MY FAMILY AT WAR
FRANK JARVIS A valiant Essex boy
Felsted is a typical Essex village near to the county town of Chelmsford. It was the country area in the early 20th century where my maternal great grand mother Lucy Jarvis and her extended family lived and worked as part of the enormous agricultural industry. My grandmother, Winifred Jarvis, was born in 1902 into a large family who lived on Woods Farm, Bannister Green, Felsted, where her father Arthur was the farm bailiff. Arthur had a cousin Robert Jarvis, who was a horseman, and lived at Pond Gate Cottages, Felsted with his sons Albert - born in 1892, and Frank - born in 1896.
At the outbreak of the war in August 1914 Frank was working in domestic service and unlike his brother Albert, he had not joined the territorials. so had not been called up in 1914/15. Unfortunately, Frank’s army service records have not survived so that I have had to rely on other sources of information to construct a picture of his WW1 experiences. His name appears on the Felsted War memorial (Figure 1) so I knew that he had died in the war.
Figure 1. Felsted Village war Memorial (C R Weekes)
My starting point was to look at the Soldiers Died in the Great War database. This told me that he enlisted at Braintree, Essex and at the time of his death in October 1918 he was serving with the Border Regiment. Finding his Medal Index card showed that he was initially in the Essex regiment before transferring to the Borderers. According to Ian Hook of the Essex Regiment Museum, Frank was put into the 3/6 Battalion, Essex Regiment, a training unit, and was sent overseas to a depot in France before being transferred to the 3/5 Border Regiment no 5598. This was confirmed from the Medal Roll of the Border Regiment at Kew (Figure 2) and by Stuart Eastwood the curator of the Border Regiment museum in Carlisle. His database showed that 175 men were transferred from the Essex to the Border Regiment in the late summer of 1916.
Figure 2. Medal Roll Border Regiment (N A KEW)
To find out more about this I sought the assistance of Chris Baker’s Fourteen-eighteen research. This confirmed the above but also added that Frank Jarvis might have volunteered under the Derby Scheme between January and March 1916 or have been conscripted on 2 March 1916 and mobilized on 27th March 1916. Being in the 3/6 Essex Training Battalion he would have done his basic training at Halton Park in Buckinghamshire before being posted with a draft of other Essex men to France on 29 August 1916. However, before embarking for France they appear to have been transferred to the 3/5 Battalion Borderers another home based training unit.
The army bureaucracy was such that as a territorial the only way to be transferred from one regiment to another was firstly to be transferred to another territorial unit. What is unusual about Frank Jarvis is that these paper transfer exercises are recorded on the Border Regiment Medal Roll so that we have the total picture of his army career. Frank and the 175 other Essex men moved from the base depot to the 7th Battalion Borderers on 25 September 1916 and he became Private 27587.
The 7th Battalion Border regiment, part of Kitchener’s New Army, had been in France since July 1915 and was in the 51st Brigade of 17th (Northern) Division. It had been involved in the Somme on July 3rd around Fricourt and in August it had held Delville Wood before being moved to St Amand on 4th September 1916. According to the Regimental history of the Great War by H C. Wylly, when Frank joined the 7th Battalion it was behind the front lines at Ville-sur-Ancre. In November the Battalion was moved back into the front line at Trones Wood. (Figure 3)
Figure 3. Map of the Somme Battlefield (WFA / IWM Maps)
The 7th Battalion War diary WO 95/ 2008 entry for 1st November 1916 says:
‘Relieved the Sherwood Foresters in the front line. Relief was difficult because of darkness, absence of landmarks and the state of communication trenches which were waist deep in mud’
On 2 November, the Battalion attacked the German Zenith trench which was a complete success in the moon light with few casualties. The Battalion was relieved and went back to Montauban village, where it received the commendation of the Commander in Chief, Field Marshall Haig.
‘C in C desires that his congratulations on the well won success may be conveyed to the G O C Division and to the officers and men of the battalions who carried out the operation.’
December 1916 was spent in training and Brigade reserve at Guillemont - including Christmas festivities. The War diary gives no description of how they celebrated Christmas or what they ate but although it must have been very different to a family Christmas in Felsted. I am certain that much was done to help the men forget the war for just one day.
The organizational structure of the British Expeditionary Force was based upon sections, platoons, companies, battalions, divisions, corps and armies. The men mostly associated themselves with their Regimental Battalion, the core unit of the fighting machine which was constantly being revised through wartime experiences. Haig, as C in C, had to manage and manipulate his forces up and down a front line that, as the war progressed, got longer and longer as the B E F took over more ground from the French. Thus it was in the Spring of 1917 that the 17th Division was moved about like a pawn in a giant game of military chess. In March 1917 it began in XIVth Corps of 4th Army, then got moved to IInd Corps of 5th Army before going to XIXth Corps of 3rd Army. At this time the 3rd Army was around Gezaincourt, Southwest of Doullens, training for the Battle of Arras.
The Battle of Arras is not as well known as the Somme or Third Ypres. Yet, in 39 days from 9th April to 17th May, it became the most bitter contest for the infantry Battalions. The result was 159,000 casualties - a daily rate of 4076 - compared with 2923 on the Somme and 2323 at Passchendaele. Arras was only a diversionary battle, agreed reluctantly by Haig to take the enemy’s attention away from a planned French assault in the Champagne. Had Arras only lasted until 14th April it would have been extremely successful with a relatively low casualty rate. However, Haig was forced to carry on into May 1917 with greater casualty rates and long term consequences for the 7th Borderers and Frank Jarvis personally.
The 7th Battalion war diary tells us that they eventually arrived in Arras on 10th April and went into the cellars of the Library Museum. The City was full of B E F troops, many of whom were living in the tunnels under the city that had been dug by the tunneling companies. The War Diary entry for 10/4/1917 says:
‘Battalion at 50 minutes notice to move. Weather still severe. Snow blizzard. The inveterate propensity of the British soldier to light fires and make tea at the slightest opportunity was again emphasized.’
On 11th April 51st Brigade, that had been in the Divisional reserve, moved to Railway Triangle (Figure 4) north of the village of Monchy-le-Preux and occupied dugouts in the railway embankment.
Figure 4. Map of the Arras Battlefield (WFA / IWM Maps)
The Brigade was not used for any of the attacks so on 21st April they moved back into the library cellars for a bath and a rest. The rest was short-lived for on 22nd April they moved into support and then communication trenches and on 23rd the 51st Brigade were in an attack on the North side of the River Scarpe. This heralded the recommencement of the Battle of Arras along the whole front. As said before, Haig had wanted to end that battle after 14th April and to concentrate his forces in Ypres to the North. He was not allowed to do this and the consequence was that the Germans had had ample time to beef up their defences. On St George’s Day 23rd April, 1917 the 7th Borderers found themselves attacking to the east of the Village of Pelves, north of Monchy-le-Preux. (Figure 5)
Figure 5. 17th Division Attack area 23 April 1917 (Colin Fox)
The 7th Battalion war diary provides a detailed explanation of the attack and its objectives.
‘At Zero hour 4.45 am a standing barrage was put down on Bayonet trench. A creeping barrage began 200 yards west of Bayonet trench and moved at a rate of 3 minutes per 100 yards. Both barrages lifted at plus 10 and then crept E at a rate of 4 minutes per 100 yards as far as the Blue line. Two tanks were detailed for the attack on Pelves. Bn advanced at zero hour.’
7th Borderers were attacking Bayonet trench but did not get far as they came under intense machine gun fire from River Trench and from across the other side of the river Scarpe. The survivors had to withdraw back to the assembly trenches from where they had attacked. Many men were caught in shell holes and had to find their way back under cover of darkness. In the early hours of April 24th survivors of 7th Battalion were ordered back to the Railway Triangle. The Battalion had suffered heavily with 19 killed, 186 wounded and 214 missing. Jonathan Nicholls in his excellent book on the Battle of Arras ‘Cheerful Sacrifice’ describes how the 7th Borderers and South Staffords of 17th Division lead the assault up the slopes between the river Scarpe and Monchy-le-Preux.
‘The Colonel of the Border regiment had said to his men “ Bayonets will be fixed for dealing with the enemy at close quarters with cold steel”’
BUT the Border men, mainly miners, dalesmen and farmers from Kendal, Whitehaven and Cockermouth together with the Essex agricultural boys never got anywhere near to the enemy to use their bayonets.
An eye-witness in the 7th Battalion recounts the 23rd April 1917, St George’s Day.
‘It was my first and last action. I was totally terrified. I kept well back from the creeping barrage. You could see shells bursting only 50 Yards in front. The barbed wire was not properly cut. There were paths through the wire and like animals we crowded into the paths. Machine guns were trained on the gaps, blokes fell in heaps. I never saw a single German that day yet the whole battalion was wiped out.’
This is what Frank Jarvis experienced and more than likely he had the same feelings as his fellow 7th Battalion man. The same fate befell the 8th South Staffords and 7th Lincolns of the 51st Brigade - the latter lost 200 men in five minutes!! This attack was a return to the slaughter rates of the early Somme. (Figure 6) Next day an officer from the 7th Borderers wrote to his wife:
‘We had a very rotten day yesterday. Nearly all the officers who did the attack were killed or wounded. I got through all right but was out in No Man’s land from 5 30 am to 9 30 pm and then managed to get past in front of the Boche line with some of my company in the dark.’
Figure 6. The village of Pelves today (C R Weekes)
None of Frank Jarvis’s Service records have survived so we do not know officially whether he was one of the many wounded on 23rd April. However his medal roll entry (Figure 2) shows that at some point he was in the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion Border Regiment that was a UK based training unit. This suggests that he had been wounded and been sent back to a UK hospital and then onto a Border regiment training unit that in 1917 was based at Great Crosby near Liverpool. According to the Long, Long Trail website, 57% of wounded men were sent back to the UK for treatment and convalescence. Obviously Frank Jarvis wounds were not serious enough to prevent him from travelling so he had what was known as a ‘Blighty one.’ Whilst the list of military hospitals is easily available, I can find no explanation as to how it was decided to where an individual wounded man was sent. As the casualty lists expanded so did the range of hospitals across the country. In addition, command depots were established to provide rehabilitation prior to a return to the regimental training depot. So Frank must have gone through the process of treatment, recovery, convalescence, rehabilitation and retraining into the 3rd (Reserve) Border Regiment. With no surviving service records, we have no precise date as to when Frank returned to the Front but we do know that he was sent back to join the 6th Battalion Borderers sometime in the summer of 1917.
The 6th Border Regiment was in the 33rd Brigade, 11th (Northern) Division. This Division had been in Gallipoli before joining the latter part of the Battle of the Somme, and had just been involved in the Messines Ridge attack in the late summer of 1917. According to the War Diary WO95/1817 in August 1917 the 6th Battalion was at St. Julien, Ypres sector when it received 153 Other Ranks as reinforcement prior to its involvement in the Battle of Langemarck. Frank was likely to have been one of them. On 22nd August at 4.45 am the barrage commenced and after 42 minutes it moved forward followed by C and D companies of 6th Borderers. In spite of intense enemy machine gun and artillery fire they achieved their objective and consolidated it so that on the night of 24/25th August they were relieved by the South Staffords. There were more stints in the front line trenches until, on 29th August, they were taken out of the action having suffered 74 casualties. Frank was back where he had left off in April 1917 in the thick of a battle.
The War diary tells us that September 1917 was spent in training around Houtkerque. Then on 4th October they returned to the front line as support to the 33rd Brigade, but were not actually used in any action. The remainder of 1917 saw many moves around the area ending with a spell in a hut camp at Nouex-les-Mines.
1918 dawned with the B E F defending a larger section of the front line and rumours of a big German offensive circulating. The high rate of attrition in the 1917 offensives had taken its toll and, as we now know, Lloyd George’s reluctance even refusal to release UK based reserves resulted in a reorganization of the Divisional composition of the B E F in France. The number of Battalions in each Brigade was reduced from four to three. Thus it was on 4th February 7 officers and 150 OR’s of C Company left the 6th Battalion to join the ranks of the 11th Battalion Border Regiment known as the Lonsdales, having been formed by the Earl of Lonsdale in 1914. Frank was one of these men as we can see from the very lengthy Medal Roll (Figure 2) He was now in his fifth different Battalion of the Border regiment since August 1916!
The 11th Battalion was in the 97th Brigade of the 32nd Division and in February 1918 it was in Caribou Camp near to Elverdinghe, Ypres where they carried out a number of daring trench raids on the enemy prior to the German spring offensive. When the offensive commenced on 21st March 1918 the 11th Bn was hastily moved south to take up defensive positions around Moyenneville and Ayette. From their War Diary it appears that the 11th took little part in what became known to us as the first Battle of the Somme 1918, or the St Michael offensive to the Germans.
This was effectively the end of the Lonsdales’ active fighting because on May 10th the 5th and 11th Battalions of the Border Regiment were amalgamated and the 11th part was despatched to Feuquieres to train the incoming ‘dough boys’ of the 328 US Infantry Division. This they did until on 31st July 1918 the 11th Battalion was officially disbanded and the men, including Frank Jarvis, transferred to the 1/5th Battalion, remaining in the 32nd Division.
Frank had been fortunate in that he and his Border comrades had managed to avoid the battles of the Lys and the Aisne. On 6th August the 1/5th Battalionn and its new recruits were inspected by George V and then immediately moved to the front by train and foot ready for an attack on the railway line between Hallencourt and Fresnoy. This was the beginning of the Battle of Amiens, the last great battle and the 100 Days to Victory. In the book ‘Amiens 1918’ reference is made to the 1/5th Battalionn involvement:
‘10th August ------ 5th Bn Border regiment on the left the advance at first went smoothly. Against stiffening opposition the Borderers reached the 1916 British Front line at 10am. Ahead lay the ominous 1916 No Man’s land the site of one of history’s greatest slaughters’.
The Battalion was having quite an effect on the action. So much so that they received compliments from other units. The Regimental history mentions one:
‘We are all proud of what the Borders have been and are doing . Please give them our best wishes and congratulations Brig. General Ford’
On 5th September the forward momentum continued as the 97th Brigade crossed the River Somme at Brie. Nothing seemed able to stop the allies as they swept on so that by 6th September the 5th was on the Tertry--- Peronne Road. On 12th September the Battalion was relieved and went back to Villers-Bretonneux for a well-earned rest.
On 24th September it marched back to the rapidly moving front. The 32nd Division was now in IXth Corps of the 4th Army. On 29th September this Corps was to attack the Hindenburg Line with the 46th (North Midlands) Division in the front supported by the 32nd. They crossed the St Quentin canal and on October 1st 1918 they attacked Joncourt at 8am, successfully taking the village and moving on at 4pm to attack Sequehert which was taken by the Royal Scots. (Figure 7)
Figure 7. Map of October 1st 1918 Battle zone (Chris Baker)
The 5th Borders entered the village of Preselles but heavy machine gun fire forced them out and they had to withdraw to a Railway Embankment overlooked by enemy artillery from higher ground to the east. On October 2nd the Battalion’s position in this railway embankment was heavily shelled by the enemy, resulting in 1 killed and 17 wounded. (Figure 8) Sadly the one killed was Frank Jarvis, the valiant Essex farm boy who had survived over two years of fighting only to die six weeks before the end of the war.
Figure 8. Map of the area where Frank Jarvis was killed (Chris Baker)
The 32nd Division was withdrawn, exhausted from the advance, for rest and recuperation. The Divisional Commander made an appreciation of the 97th Brigade:
‘He realises the extreme difficulty of the operations and that though apparently costly especially in the last 2 days, the casualties caused to us are small compared with those inflicted on the enemy’
The doctrine of attrition which had been at the centre of the B.E.F. ‘s strategy from 1915 held fast in those last 100 days. Chris Baker’s fourteen-eighteen research on Frank Jarvis concludes thus:
‘On October 2nd 1918 32nd Division were in the fourth day of a continuous advance. The British army had effected a major break through of the Hindenburg Line and was advancing on a broad front. 5th Borderers had commenced their attack on 29th September and by 1st October had sustained considerable casualties and were tiring.’
Frank Jarvis, Private 27587, is buried in Bellicourt British Cemetery (Figure 9) which was started after the battle in late 1918 and significantly enlarged after the armistice through the consolidation of many surrounding small cemeteries. It may be that Frank was initially buried in one of these.
Figure 9. Frank's grave in Bellicourt British Cemetery (C R Weekes)
His parents must have been informed relatively quickly after October 2nd. His death was reported on November 8th in the Essex Chronicle and on November 15th in the Essex Weekly News Roll of Honour.
‘Pte Frank Jarvis Border Regiment killed on October 2nd. Son of Mr Robert Jarvis, Pond Park Gate Felstead and was 23 years of age.’
As is always the case, those who died in WW1 are well commemorated and Frank Jarvis is no exception. His name appears in the data base Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914 – 1919, in the Bellicourt British Cemetery, on the Felsted village war memorial and Rolls of Honour in its two churches (Figure 10) and notably in the Border Regiment’s Roll of Honour in Carlisle Cathedral which has the inscription:
‘LET THOSE WHO COME AFTER SEE TO IT THAT THEIR NAMES BE NOT FORGOTTEN.’
Figure 10. Roll of Honour Border regiment (Carlisle Cathedral)
Frank is not forgotten and as we move closer to the centenary of the Great War we can celebrate his short life and his bravery and courage .
Amiens 1918 The Last Great Battle, Mcwilliams & Steel
The Border Regiment In The Great War By H C Wylly, Gale & Polden, pages 97, 98, 103, 129 To 132, 15, 152, 173, 174, 179 To 181, 195 To 197 and 218 To 221.
Carlisle Cathedral Roll of Honour
Cheerful Sacrifice, Jonathan Nicholls, Pen & Sword 2005, page 187
Cumbria’s Military Museum, Carlisle
Essex Regiment Museum, Chelmsford
Felsted Roll of Honour
Fourteeneighteen Research, Chris Baker
History Press 2008, page 234
Long Long Trail Website
Michelin 301 Local Map Pas De Calais
Monchy Le Preux, Colin Fox, Pen & Sword, 2000, page 73
National Archives, Kew London, Medal Index Cards, Medal Rolls
War Diaries, WO95/2008, 7th Bn Borders, WO95/1817 6th BN Borders, WO95/2403 11th BN Borders, WO95/2402 1/5th BN Borders
WFA/IWM Maps of The Front