Frank Joseph Andrew Allery
Rank: Private Regiment: East Surrey Regimental No. 19903
I weep for my great grandparents whose lives were touched by loss and sorrow in the Allery family during 1914-1918. Four brave sons enlisted in WW1, three returned and one did not. Sadly, no family letters from the front have been archived from that era, but their stories of war time are etched on the hearts of their family and descendants.
The exploits of my Great Uncles and the early days of WW1 had an enormous impact on my family. Cecil Henry Allery, my Dad, would listen to stories and news from the Western Front during 1915 and these persuaded him to enlist as a young Boy Artificer in 1917.
Four brothers, Frank, Edward, Ernest and Henry Allery, enlisted for war duties as Riflemen in 1914. They were excited about the prospect of adventure and reacted without hesitation to the call to arms.
Edward St Swithen served in the 298th Reserve Labour company. Henry John served as a private in the Labour Corps and was killed in action in 1918 – his grave is located amongst the thousands who gave their lives on Flanders fields. Ernest Alexander saw action at the Western Front and was awarded the British Victory Medal and the Star.
Private Frank J A Allery, had enlisted at Camberwell, London in 1915, and saw action in the Battles of the Somme, Passchendaele, Cambrai and Epehy, in France, in 1917-1918.
It is his war story that has impacted our family lives.
Frank Allery lived from 13 October 1888 – January 1976.
They say that a life is lived in the ‘dash’. What happened to him between 1914-1920?
The British Army WWI Pension Records 1914-1920 shows that at the time of his enlistment on the 7th March 1915, Frank Allery was 27 years of age with a declared occupation of Mantle Presser. [pressing clothes in the garment industry] Frank worked at Allery & Sons, Tailors of Oxford Street, owned by his father Samuel John Allery.
Frank stood just 5 feet and 2.5 inches tall and was of fair complexion, according to his medical records listed in the Pension Records. He was unmarried with no dependents and lived with his parents and siblings at 196 Commercial Road, Peckham - according to the 1911 Census. He had received all his inoculations as an infant and he was required to wear glasses as his vision was slightly impaired. He received further inoculations in March and April 1915 and was deemed medically fit for duties.
Frank joined the 13th Battalion of infantrymen - posted to the front and fought in the Battles of the Somme. It was the job of the 13th to break through enemy lines which were heavily fortified with barbed wire.
The Forces War Gazette traces their journey from the Somme to Cambrai.
As a private in a company, led by officers not much older than himself, and commanded by Generals he never saw, Frank realized that he was there to carry out orders. Life at the front was a bitter and hazardous experience and the daily conditions were abominable. Trench life was the worst a soldier could endure under heavy gunfire from the enemy. The mud, rain, cold and the tremendous assault on his ears from the shelling, tested his endurance.
Commanding officers were charged with keeping a diary of all pertinent events every day during the Battles, and for the most part they consisted of the minutiae of everyday life, in times of calm and those of disaster. The diaries of the Commanders revealed that the British were not at all well prepared for trench warfare.
Historical accounts of the Battle of Cambrai, November 1917, where Frank was stationed, uncovers a story about its importance and the futility of war.
This theatre of war was every bit as bloody as that of Passchendaele, just 60 kilometres away. It is also a tale of great stupidity and stubborn intolerance on the part of the generals.
Great War by Les Carlyon, 2006, MacMillan,
Lieutenant-Colonel John Fuller requested the use of a Massed Tank attacks on the German barbed wire defenses strung across the fields outside the old textile town of Cambrai. Initially this was not received favourably by General Haig - stationed at Boulogne on the coast. Haig, a belligerent man, was well versed in Cavalry action and was not in favour of the attack by tanks. Brigadier-General Hughe Elles and General Julian Byng, were in favour, and expanded the scheme to emphasise breakthroughs of cavalry galloping through the gap opened by the tanks. General Haig was then excited and ordered Byng to start planning the attack on 20 November 1917, deploying 474 of the Mark IV tanks under his command.
Cambrai was to be a surprise attack for the Germans, and it was. Within the first 90 minutes the Hindenburg Line was captured and hundreds, and later, thousands of Germans trudged into captivity. Unfortunately, due to miscommunications and further bungling by the generals, no British support troops were deployed to the town of Cambrai in time, and the German Army took the advantage. A small error of judgement (insufficient water supply for the horses of the cavalry) and the British cavalry were recalled. So many lives wasted in this war due to poor management by the generals. The fate of the 13th Battalion was sealed – and Frank was among the wounded in the 4000 casualties.
Back home in London, news of the initial victory at Cambrai was celebrated with the ringing of the bells at St Paul’s Cathedral. It was the first time the bells had tolled out a victory. Some days later, when the real story of the Battle of Cambrai emerged, and the casualty lists rose to 45,000, families of the soldiers at the front became confused and angry.
Families like the Allerys, would have been fearful for their son’s welfare. News from the troops in Cambrai were spasmodic at best and several days behind. Messages were often obscured by heavy censorship – and an inaccurate picture of trench war was received back home.
The process of withdrawal of troops from Cambrai was confused and mismanaged and the adjutants were constantly seeking clarification from their superiors. These abound in hastily scribbled messages recorded in the War Diaries.
What happened to frank between November 1917 and September 1918?
The British Army WW1 Pension Records 1914-1920 reveal that part of his story.
Private Frank J A Allery was moved to the 8th Battalion in June 1918 and was stationed at Ronnsoy on the day of the Battle of Epehy. This battle was an Allied attack on the German Hindenburg line, on 18-19 September 1918.
Sometime during that bloody battle, Frank was wounded by a gunshot to the left thigh whilst under heavy fire near Cambrai, on the 18th September 1918.
“On this day in 1918, near the French village of Epehy, the British 4th Army, commanded by Sir Henry Rawlinson, attacks German forward outposts in front of the Hindenburg Line, Germany’s last line of defense on the Western Front during World War I.”
The Germans referred to this part of the line as the Siegfried Line, and it was memorialized in a war time song by Arthur Askey in 1939.
WE'RE GONNA HANG OUT THE WASHING ON THE SIEGFRIED LINE
War Diaries and Gazetted notices claimed this day as a great victory. “The British-led assault went ahead on the morning of September 18, 1918, with a creeping artillery barrage from approximately 1,500 guns, as well as 300 machine guns. Although the Germans held steady on both flanks, they were soundly defeated in the center by the Allied advance, led by two Australian divisions under General John Monash.”
Frank was evacuated by ship to England on 20 September 1918. His physical injuries were severe, BUT he endured, and after spending time in hospital, he was healed.
Letters from the Generals were sent to families to notify of their wounded son’s return to England and admittance to a Dispersal Hospital. Frank was sent to the Western General Hospital in Manchester. He spent several months recovering from his wounds and only had infrequent family visits during that time. Frank’s Pension records reveal that his doctors declared him fit to return home and recommended a pension to support him during convalescence. This final discharge and demobilization came on 20 February 1919.
Only then could he return home to 196 Commercial Road, Peckham.
In 1920 Frank was awarded a Military Medal for Bravery in the Field, the equivalent of the Military Cross awarded to commissioned officers.
During the late part of the First World War the Army Medal Office began a system of making out an index card for everyone. This was done to create a record of every person's collective entitlement to campaign medals and gallantry medals.
Frank married his sweetheart, Mabel Constance Bregenzer, in January 1921.
By the end of March 1921, Frank’s medical pension ended. He was now fit to return to work and start a new life.