RFA West Lancs Bdes
680871 PTE. F. SUMNER. R.F.A.
Frank Sumner was born in Farington in April 1886 and baptised at Farington St Paul’s on 28 April. His father was James Sumner (b. 1852 in Penwortham), an overlooker in a cotton mill. His mother was Margaret Denney (b. 1853 in Warton). James and Margaret were married in 1870 and they had 9 (surviving) children: Thomas (b. 1873), William (b. 1877), Hannah (b. 1879), Agnes (b. 1880), John (b. 1881), James (b. 1882), then Frank and finally Margaret (b. 1892). James died in 1895 leaving Margaret to bring up the large family. In 1901, she still had six of her children living with her, though by this time all but one were of working age. In 1906, Frank married Mary Ellen Bradshaw (b. 1888 in Bamber Bridge) and in 1911 the couple were living at 344 Station Road though they later moved to 8 Havelock Terrace. They had had a child but s/he had not survived. Both of them were working as cotton weavers.
Frank enlisted with the other Briggers in the Royal Field Artillery in May 1915. He was in “C” Battery of 286 Brigade. In 1917, the brigade had served first in the defence of Armentières and then moved to Flanders where they fought in the final stages of the Battle of Passchendaele. In the winter they moved back to Armentières and they were here when the Germans launched the second phase of their Spring Offensive – Operation Georgette – on 9 April 1918.
286 Brigade’s war diarist records:
9 April 1918, at 4.15am an intense bombardment of hostile gas shell commenced on the whole of the Corps front. Our batteries, which were standing to, to support a raid by the 121 Infantry Bde, were immediately ordered to open counter-preparation fire. The gas shell bombardment lasted until about 9am when the enemy placed an intense barrage on the front line system. The enemy broke through the British line on the Right of the 4th Divisional front, and turning to his right outflanked our Batteries. The guns of B and C Batteries and two howitzers of D/286 were captured. A/286 were able to withdraw their six guns and D/286 four howitzers, after engaging the enemy up to within 300 yards of the position. The Brigade withdrew and took up position on the N side of the river LYS near LE POINT MORTIER, where batteries engaged the enemy with harrassing fire. When a battalion of enemy infantry were reported to be in CROIX DU BAC a further withdrawal was made to LE VERRIER. 7 Other Ranks killed. 3 Officers and 26 OR wounded. 3 Officers and 22 OR missing.
By 8pm the Division Command diarist conveys some of the confusion of the day: later information has shown that our batteries south of the Lys were attacked in their original positions by infantry advancing from their right flank and were under machine gun fire both before and after withdrawal which was carried out under great difficulty. In some cases the enemy attacked from the right rear. C/286 had all teams destroyed by m-g fire as they were endeavouring to limber up. It was very difficult throughout the day to ascertain the general situation either of the enemy or of our own line owing to the fog, the enclosed nature of the country and its features. It was in consequence very difficult to put down any effective barrage before the enemy was close up to the guns. In cases where enemy appeared in front no difficulty was experienced in keeping them off by firing over open sights.
Frank Sumner was killed during this attack. He was 31 years old. The Germans captured Armentières that day and advanced towards Estaires where they were briefly halted. They also re-took all the territory taken during the Battle of Passchendaele the previous autumn. However, they did not take Ypres and they failed to break through the British line. On 29 April, the German High Command called off the offensive.
Service Number: 680871
Date of Death: 09/04/1918
Aged: 31 (CWGC says 30)
Regiment/Service: Royal Field Artillery, "C" Bty. 286th Bde.
Cemetery/memorial reference: III. D. 20.
Cemetery: RATION FARM MILITARY CEMETERY, LA CHAPELLE-D'ARMENTIERES
Additional Information: Husband of Mary Ellen Sumner, of 8 Havelock Terrace, Bamber Bridge, Lancs.
There are several other Sumners on St Saviour’s Roll of Honour. One is Frank’s brother John, who served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was 131635 Pte. J Sumner, RAMC. He lived at 392 Station Road, Bamber Bridge and he enlisted on 11 December 1915. He remained in army reserve until July 1917 when he was called up. He then served at home until September 1918, when he was sent to France where he joined 24 General Hospital at Étaples. He remained in France from 30 September 1918 to 2 July 1919. He was demobilised on 30 July 1919.
Their brother James may be one of the other ‘J Sumners’ on the Roll of Honour.
One of the other ‘J Sumners’ is 680838 Dvr James Sumner MM & Bar, who was Frank’s nephew. He was born on 14 July 1898 at Lostock Fold and baptised at St Saviour’s on 14 September. His father was Thomas Sumner (b. 1873 in Farington), a cotton weaver. His mother was Agnes Osbaldeston (b. 1874 in Penwortham). Thomas and Agnes were married in 1896 and had 8 children – James was their second child. James enlisted (still only 17) with the other Briggers in May 1915 and was posted to “C” Battery of 286 Brigade. He landed in France in February 1917 and was first engaged in the defence of Armentières and then in the Second Battle of Passchendaele. The announcement in the London Gazette of James’ first Military Medal was made in February 1918, indicating he won the medal for bravery at Passchendaele. The second medal (bar) was announced in October 1918, indicating it was awarded for bravery during the Battle of the Lys in April that year – the battle in which his uncle Frank had been killed. (LG 23.2.18 p2431, +bar LG 4.10.18 p11842). James was demobbed in 1919 and he returned to Bamber Bridge where in 1920 he married Nanny Wright Sumner (b. 1894 in Fleetwood). They had 6 children. James died in 1951 in a sad accident – he had borrowed a neighbour’s ladder to fix the guttering of the house where he was lodging. The ladder was rotten and on his way down it broke and James died of head injuries.
St Saviour’s Roll of Honour also has a V A Sumner, who is presumably Vance Aubron Sumner, who was James’ cousin, but I have found no military records for him.