-4 miles long and pressing to take back 1,000 yards. More than 16,000 British soldiers would give their lives to gain those 1,000 yards. Barter was not one of those men.
Leading up to the Battle at Festubert, the British began three days of shelling with more than 100,000 rounds of artillery dropped on the German defenses. The violent bombing removed all vegetation and animals from the battlefield.
All that was left were the German soldiers in their trenches. Barter was called upon to gather a team of volunteers to enter the German trenches and attack.
On May 16, 1915, Barter and his eight volunteers crossed the front line and entered the trenches armed with small arms, bombs and hand grenades. Fighting would be at close quarters. Adding to the danger were the mines that the Germans had rigged to detonate and collapse the trench walls on unsuspecting attackers.
Barter led his men into the trenches, constantly throwing grenades while watching for mines in the trench walls. He personally located and disarmed eleven mines during the attack.
His team attacked with such ferocity and speed that the Germans could not determine the size of the force they were defending against.
When they were finished, Barter and his men had captured three German officers and another 102 soldiers. In the process, they had seized 500 yards of German trenches. At a time when soldiers were dying for every yard gained, Barter was miraculously uninjured.
Barter was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on July 12, 1915. When he returned home to Cardiff, he was greeted by throngs of fans cheering their hometown hero. It was here he received his first injury during the war as a box of chocolates thrown from the crowd caught him in the face and blackened his eye.
He continued to serve during the war, chiefly in the British Indian Army, and was promoted to Captain. The remainder of his time in service was more in line with Barter’s personality as the modest man served humbly and with out further heroics.
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He lived his life after service the same way and died in relative anonymity in 1952. His Victoria Cross is on display at the Museum of the Royal Welch Fusiliers.