This blog post has been contributed by Archives Assistant, Claire Jones.
The Express and Star donated this letter to us – signed Frank and dated October 1915. The challenge was set to find out Who Was Frank?
My starting point was Frank’s references to the “Noah’s Ark Bedworths” and Darlaston and used Hitchmough’s Black Country Pubs to try and identify the pub. In 1911, Samuel Bedworth, Publican, and his family lived at the Noah’s Ark, Pinfold Street and a Frank Jeavons was their lodger.
Frank, an Iron Moulder, had been born in Wednesbury in 1882, being christened Francis Berkeley at St James’ Church. In 1901 the family – father Alfred, mother Sarah and three sisters (Mabel, Kate J and Annie) – lived at Dangerfield Lane. Frank and his father were both General Labourers.
While Frank was at the Noah’s Ark in 1911, his parents and two sisters were living in Great Western Passage, Cannock Road, Wolverhampton. Alfred was an Engine Fitter’s Labourer. Another sister, Blanche Evelyn (the Evelyn of the letter) was not with them but was a domestic Servant in North Street, Wolverhampton in 1911. She married Sydney Poade in the town in 1916.
Frank enlisted with the Highland Light Infantry at Darlaston on 1 June 1915 (his qualifying date for the 1915 Star) and gave his address as Wolverhampton. His sister Mabel married William Pritchard in 1915 (presumably the May and Bill from the letter) and their 1939 address was still Great Western Passage, as was Blanche Evelyn’s. I have been unable to trace Kate after the 1901 census nor identify who Jesse may be. Jesse may have been a work colleague, given the reference to the “another parcel from the works” but may also have been a relative, as Sarah is asked to pass on the message. Frank’s father died in 1933 and his mother in 1936. Sarah was his next of kin, listed on his Register of Soldier Effects, which denotes four payments to her between his death and June 1919.
Frank’s “old pal” Ben Cooper had enlisted as 18152 of the 1st Battalion, Highland Light Infantry and sailed for France on 8 June 1915. He seems to have survived the war as he was awarded, as a Lance-Serjeant, the Medaille Militaire, according to the London Gazette of 7 June 1919.
Frank appears to have only served with the 1st Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry. At the time of writing the letter, in October 1915, the regiment, as part of the 3 Indian (Lahore) Division had been involved in the Battle of Loos (25 September – 25 October 1915). This was the first large scale British action, although they were supporting the French, and is noteworthy as the first time the British used poison gas.
Frank died of wounds, in Mesopotamia (Iraq), on 16 March 1916. His battalion had moved there in December 1915 and was involved in the attempts to free the garrison at Kut-al-Amara, which was under siege. Other regiments involved in these actions, as part of the 51st Brigade, included the 14th Sikhs the the 2nd Rajputs and 1st/10th Gurkhas. At the time of Frank’s death, there had been four attempts to free the garrison and he could have been wounded in any but it is tempting to believe he was injured in the Attack on the Dujaila Redoubt 7-9 March 1916. The siege eventually ended in April 1916 when 13,000 British and Indian soldiers of the garrison surrendered to the Turkish (Ottoman) Army.
He is buried at the Amara Cemetery in Iraq and is also commemorated on the Wolverhampton Roll of Honour.
Transcript of the letter in full:
30 October 1915
Dear Mother just a line hoping they find all of you in the best of health as it leaves me and my pal Ben Cooper no doubt you have read about the success there as [sic] been out here but i am sorry to say a lot of the boys from Darlaston who listed about the same time I did in the HLI have been killed or wounded but it is to be expected as you cannot get through without having some loss but the germans losses have been far greater than ours i think the hard weather as set in as we have had some terrible weather this last few days and we have known about it we have been in some trenches what as [sic] had no dugouts in so there was no chance to get out of it only having a waterproof sheet over us its bad enough now i dont know how the winter will be we shall know about it then I hope Annie as got quite well from her illness and Father is keeping at work and going on alright i expect May and Bill are going on alright and Evelyn doing well at her place tell jess i hope he is doing well i have another parcel from the work it come yesterday i was surprised so soon after the other it is only three weeks since they sent the other but i dare say it’s the chaps from the Noahs Ark Bedworths sending 4/- to the works for me i wish it was over we are all fed up with it I can tell you but it cannot last for ever as they are having some nasty knocks well that what the papers say ant [sic] it it [sic] seems to be good new all round i think this is all this all time till i write again so i close now with best love and good wishes to all of you