#52ancestors52weeks: Week 21 (May 21-27): Brick Wall
Prologue: This week’s theme is one that resonates throughout my genealogy research. I have encountered many brick walls. In particular this story of my great uncle had not advanced due to lack of information about his war service. Last week, I uncovered his entire military service record in the archives of FindMyPast, just by chance. So this week’s story is dedicated to Frank Joseph Andrew Allery. Let me take you back to the war years, WW1, and complete Frank’s story of valour.
In the bustling heart of London on a cool November morning in 1915, Frank Joseph Andrew Allery, a mild-mannered Mantle Presser, decided to take a leap of faith. The world around him was in turmoil; the Great War had begun a year ago, and Frank knew he had a part to play.
The household he shared with his parents was brimming with a mix of apprehension and pride. His father, Samuel John, a seasoned master tailor, struggled with the fear of seeing his son off to war. On the other hand, Jemima Mary Ann, his mother, although riddled with worry, also beamed with pride at her son’s brave decision.
Frank’s resolve to enlist was confirmed when he entered the barracks hall in Kingston where crowds of hopefuls were milling around and lining up for their chance to put their names down on the Attestation forms. His heart was beating faster as he heard the thrilling, commanding voice of Colonel Lieutenant George Roupell of the East Surrey Regiment.
Imagined Scene at the Kingston Barracks of the East Surrey Regiment 1916: with help from my assistant historian Chat GPT.
“Attention, soldiers!” A powerful voice echoed through the room as the Colonel stepped up onto the makeshift stage. His sturdy frame was adorned with the symbols of years of dedicated service, and his piercing gaze scanned the room, commanding immediate silence and attention.
“Now, I know many of you are new to this concept of national service, particularly amidst this Great War we find ourselves in. And, it’s only right that you understand why this is so crucial for our country. So, allow me to elaborate a bit, eh?”
He cleared his throat, adjusting the cap sitting neatly atop his greying hair.
“When you think about national service, I want you to understand it as a noble duty, a commitment to our nation’s welfare, and a stand against the forces that threaten our way of life. We, here in Britain, cherish our freedom, our values, and our people. And it’s these very elements that we, as servicemen and servicewomen, pledge to protect.”
His voice echoed in the silent room, every soldier hanging onto his every word.
“National service is a commitment. A commitment to your fellow Britons. It’s about working together, regardless of our individual professions or stations in life, to ensure our homeland’s safety and prosperity. It’s a unity that crosses social, economic, and geographic boundaries, binding us together in a common cause.”
He paused, scanning the room once again. His gaze was met with a sea of young faces, each carrying a blend of anxiety, resolve, and anticipation.
“And let me tell you this: there are few things in life as rewarding as serving your nation. It is a privilege and an honour. And the benefits? They are manifold. It instils discipline, fosters unity, and builds character. It teaches you to be selfless, resilient, and brave. It prepares you for life’s challenges and provides you with skills and experiences that will hold you in good stead, long after your service ends.”
As he concluded, the colonel’s gaze softened. There was pride in his eyes, a deep-seated respect for the young soldiers before him, and a simmering hope for the difficult times ahead.
“So, as we venture forth into this war, remember the essence of national service. Hold it close, and let it guide you. Because, ultimately, it’s not just about the survival of Britain. It’s about the survival of the values we hold dear.”
With a firm nod, he stepped down from the stage, leaving a trail of lingering words and newfound resolve in his wake.
The conflict within Frank arose when his vision impairment was recorded during his enlistment physical. The doctor’s voice echoed in his ears: “Fit for service, with glasses.” Frank, who had always relied on the sharpness of his eyes for his job, now faced the reality of going to war with impaired vision. He wondered how he would survive the battlefield when he struggled with the minute intricacies of his craft. One good thing though, he would not need to press the creases in his trousers whilst crawling on his hands and knees in the mud.
The climax came a day before he was to embark from Southampton for France. Frank, now Private Frank Allery, Soldier Number 19903 of the East Surrey Regiment, stared at his reflection in the mirror. He looked at the khaki uniform he was wearing and the glasses that now framed his eyes. The fear of war was evident in his gaze, but so was the determination. He knew the path he had chosen was fraught with danger and uncertainty, yet he couldn’t turn away.
On October 3, 1916, Frank boarded the ship that would take him away from London, his family, and the life he had always known. Samuel and Jemima, though anxious, bid him farewell with pride in their eyes. They watched as their son began a journey that would redefine his life.
Once posted to the 8th Battalion on May 27, 1917, Frank faced the harsh realities of war. On September 18, 1918, he was wounded in action near Cambrai, a gunshot wound to his left thigh serving as a brutal reminder of the cost of war. Frank was one of 104 soldiers and nine officers of the East Surrey 8th Battalion who were wounded in September 1918.
The 8th (Service) Battalion landed at Boulogne-sur-Mer as part of the 55th Brigade in the 18th (Eastern) Division in July 1915 also for service on the Western Front. The battalion fought at the Battle of Loos and the Battle of the Somme. One particular incident will always be remembered. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, B Company of the 8th Battalion went into the attack dribbling two footballs that the company commander, Captain Wilfred Nevill, had bought for his platoons to kick across no man’s land. Captain Nevill and many of his men were killed during the advance, but the 8th East Surreys were one of the few battalions to reach and hold their objective on this day. The “Football Attack” caught the imagination of the country, and illustrations of it are shown in the Regimental Museum, which also contains one of the footballs used. On that day, the 8th Battalion won two DSOs, two MCs, two DCMs, and nine MMs, but 446 officers and men were killed or wounded. (Wikipedia)
I have imagined Frank writing his own war diary, prior to his injury – with the help of my creative assistant Chat GPT.
War Diary Entry – November 20, 1917
Location: Cambrai, France Unit: East Surrey Regiment Rank: Private Soldier Number: 19903
Today marked the beginning of a new chapter in this dreadful war. The Battle of Cambrai unfolded before us with an intensity and ferocity that shook every fibre of my being. As the first light of dawn broke, a symphony of thunderous artillery fire erupted, unleashing chaos on the German defences. 1,003 guns led to a predicted bombardment of enormous proportions that aimed to break their will.
I stood with my comrades, their faces etched with a mixture of anticipation and fear. We had been briefed on the plan, the creeping barrage that would precede our advance, the smoke that would cloak our movements. But no amount of preparation could fully prepare one for the harsh reality of trench warfare.
The sound of exploding shells reverberated through the air, drowning out all other noise. The ground trembled beneath my feet as if it too were bracing for the coming storm. The acrid stench of gunpowder and smoke filled the air, mingling with the earthy dampness of the trenches. I tightened my grip on my rifle, a cold metal reassurance in my trembling hands.
As the creeping barrage advanced, we moved forward, cautiously but with a resolute determination. The sheer scale of the assault was staggering. Our tanks, a sight both awe-inspiring and terrifying, rumbled alongside us, their steel hulls cutting through the churned-up mud. We were to seize Havrincourt, but the Germans were not ignorant of our intentions. They had received intelligence, and their defences were on moderate alert.
The chaos of battle consumed us. The deafening roar of gunfire and the screams of wounded comrades filled the air. Bullets whistled past, a deadly reminder of the constant threat that hung over our heads. I could barely distinguish friend from foe amidst the smoke and haze. Despite the fear that seized my heart, I persisted in carrying out my duty.
Throughout the day, we advanced, pushing forward yard by yard, inching closer to our objective. Trenches became graveyards, strewn with the fallen on both sides. The landscape was scarred, torn apart by the destructive power of war. It was a haunting sight that I will carry with me for the rest of my days.
Now, as the day draws to a close, exhaustion weighs heavily on me. The earlier adrenaline that drove my every action has diminished, and in its place is a deep sense of fatigue. The reality of the day’s events settles upon my shoulders, and I am left to contemplate the cost of this conflict.
I pray for the safety of my comrades, those who fought valiantly beside me. The camaraderie and bonds forged in the crucible of battle sustain us, but the toll on our spirits cannot be ignored. We have seen horrors unimaginable, and yet we persevere.
As I rest my weary body upon this cold and unforgiving earth, I cannot help but wonder when this senseless bloodshed will end. How many more battles must be fought and how many more lives must be sacrificed? In the midst of this chaos, I cling to the hope that one day, peace will prevail.Private Frank J A Allery
There are numerous diaries, dedicated to the 8,000 men of the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) and the 6,000 men of the East Surrey Regiment, many of whose bodies lie in Flanders. Their names are found on the war memorials in the towns and villages of Surrey and South London and in the books of remembrance held in the regimental chapels at Holy Trinity, Guildford, and All Saints, Kingston upon Thames. (Wikipedia)
Frank’s journey on the battlefield ended sooner than expected. He was demobilised on September 28, 1918, and transferred to the Army Reserve on March 23, 1919. Although he returned home with the physical scars of war, his spirit remained unbroken.
Frank’s tale of valour is one of courage, determination, and sacrifice. It serves as a testament to the human spirit’s ability to rise above adversity and face life’s most daunting challenges. His legacy lives on, inspiring generations to come.
Key Takeaways from the Historical Account of the Battle of Cambrai: with help from my research assistant Chat GPT
The Battle of Cambrai, fought in 1917 during the First World War, marked a significant confrontation between the British Expeditionary Force and German forces. The town of Cambrai was a crucial supply center for the German Hindenburg Line, making it a strategic target.
Major General Henry Tudor and General Julian Byng pioneered new artillery-infantry tactics, marking a shift in warfare strategy. The integration of J. F. C. Fuller’s plans for using tanks for raids was a key element of this new approach.
The Battle of Cambrai marked one of the first major deployments of tanks in warfare by the French and British armies. Despite initial successes, the limitations of this new technology, including mechanical unreliability and vulnerability to German defenses, became evident.
The Battle of Cambrai was not solely a demonstration of the impact of tanks in warfare. It also highlighted the concurrent evolution of artillery, infantry and tank methods, including predicted artillery fire, sound ranging, infantry infiltration tactics, infantry-tank coordination, and close air support.
The advancements showcased at Cambrai contributed significantly to the development of industrial warfare techniques, many of which were crucial during the Hundred Days Offensive in 1918.
The German forces demonstrated their capability for rapid reinforcement and defense, particularly evident in their defense of Bourlon Ridge. Their successful counter-attack provided hope that an offensive strategy could potentially bring an end to the war before American forces could fully mobilize.
2 thoughts on “Unveiling Valour: Frank Joseph Andrew Allery”
I felt like I was there, in the moment. AI has helped transform a normally dry facts narrative to one that many will want to read. Nicely done.
Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed that moment in time.
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