FRANKTON John Bernard

JOHN BERNARD FRANKTON 1898 – 1918

45355 Private John Bernard Frankton, 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry died of wounds 12 April 1918 aged 19.  He is buried at Le Grand Beaumart British Cemetery, Steenwerck, Belgium.[1]  He is commemorated on the Staindrop War Memorial in St. Mary’s church, Staindrop.

Family Details

John was born c.1898[2], the son of Thomas and Mary Frankton.  There were at least 5 children:[3]

  • Ethel Meynell bc.1896 at Patrick Brompton, Yorkshire
  • Mary bc.1897 at Etton, Yorkshire
  • John Bernard bc.1898 at Bishopton, County Durham
  • Gladys Maud bc.1900 at Bishopton, County Durham
  • George Arnold bc.1905 at Bishopton, County Durham

In 1901, Thomas Frankton aged 34 was employed as a schoolmaster and organist at Bishopton and his wife, 30 years old Mary, was a schoolmistress.[4]

By 1911, Thomas was employed by Durham County Council as headteacher at Staindrop, County Durham.[5]

October 1916: John was recorded as a “pupil teacher” living at West End, Staindrop.[6]

Military Details

18 October 1916: John Frankton attested aged 17 years 11 months, joined the Reserve Army and was given the regimental number 45355.

17 February 1917: He was mobilized and underwent a medical examination.  He stood 5’2½ and considered fit for service.[7]  He was posted to the 18th Training Battalion.

10 July: He was posted to the 273rd Infantry Battalion at Chelmsford.[8]

1 November: He was posted to 52nd [Graduated] Battalion at Danbury.[9]

5 December: Private J.B. Frankton joined the BEF in France.[10]

9 December 1917: He was posted to 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.  He served with “D” Company.[11]  18/DLI came under the orders of 93rd Brigade, 31st Division.  Others in the brigade were:[12]

  • 15th Bn., West Yorkshire Regiment
  • 16th Bn., West Yorkshire Regiment left February 1918
  • 18th Bn., West Yorkshire Regiment left February 1918
  • 13th Bn., York & Lancaster Regiment joined February 1918
  • 93rd Machine Gun Corps moved to 31 Bn. MGC February 1918
  • 93rd Trench Mortar Battery joined April 1916

Between December 1917 and April 1918, the Division was involved in the following actions:[13]

  • 21 – 23 March: The Battle of St. Quentin
  • 24 – 25 March: The Battle of Bapaume
  • 28 March: The First Battle of Arras

All phases of the First Battles of the Somme 1918.

  • 9 – 11 April: The Battle of Estaires
  • 12 – 15 April: The Battle of Hazebrouck including the Defence of Nieppe Forest

All battles of the Battles of the Lys.

Since Private J.B. Frankton joined 18/DLI in December 1917, it is assumed that he was involved in the above actions.  12 April 1918: Private J.B. Frankton died of wounds

1918: THE GERMAN SPRING OFFENSIVE: AN OVERVIEW

 3 March, Soviet Russia made peace with Germany and her allies by virtue of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.  As a result, Germany could now transfer troops from the Eastern Front to the Western Front.  More importantly, these Divisions included the original elite of the German Army – the Guards, Jagers, Prussians, Swabians and the best of the Bavarians. In all, 192 Divisions could be deployed in the West.  The Allies could field 178 Divisions. [14]  A single division numbered about 19,000 men. [15]  Ludendorff could call upon about 3,650,000 men as opposed to the Allies 3,380,000.  Thus, the Germans now held superiority in numbers.

The German High Command needed victory to be gained before the American Forces arrived in Europe in huge numbers.  America entered the war 6 April 1917 and in the July, Pershing General of the Armies of the United States asked for an army of 3 million men.  The first of her troops arrived in France 26 June 1917.[16] The training and build-up of troops obviously took time but eventually by June 1918, the Americans were receiving about 250,000 men a month in France.  This amounted to 25 divisions in or behind the battle zone and another 55 in the United States ready to join the action.[17]

Elsewhere in the Alliance, the French were able to draw on a new annual class of conscripts after a year of inactivity but the British were worn down by continuous fighting during the summer of 1917 with major offensives at Arras, Messines, Passchendaele and Cambrai.[18]  The strength of the British infantry had fallen from 754,000 in July 1917 to 543,000 in June 1918 producing a manpower crisis.[19]

21 March 1918:  the German Offensive was launched.  There were 5 phases: [20]

  • 21 March – 5 April: Operation Michael, against the British, the Battle of Picardy (otherwise known as the First Battle of the Somme 1918)
  • 9 – 11 April: Operation Georgette, against the British, the Battle of Lys sector near Armentieres
  • 27 April: Operation Blucher-Yorck, against the French sector along Chemin des Dames, the Third Battle of Aisne
  • 9 June: Operation Gneisenau, against the French sector between Noyan and Montdider, the Battle of the Matz
  • 15 – 17 July: Operation Marne-Rheims, the final phase known as the Second Battle of the Marne.

The Germans enjoyed spectacular territorial gains particularly during the initial phases of the offensive.  23 March, the Kaiser declared a “victory holiday” for German schoolchildren.

The cost in manpower was enormous:

  • Between 21 March and 10 April the 3 main assaulting armies had lost 303,450 men – 1/5th of their original strength.
  • The April offensive against the British in Flanders was eventually computed to have cost 120,000 men out of a total of 800,000.[21]

The German High Command calculated that it required 200,000 replacements each month but only 300,000 recruits stood available taking into account the next annual class of 18-year olds.  There were 70,000 convalescents available from hospitals each month but even counting them, the strength of the German Army had fallen from 5.1 million to 4.2 million men in the 6 months of the offensive.  It could not be increased on the estimated scale required. [22]

To add to this dilemma, in June 1918, the first outbreak of “Spanish Flu” laid low nearly 500,000 German soldiers.  This epidemic was to reoccur in the autumn and wreak havoc throughout Europe and the wider world.[23]

Added to this the poor diet of the German troops, battle fatigue, discontentment with the military leadership, social unrest at home and a general realisation that their great effort was beginning to wane, the Allies counter attack in mid-July began to seize the initiative.  Sweeping victories over demoralised German forces eventually led to the resignation of Ludendorff 27 October, the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II 9 November and the signing of the Armistice 11 November 1918. [24]

The Lys Offensive: 9 – 29 April 1918

Ludendorff’s first and biggest offensive had resulted in the greatest advance since the first months of the war but it had failed to achieve any decisive results.  The chief error was that he had concentrated his efforts on the strongest sector held by the British Third Army and the operation was affected by severe transport problems and low morale of undernourished troops.  Casualties were enormous – 240,000 Allied losses, slightly more German casualties.  Unable to make further progress on the Somme, Ludendorff turned to Flanders and the Lys Offensive. [25]

The Battle of Lys, also known as the Fourth Battle of Ypres, was planned as Operation Georgette with the objective of capturing Ypres.  In one of the greatest failures in the military history of Portugal, the Second Portuguese Division, approx. 20,000 men commanded by General Gomes da Costa lost about 300 officers and 7,000 men killed, wounded and prisoners, in the first day of the offensive, resisting the attack of 4 German Divisions of the Sixth German Army commanded by General Ferdinand von Quast. [26]

18/DLI in action[27]

The 31st Division, having been active on the Somme between 21 and 31 March 1918, loosing 26ORs, 18 killed in action or died of wounds on the 28th March,[28] it was sent northwards to the French/Belgian border around the river Lys to meet the German advance.

30 March: Monchy au Bois: 18/DLI was relieved by 2/KOYLI and 11/Borders and over the next few days moved to Frevillers via Bienvillers and Ivergny.  It was expected that they would be out of the line for 10 days for refitting and training but on 9 April, north of Armentieres and Lens, the Portuguese troops came under severe attack.  31 Division was ordered north to assist the defence of the area.

10 April: 18/DLI was bused to Vieux Berquin and by 5.00pm arrived at Outtersteerne.

11 April: evening, 18/DLI & 13/Y&L had assembled along the road near the stream Rau du Leet.  An attack timed for 7.00pm ensued with 18/DLI “C” & “D” Companies in front with “A” & “B” Companies in support.  La Rose Farm and la Becque were taken and Second Lieutenants Long and A.M. Freer were later awarded the M.C. for their leadership.  Private H. Mitchell was awarded the D.C.M. by rushing a troublesome machine gun.  The losses were not heavy but the next morning proved to be much different:

“Soon after daylight on April 12th the enemy could be seen concentrating for a general attack and though the British artillery opened on him with great effect, by 8.00am all 3 battalions were hard pressed…the Eighteen the gave ground slowly, inflicting heavy losses.  D Company on the left were the last to go…The battalion had now lost 270 men and it was not long before the whole brigade were back on the line of the stream, where they came under the fire of the British guns.  Enfilade machine gun fire from the right soon caused a further retirement but a strong point at the cemetery was stoutly held…”[29]

 The German attack continued and the fighting was desperate:

“The commander of D Company with 15 men held on to the Rau du Leet line north west of Maison Blanche, B Company commander with a few of his own men and some West Yorkshires made a stand near the cemetery and succeeded in holding up the enemy advance for a time.”[30]

The battle raged through the 12th and into the 13th and 14th April and it was on the morning of the 15th that the remnants of the 93rd Brigade was relieved.  The 5th Battalion of the Tank Corps replaced the brigade in the line.  A Composite Battalion about 450 strong was formed from survivors of the 18/DLI and West Yorkshires.  Regimental Sergeant Major M.E. Oldridge, Colour Sergeant Major W. Benneworth and Private J. Atkinson were later awarded with the D.C.M.   

Between 9 and 15 April 1918, 18/DLI lost 4 officers and 85 ORs killed in action or died of wounds, 3 officers and 78 ORs on 12 April including Private J.B. Frankton.[31]

Private J.B. Frankton was awarded the British War and Victory medals.[32]

Burial

45355 Private J.B. Frankton is and buried at grave reference II.F.5, Le Grand Beaumart Cemetery, Steenwerck, NW of Armentieres.  His remains were exhumed from a battlefield grave and interred here in January 1920.[33]

Commemoration

45355 Private J.B. Frankton is commemorated on the Staindrop War Memorial in St. Mary’s church, Staindrop and on the family headstone in Staindrop cemetery.

PHOTOGRAPHS

FRANKTON John Bernard Headstone

Family Memorial, Staindrop Cemetery

Staindrop War Memorial

Staindrop War Memorial: Detail

REFERENCES

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index Vol.10a p.104 Sedgefield 1898 Q4

[3] 1901 & 1911 census

[4] 1901 census

[5] 1911 census

[6] Army Form Attestation Form

[7] Medical History

[8] The 273rd Bn. had no regimental affiliation, was a Training Reserve based at Chelmsford

[9] The training unit was part of the 220th Brigade in 73rd Division.

[10] Army Form B.103

[11] Army Form B.121 Company Conduct Sheet

[12] http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/31st-division/

[13] http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/31st-division/

[14] “The Somme” Hart p.421

[15] CWGC

[16] http://www.firstworldwar.net/timeline

[17] Hart p.437

[18] http://www.1914-1918.net/batt22.htm

[19] Hart p.437

[20] Hart p.426 & timeline

[21] Hart p.435

[22] Hart p.439

[23] Hart p.438

[24] http://www.firstworldwar.net/timeline

[25] Western Front Association

[26] wikipedia

[27] “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-18: The Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry” Capt. W. Miles 1920 p.288-293 and “Durham Pals: 18th 19th & 22nd Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry in the Great War” J. Sheen 2007 p.210-216

[28] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[29] Miles p.290 & 291

[30] Miles 292

[31] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[32] Medal Roll card index

[33] CWGC