Reeve, Frank Basham. Died 21st Mar 1918

Frank Basham REEVE was born in early 1888 in Rugby, and baptised on 31 March 1888 at St. Andrew’s church, Rugby.  He was the son of William (b.c 1848) and Caroline née Ince (b.c.1847) Reeve who had been born in Frankton, Warwickshire and in Essex respectively.  They had married in 1871, and their first child was born in Ryton on Dunsmore.

In 1891 the family was living at 33 Arnold Road, Frank was three years old and had six older and one younger sibling; his father was a baker.  By 1901, the family had moved to 158 Cambridge Street, Rugby, and by 1911 the family had moved again to 14 Cambridge Street, Rugby; Frank’s parents had now been married 40 years.  Frank was 23 and a ‘General Labourer’ at British Thompson Houston (BTH) in Rugby, where his elder sister also worked, in the ‘Lamp Dept.’.

It is uncertain exactly when he enlisted, but his name is included in a list of BTH employees who had joined up which was published in the Rugby Advertiser on 5 September 1914.

‘BTH – FROM THE WORKS. – This is an additional list of men who have left to join the Colours from August 27th up to and including September 2nd: … Reeve,…[1]

He thus enlisted in Rugby between 27 August and 2 September 1914, as a Private No.11873, in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry [Ox and Bucks].  His initial Battalion is not definitely known, but his Medal Card has a reference to the 6th Battalion as did his identity discs.  He would later be promoted to Lance Corporal.  His CWGC entry states that he was later in the 2nd/4th Battalion of the Ox and Bucks.

Frank’s Medal Card shows that he went to France on 22 July 1915, which would suggest that he was indeed with the 6th Battalion Ox and Bucks, as they landed in Boulogne on that date.

6th (Service) Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry was formed at Oxford in September 1914 as part of the Second New Army (K2).  After some initial training with very little equipment, they moved to Deepcut, near Camberley and then to Aldershot to join the 60th Brigade of the 20th Division.  In March 1915 they moved to Larkhill, Salisbury Plain.  On 22 July 1915 they mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne, and after trench familiarisation and training engaged in various actions on the Western front including in 1916: the Battle of Mount Sorrel, the Battle of Delville Wood, the Battle of Guillemont, the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, the Battle of Morval, and the Battle of Le Transloy.  In 1917: the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, the Battle of Langemarck, the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge, the Battle of Polygon Wood, and the Cambrai Operations.

On 15 February 1918 the Army reorganised and Brigades were reduced from four to three Battalions.  The 6th Battalion Ox and Bucks was disbanded at La Clytte and the remaining personnel transferred to the 2/4th and 5th Battalions, and the 14th Entrenching Battalion.  It seems most likely that this was when Frank joined the 2nd/ 4th Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

The 2nd/4th (Service) Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry had landed in France much later than the 6th Battalion, on 24 May 1916, and had been involved in many of the actions in France and Flanders including in 1916: the Attack at Fromelles (the unsuccessful diversionary tactic during the Battle of the Somme), and in 1917: the Operations on the Ancre, the German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line, the Battle of Langemark, and the German counter attacks.

Soon after Frank transferred to the 2/4th Ox and Bucks in 1918, he would have been involved in the opening of the Battle of St Quentin, when, on 21 March 1918, the Germans launched a major offensive, Operation Michael, against the British Fifth Army, and the right wing of the British Third Army.  The artillery bombardment began at 4.40am on 21 March 1918, and hit targets over an area of 150 square miles, the biggest barrage of the entire war.  Over 1,100,000 shells were fired in five hours.

The action on that first day, 21 March 1918 has already been described in some detail (see Operation Michael or consult other references.[2]).

An outline of the actions of the 2nd/4th Battalion at that date are included in the Battalion history.[3]

On the night of 18/19 March the Battalion went into the front line.  C Company was on the right, in front of Fayet; B Company, under the command of Wallington, was on the left, just south of Gricourt.  A went to Fayet itself and D Company, commanded in Robinson’s absence by Rowbotham, provided the garrison of Enghien Redoubt, which was a quarry near Selency Château; Battalion Headquarters also were at this redoubt.  During the night of March 20 a raid on the Battalion’s right was carried out near Cepy Farm by the 182nd Brigade.  It was successful.  German prisoners from three divisions corroborated our suspicion that the great enemy offensive was about to be launched.  From headquarters to headquarters throbbed the order to man battle stations.  Ere dawn was due to lighten the sky a dense mist shrouded everything and added a fresh factor to the suspense.

Early on March 21, only a short time after the Colonel had returned from visiting the front line posts, the ground shook to a mighty bombardment.  At Amiens windows rattled in their frames. Trench mortars of all calibres and field guns, brought to closest range in the mist and darkness, began to pound a pathway through our wire.  Back in artillery dug-outs the light of matches showed the time; it was 4.50 a.m. The hour had struck.  Our guns, whose programme in reply was the fruit of two months’ preparation, made a peculiar echo as their shells crackled through the mist. Some ‘silent’ guns fired for the first time.

On all headquarters, roads, redoubts, and observation posts the enemy’s howitzer shells were falling with descending swoop, and battery positions were drenched with gas.

In the back area the fire of long-range guns was brought with uncanny accuracy to bear against our rest billets, transport lines, and dumps.  Cross-roads, bridges, and all vital spots in our communications, though never previously shelled, were receiving direct hits within a short time of the opening of the bombardment.  The Berks had casualties at Ugny.  Some English heavy batteries, recent arrivals on the front and seemingly undiscovered by the enemy, were now knocked out almost as soon as they had opened fire.  The Artillery level crossing was hit by an early shell which blocked the road there with a huge crater.  Never in the war had the Germans flung their shells so far or furiously as now.

By daylight all front line wire had been destroyed, and our trenches everywhere were much damaged.  The mist hung thick, but the Germans did not yet attack.  About 9.30 a.m. the barrage was felt to lift westwards from Fayet and the fitful clatter of Lewis guns, firing in short bursts with sometimes a long one exhausting a ‘drum’, was heard.  In the front line showers of stick bombs announced the enemy’s presence.  Everywhere it seemed that quick-moving bodies in grey uniforms were closing in from either flank and were behind.  In the mist our posts were soon over-run.  Few of our men were left to rally at the ‘keeps’.  A messenger to A Company’s platoons, which had been stationed in support at the famous ‘Sunken Road’, found that place filled with Germans.  Before noon the enemy had passed Fayet and his patrols had reached Selency and the Cottages.

At Enghien Redoubt Battalion Headquarters had received no news of the attack having begun; the dense mist limited the view to fifty yards.  The earliest intimation received by Colonel Wetherall of what was taking place was enemy rifle and machine-gun fire sweeping the parapet.  At one corner of the redoubt some of the enemy broke in but were driven out by D Company with the bayonet.  Outside Headquarters the first three men to put their heads over were killed by Germans, who had crept close along the sunken road which leads from Favet to Selency Château.  The rifles and machine guns of the garrison opened up and gained superiority.  The defence, destined to last for many hours, of Enghien Redoubt proved an important check to the enemy’s advance and helped to save many of our guns.

At 12 noon, after several patrols had failed to find out whether the enemy had captured Holnon, the Colonel himself went out to see all that was happening.  He did not return, and shortly afterwards Headquarters were surrounded by the enemy, who had made ground on either flank.  Nevertheless till 4.30 p.m. Cunningham, the officer left in command, held out most manfully.  Of all the companies, Jones and less than fifty men had escaped capture.  They reached the ‘Battle Line’ of trenches east of Holnon Wood, and there joined the Gloucesters, who had not yet been engaged in the fighting.  The enemy, having captured Maissemy, Fayet, and Holnon, paused to reorganise as evening fell.

Towards evening on the 21st the Berks, who were in reserve when the attack started, were sent to counter-attack against Maissemy, which had been lost by the division on our left.  Near the windmill, which stands on the high ground west of the village, Dimmer, the Berks V.C. Colonel, was killed leading his men on horseback.  This local attempt to stem the German onslaught proved of no avail.  At 10.30 a.m. on March 22 the enemy, whose movements were again covered by mist, pressed the attack against the Battle Line.  Almost before the Gloucesters knew they were attacked in front, they found themselves beset in flanks and rear.

At noon the enemy from its north side had penetrated Holnon Wood.  Gloucesters and Oxfords fell back to join the garrison of the Beauvoir Line, all parts of which were heavily engaged by evening.  A gallant resistance, in which the Gloucesters under Colonel Lawson were specially distinguished, was made by the 184th Infantry Brigade.  The General encouraged the defence in person.  But the line was too weakly manned long to withstand the enemy; though parts of it held till after 8 p.m. on March 22, before midnight the whole of this last Army Line had been lost.  The enemy had ‘broken through’.

The Battalion Diary[4] also provides a briefer summary of the actions on 21 March 1918.

March 2l – Our positions were subjected to a severe enemy bombardment commencing at 4.30 a.m., gas shells being freely used on our back areas and keeps.  At 9 a.m., under a heavy smoke barrage, a strong hostile attack was launched, penetrating the Forward Zone and surrounding Enghien Redoubt.  The garrison of the latter, D Company and Battalion H.Q., held out till 4 p.m., at which time, owing to casualties, they attempted to fight their way out.  The remainder of the Battalion (Captain G. K. Rose says they were less than 50 men.) attached themselves to 2/5th Glosters.  Casualties: Killed, 5 other ranks; Missing, believed killed, Lieut. G. E. Bassett, 2nd Lieuts. R. G. H. Gough, W. H. Flory, C. C. Hall;  Wounded and Missing, 2nd Lieut. E. Little and 31 men; Wounded, 32 men;  Missing, Captain K. E. Brown, M.C., Captain C. E. P. Foreshew, M.C., Captain F. T. Cahill (M.O.R.C.U.S.A.), 2nd Lieuts. R. Ostler, J. Pett, C. H. Wallington, M.C., V. C. Gray, J. C. Cunningham, J. W. Mallett, F. A. Naylor, G. Shelley, G. V. Rowbotham, M.C., C. H. Leach, P. J. Sims, and 494 other ranks.  Total: 19 officers and 562 other ranks.  Later statistics show that of these 525 missing men, 407 were made prisoners, 54 of them being wounded.  The number of killed must therefore have been upwards of 120 men.

At some time on 21 March 1918, Frank Reeve was one of those ‘upward of 120 men’ ‘Killed in Action’.

Frank Reeve was originally buried, or his body was later found, probably near to where he fell at Map Reference ‘62B S. 5. a 0 7’, which was in Fayet, about two kilometres north-west of St. Quentin.  It was some way forward of the Enghien Redoubt which features in the above accounts of the defence of the area.  As there were another nine soldiers found at the same map reference this was probably a temporary battlefield graveyard or shell crater where they had been buried.  There was a cross marking one grave which tends to confirm this.

In 1920, Frank’s body was recovered and ‘concentrated’ [i.e. exhumed and re-buried].  He was identified by his identity disk which also gave his earlier 6th Battalion.  The burial record was later amended to read 2nd/4th Battalion.  He is now buried in Chapelle British Cemetery, Holnon in grave ref:  II. I. 18.    Holnon is a village six kilometres west of St Quentin and south of the main road to Vermand and Amiens. … Chapelle British Cemetery, named from a wayside shrine, was made after the Armistice, by the concentration of graves of 1917-18 from the battlefields West of St. Quentin.

Frank Reeve was awarded the Victory and British medals and although his Medal Card includes the 1914-1915 Star, this appears to have been deleted – possibly it had not yet been issued – or there was confusion caused by his change of BattalionHe is remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate; on the BTH War Memorial, as Frank Reeves;[5] and on the list of BTH Employees ‘Who Served in the War 1914 – 1918’ – as F B Reeves.[6]

Frank’s father, William, predeceased him in 1914.  His mother, Caroline lived until she was aged 93, in 1940.  After the war she had lived at 168, Murray Road, Rugby.

After Frank’s death, the 2nd/4th Battalion Ox and Bucks were in action at the Somme Crossings, the Battle of Estaires, the Battle of Hazebrouck, and  the Battle of Bethune.  The allies held the advance which had badly weakened the Germans and overextended their supply lines, and then from August 1918 fought back.  The 2/4th Battalion fought in the Battle of the Selle, and the Battle of Valenciennes, and ended the war S.E. of Valenciennes, France.

One of Frank’s elder brothers, Arthur Kimbell Reeve, an old boy of St. Matthew’s School,[7] also died in WWI and is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate.  Born in about 1876, he served in the 13th Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales’s Regiment (The Royal Berkshires).  He died on 4 March 1917, in Queen Alexandra Hospital, Dunkirk of spotted fever.  His life is recorded on ‘Rugby Remembers’ for 4 March 1917,[8] and further details of Arthur’s life were also provided in the Rugby Advertiser for 17 March 1917 are included in another article in ‘Rugby Remembers’.[9]

Arthur’s relatives placed two ‘In Memoriam’ notices in the Rugby Advertiser on the first anniversary of his death.[10]

REEVE.—In loving memory of Pte. ARTHUR KIMBELL REEVE, Royal Berkshire Regiment, who died in Queen Alexandra Hospital, Dunkirk, France, on March 4th, 1917.
“ Oh ! just to clasp your hand once more, Just to hear your voice again.
Here life to me without you Is nought but grief and pain.
Could I have raised your dying head, Or heard your last farewell,
The grief would not have been so hard For me who loves you well.”
—Sadly missed by his sorrowing Wife & Daughters.

REEVE.—In loving memory of my dear son, Pte. ARTHUR KIMBELL REEVE, who died in France on March 4th, 1917.
“ One year has passed since that sad day, When one we loved was called away.
God took him home, it was His will, But in our hearts he liveth still.”
—Deeply mourned by his sorrowing Mother, Brothers and Sisters.

 

 

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

– – – – – –

 

This article on Frank B REEVE was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the Rugby Family History Group, December 2017.

[1]      https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/5th-sep-1914-rugbys-magnificent-response/

[2]      Murland, Jerry, Retreat and Rearguard Somme 1918 – the Fifth Army Retreat, Pen and Sword Books Ltd, 2014, ISBN: 978 1 78159 2670, p.49.

[3]      Rose, G. L., The story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, available at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20395/20395-h/20395-h.htm#img185.  Chapter XIII – The Great German Attack of March 21.

[4]      Abstracted by http://www.lightbobs.com/24-tf-bn-oxf–bucks-li-1917-1918.html.

[5]      From a list of names on the BTH War Memorial when it was unveiled.  The list was published in the Rugby Advertiser, 4 November 1921.  See https://www.rugbyfhg.co.uk/bth-war-memorial.

[6]      https://www.rugbyfhg.co.uk/bth-employees-who-served-war-1914-1918-m-y.

[7]      https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/7th-apr-1917-death-of-lieut-g-redmayne/

[8]      https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2017/03/04/reeve-arthur-kimbell-died-4th-mar-1917/.

[9]      https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/17th-mar-1917-high-french-honour-for-miss-ivens/

[10]     Rugby Advertiser, 9 March 1918.  Also see Rugby Remembers, 10 March 1918.

[11]     https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/17th-mar-1917-high-french-honour-for-miss-ivens/

[12]     https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/5th-sep-1914-rugbys-magnificent-response/

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s