Friday, November 11, 2011

Fred & Hans: A 95-year Mystery from the "Great War"

"Hans Bach, from his sincere friend, Fred. J. Livingstone, Corporal R. A. M. C., Netley Hospital England.  Mar. 25th 1915."

Nearly 15 years ago, when I was poking around in a curiosity shop in Cologne, Germany, I found this picture.  The young man's beauty first caught my eye, in his simple military uniform, and a look on his face that I cannot describe--lips slightly parted, head slightly tilted, eyes open to the world, light on one side of his face and darkness on the other, and fully relaxed, almost in an ecstatic, somewhat removed reverie.  I have wondered all of these years who this beautiful young man is, and what became of him during or after the war to end all wars.

More than that, I wondered how this picture of an English soldier made it into the hands of someone who, by all accounts, looks to have been on the side of the enemy.  Who was Hans Bach?  Was he a young student that Fred befriended before the hostilities broke out that perhaps put them on opposite sides of the fence of mortality?

Were they friends, brothers, lovers, star-crossed, brought together by a fate that so soon turned as would put them in each others' harm's way?

A little digging on the internet today puts Laffutte, the photographer, at 184 Western Road in Brighton & Hove, about 60 miles from Netley, where Fred was serving in the great hospital there with the Royal Army Medical Corps, in which he was a Corporal in 1915.

Which makes me wonder...was Hans an enemy soldier that Fred met, and perhaps helped nurse back to health, while he was a patient at Netley Hospital, having been wounded in the war?

The Royal Victoria Military Hospital at Netley was opened under Queen Victoria's rule in 1863, after 7 years of construction, being then the largest military hospital in the world.  During WW1, it was the site of over 50,000 patients, some of whom were perhaps German prisoners of war as was the case 25 years later during WW2, although the hospital also treated American soldiers in vast numbers.

We will likely never know what the relationship was between Fred and Hans, what became of them (despite searching British military records for someone whose name and age would have matched Fred's), or whether they met at the hospital or before.

But what is certain is that they lived, that they served, that they had a fondness of some kind for each other, and that they found themselves as a part of one of the bloodiest, yet most hopeful chapters in the history of the human struggle of battle.

In that we may honor their memory, and the memories of millions who served, fought, loved, and died, today, 11.11.11, 93 years after the first Armistice Day.        


  1. Chris, I was looking through your blog, ran across this post again, and did a bit of googling. Silly to think there was any hope of finding anything, since you already searched and since I'm not a genealogical researcher, but by chance I ran across something that MIGHT possibly be referring to the same Frederick Livingstone.

    At first glance, I thought, oh, Royal Flying Corps, not the Medical Corp, wrong man; but then I read the comments on the post and saw this:

    There’s an online copy of a New Zealand newspaper report of his death.
    "Advice has been received of the death of 2nd Lt Frederick J Livingstone of the Royal Flying Corps, in an aeroplane accident at Gainsborough, England, on the 12th January. Lt. Livingstone, who was about 24 years old, was educated at the Boys High School, Christchurch and left for England five years ago, where he entered the Kelham Theological College. At the outbreak of the war he enlisted in the Royal Medical Corps, with which he saw service in Egypt. Subsequently he was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, obtaining his commission towards the end of last year."


    So, is it possible that you could not find his records because he hailed from New Zealand, not England? The time frame seems to fit, and it is within reason that he might have been promoted from Corporal to Second Lieutenant in the space of three years.

    Honestly, I'd like to hope this isn't the same man as in the photo, because I'd rather he survived the war, returned home, and lived to a ripe old age. As we know, though, for far too many young men of that generation, that was not the case.

  2. Nephew of the New Zealand Frederick James Livingstone:

    Found on a search of: "frederick james livingstone" new zealand

  3. Thanks, Karyn! You indeed found the right guy. I came across the same info after I started googling him again after I wrote this. I've corresponded with some folks in Lincolnshire, where he died and is buried, and have tried to track down some living family, but haven't been able to do so. His story was so much more captivating than I would have thought, and I still need to get to writing the follow-up. I wonder if Hans Bach wasn't a classmate of his from Kelham?

  4. hi i have a photo of frederick james livingstone taken while he was in the royal flying corps written across it is livingstone kiled night flying 1918

    1. That's fascinating, and is absolutely the same Frederick James Livingstone. Thanks for writing. I later learned that he was killed in January 1918 while doing flight training at night. If you want to share it, I'd welcome a jpeg at

    2. i can send you a copy of this photo as he was with the 33rd squadron in gainsborough mike

  5. I would appreciate that, Mike. Sorry to take so long getting to your kind comment. Thank you. Chris