RFA West Lancs Bdes
681755 SGT. F. THOMAS. R.F.A.
Frank Thomas was born in December 1893 in Oxton, Cheshire, and baptised at Oxton St Saviour on 31 December. His father was Frank Thomas (b. 1855 in Oxton), a building contractor. His mother was Margaret Thomas (Thomas was her maiden name too, b. 1855 in Oxton). Frank and Margaret were married in 1880 and they had 9 children, though six of them died in infancy or early childhood. The three who survived were Annie (b. 1888), Albert (b. 1892) and Frank jnr. In 1911, the family lived at 8A Bidston Road, Birkenhead. Frank was apprenticed to be a plumber, presumably working in his father’s building firm. The family later moved to 13A Christchurh Road, Birkenhead.
Frank presumably served in the Territorials before the War and when he enlisted with the Royal Field Artillery he was first assigned service number 681, which was later changed to 681755. He was posted to “D” Battery of 276 Brigade and he landed with his Division in France on 29 September 1915. At some point, Frank was promoted to Sergeant.
Frank was among the heroic band of gunners in D/276 who fought at Cambrai in November 1917. He survived that battle but was killed the following year in the Battle of the Lys.
From the War Diary
9 April 1918 4.15am Enemy opened heavy H.E. and Gas bombardment on all Battery areas, Headquarters, and Wagon Lines. Batteries opened on “Counter preparation” and later on S.O.S. Hostile infantry reported attacking, and pressing back our Infantry on the Left. 164th Infantry Brigade still holding GIVENCHY. Continuous hostile shelling throughout the day. Enemy infantry at one time reached forward gun of A/276 Battery in GUNNER SIDING, but counter-attacked and driven off.
6.42pm A/276 Bty report all guns destroyed and personnel manning trench in front of position. Ordered to move personnel to Wagon lines with all material that can be salved. D/276 Battery moved forward gun back to main position. Throughout the day information received of enemy concentration. Batteries opened fire on all occasions, and with the exception of local encounters no further attack on a large scale developed on Group Front.
8.00pm Information received that 800 prisoners captured to date.
10 April 1918 7.30am FESTUBERT heavily shelled and enemy attacking in neighbourhood of LOISNE. (The enemy attack continued throughout the day but by) 8.30pm Infantry report enemy attack driven off. All Batteries ceased fire on S.O.S. lines but continued harassing fire at slow rate.
55th Division held the line throughout these days and maintained their position over the following days of the German attack.
Frank was killed in action on 10 April 1918. He was 24 years old.
681834 A/Sgt John Ruscoe (Jack) Brignal of D/276 kept a personal diary during the War which describes Frank’s death. On the day Frank was killed Jack Brignal, who was a Signaller, had been in the near vicinity trying to mend a break in the wire which had been caused by heavy shelling by the Germans. He was recalled to the Battery about 10am. Jack’s words are as follows:
‘Before returning to the Battery just as I came out of the road … Sergeant Frank Thomas walked along, turned off the road onto the field and sat or collapsed on a heap of rubble or manure, I forget which. On going over to him, I found a piece of shell had entered his back at the base of his lungs leaving a gaping hole. All troops carried an emergency field dressing sewn up in a pocket inside the bottom corner of the tunic, to be used as a last resort. Well, to me, this was a last resort. It was impossible to move him, even if I could, so taking my own and his dressing, I did what I could to cover the wound, knowing I could do little for him. The wound was so severe, and toppled him. I would have brought him in as soon as I could. We managed to get him back when the shelling subsided and strangely he was still alive, but not for long. Of all the men we lost, and it was considerable, I felt Sergeant Thomas’ loss more than any other.’
Jack also talked about Sergeant Frank Thomas in another section of his war diary:
‘Naturally, one would expect to find a variety of characters among a collection of men such as we had at the Battery, and there were two in particular that I have always found come to mind when my memory is probed. One was Sergeant Cyril Edward Gourley … The other man, also a Sergeant, was Frank Thomas. The use of his Christian name even now reflects in a sense of my feelings for him. Like Sergeant Gourley, he too was a quietly spoken man, but with a friendly manner and a subtle sense of humour. He was a good disciplinarian who had the respect of his men by virtue of his responsible attitude to his duties and his regard for the safety of his gun crew. It will ever be a matter of regret for me that when he was severely wounded in April 1918, I guided him to a quiet spot away from the German bombardment, but was unable to do anything with the First Aid dressing we both carried in our tunics to save his life, for he died a few hours later, when it had been possible to bring him to a safe place. How dearly I would have liked to have been able to tell his parents about his end, they were said to live in Wallasey, his father being a building contractor’.
Service No: 681755
Date of Death: 10/04/1918
Regiment/Service: Royal Field Artillery, “D” Bty, 276th Bde. Cemetery/memorial reference: V. F. 1
Cemetery/Memorial: LILLERS COMMUNAL CEMETERY
There was further sadness for the family in 1918, as Frank’s father (Frank snr) had died on 1 February 1918.
Frank’s brother Albert enlisted with 1/4Bn Cheshire Regiment on 22 June 1917 but later transferred to the Royal Garrison Artillery and he trained as a signaller. He was 191924 PVT. A. THOMAS. So far as I can make out, he served in anti-aircraft defence on the south coast of England and did not serve abroad. He was demobilised in 1919.