ONE DAY IN AUGUST 1914
The story of Brothers Richard and Frank Holding, sons of Sarah and Kenyon Holding of Lancaster. A Family history and an account of their very short Army careers during the first World War.
Elizabeth Anne Knight
INTRODUCTION I have been interested in World War I matters since I heard Benjamin Britten's War Requiem as a teenager and read Wilfred Owen's 'Strange Meeting' this poem was used as one of the themes in the work. It was at this time that I began to think about Richard and Frank and tried to imagine what it must have been like for them as soldiers and for Grandma as she watched her two sons go to war. I contacted the War Graves Commission to find out when they died but it was not until 1999 that Brian and I made the journey to Belgium and France to visit their memorials and write in the books of Remembrance.
I initially wanted to find out whether Richard and Frank had graves but I soon extended my investigations and am still researching the sequence of their army careers. This document is by no means complete, but to be realistic I know that I will only find scant information from now on. I also expect that there may be some amendments, and also hope that you may have some 'titbits' passed on by their brothers and sisters and handed down as family lore. I will revise, amend and supplement as further information becomes available. However, Mother is keen that I prepare something for the family to look at on Family Day, so here goes.
The bulk of the WWI service records was destroyed in the WW2 blitz, but there are now attempts to transcribe what remains, although it is expected that the 'H's will not be touched until 2003. We must wait until then to see it there is any further information.
Frank Holding Private 2117 1st/5th Bn., King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regt.)
who died on Saturday 17 April 1915 . Age 19 .
One day in August 1914, Frank Holding was working in a shop in Penny Street, Lancaster. As he went about his duties he heard the thud, thud of army boots and the distant sound of music. As these sounds acquired definition and grew in volume he was less and less able to concentrate on his work. As the Volunteer Territorials approached the shop on one of their frantic recruiting drives, Frank could contain himself no longer. He grabbed his straw basher and rushed out into the street to volunteer for the Territorial Force, 5th Battalion, Kings Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.
In early August the Battalion had been to Annual Summer Training Camp, probably at Kirkby Lonsdale, but had been called back to Lancaster for mobilisation. At this time the Territorials were liable for home defence duties only. As the men returned from camp they were unable to return to work so did not change out of uniform but hung around waiting for the Royal Proclamation to be posted. When it was they rushed to the Drill Halls and by the next evening the men of the 4th and 5th Battalions had undergone medicals and were posted along the railway line from Ulverston to Barrow.
It soon became apparent to the military commanders that the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was not large enough and the Territorials were asked to volunteer for Imperial Service. The 5th Battalion did so immediately. By 1915 the Terriorials had proved the value of their pre-war training and some were already in the field. Many Battalions, such as the 1/5th Kings Own has gone to France independently with the result that territorial formations at home consisted of a mixture of 1st 2nd and 3rd line battalions collected in new formations which were numbered when they were sent abroad.
On 14th August the Battalion was transported to Didcot to carry out railway guard duties. According to Grandma's notebook, Frank first left on 6th September 1914, so presumably, after training, he joined the Battalion at Didcot. He left for the second time (perhaps after some leave) and joined his comrades who were now at Sevenoaks in Kent on 14th February 1915. On 14th/15th February 1915 they landed at La Havre.
I have yet to discover what the Battalion did for the next few weeks, but by April they were in Belgium preparing for what was to become the Second Battle of Ypres. The soldiers were now clothed in khaki and had new weapons and transport. Many nights were spent under the stars digging out trenches and building dug outs.
EXTRACTS FROM THE WAR DIARIES
2nd Church Parade 10 AM. Battalion left RAVETSBERGH at 3 p.m. for billet at
6TH Bathing parade. Drill & Musketry under O.C.
8th Bayonet exercise and Company Drill. Short route marches.
9th Left for Ypres. Billeted in schools. Remainder of day spent cleaning up billets which were very dirty.
11th No Sunday Service Why ?
12th Battalion moved for trench duties.
13th Trench duties. Heavy shelling throughout the day. Great shortage of sandbags. Parapits unhealthy. Require strengthening.
After resting the 1/5th were sent forward to the trenches at Ypres and by 12th April the second battalion was holding a long front line in Polygon Wood (see map at Annex A ) at the apex of the salient. On 13th April the 1/5th were subjected to heavy shelling. It would seem that Frank was sent to a place south east of Ypres to front line trenches. From his position he would have been able to see the enemy lines. He was killed on 17th April 1915 'against Hill 60', which is situated south of Zillebeke. He was hit in the head by an expanding bullet and remained unconscious for about one hour before dying. The War Diaries show that only one soldier was killed on this day. Could this have been Frank? The records show that his age was nineteen, but he was only eighteen.
It is clearly stated in letters (see transcripts at Annex B) that Frank was buried in Zonnebeke Wood in a cemetery according to the other letter. Locating the position has proved difficult. Certainly, soldiers were buried in cemeteries at this time but I have found no reference so far to one at Zonnebeke. Also, the term cemetery could have been a polite term for a mass grave. I was assured when I visited Zonnebeke that there is no Zonnebeke Wood, however, a few minutes drive from the town is Polygon Wood. Here is a large War Graves Commission Cemetery but the soldiers buried here were mainly Australians and New Zealanders who fell in a later battle. However, I feel that this is the most likely site and unless further information comes to light, I will assume that Frank's last resting place is somewhere in this area. Within a few weeks this area had fallen behind enemy lines, hence his body was never recovered, nor his grave marked.
Frank is remembered on the Menin Memorial at Ieper (formerly Ypres). The Memorial takes the form of an archway across the Menin Road and is situated very close to the town centre. The road is closed at 8 p.m. .each day when the Last Post is sounded. There are many panels on the archway, each filled with the names of the fallen. This seems shocking enough until you realise that there are steps up either side of the road and gallery after gallery each containing panels on which more names are inscribed. Fifty four thousand names appear on this Memorial alone. Frank's name can be found on a panel next to the main road. At first I was saddened that the traffic flew by him all day and that he was not listed on one of the more peacefully situated upper panels. However, on reflection, and from what I have heard of him, I concluded that he would probably prefer to be in the hub of things with lots of activity about him.
Shortly after his death, Frank's comrades were fighting in the trenches at Polygon Wood.
Dick, in the middle, with two mates
Richard Holding Private 24601 1st/5th Bn., King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regt.)
who died on Friday 30 November 1917 .
Dick enlisted on 2nd July 1916. He went to France on 29th December 1916 so let us hope that he had Christmas with his parents before he left. He was wounded on 27th April 1917 and spent some time in a hospital in Halifax. He was given sick leave round about 8th June 1917. He returned to duties at Prescot for a few weeks and was transferred to Plymouth and so back to France for a second time on 28/29th August 1917.
On 14th September, after six weeks rest the 1/5th went straight to the line, moving forward over difficult ground. By the early hours they were in position and the 1/4th was in front on the right of the division and the 1/5th was behind in the trenches that had been held so long in an earlier battle. The 1/5th did not move from the assembly position until 7 am and sustained few casualties. During the next few days the 1/5th pushed out patrols and established posts in shell holes. Four officers and 17 other ranks were lost, 67 were wounded and six were missing. Some ground was taken.
By 1st November the Battalion was camped at Villiers Guislain (See map at Annex)and was manning the trenches there. Most days they were shelled. Both British and German aeroplanes were observed in the area. A British 'plane was shot down . There was a gradual build up of hostilities and by 20th November the action began to accelerate.
30th November 1917 was the thirty ninth day in the trenches for the soldiers and to give them some comfort, they were allowed to take off their boots the night before, unless they were on guard duty. The 1/5th was in support.
This, the day of Richard's death started early for the soldiers and by 7 am they were experiencing heavy counter bombardment by the enemy. At 7.15 am the Battalion was sent an urgent message from Brigade to 'Stand to'. The shelling subsided but at 8.30 am the enemy were spotted and the Commanding Officer stated that the enemy had passed through the front line and were coming over Villiers Ridge.
At 9 am several hundred enemy were seen appearing over the ridge to the right of Villiers Guislain and proceeded to dig in. Rapid fire was opened on them with rifles and Lewis guns, with 'good effect'. Some ground was lost and the fighting continued. The Battalion was reinforced. By 4 p.m. the enemy had gained more ground and British posts were surrounded.
The situation remained 'obscure' until 10 p.m. when it was reported that the garrison at Meath Post had been forced to withdraw.
'A message was sent by runners and 4 men from D Coy instructing Capt. Bennett to cut his way out, unfortunately these men ran into the enemy and 4 were wounded by bombs'.
Is this when Dick died? Grandma always said that he died whilst trying to deliver a message through enemy lines. I cannot describe my feelings when I read this final sentence in the War Diaries for 30th November. Prickles went up and down my spine. Was Dick one of the soldiers referred to in the Diary? I would like to think so and would also like to think that his final brave action was recorded in this way for me to read eighty two years later.
Final Thoughts. Since writing this short history, I have visited the Public Records Office at Kew to examine the remaining fragments of the Army Service Records from WWI. I was thrilled to find there was a considerable amount of information available for Frank and Dick. I learned that Frank had grey eyes, auburn hair and a fair complexion. Richard was 5ft 7 ins tall, had a mole on his right cheek and two vaccination marks on his left arm. This information has helped bring to life those two sepia photographs which hang on the wall in my home.
I am delighted that the people of Lancaster are celebrating the lives of those who died in service of their country. It would have made my grandmother so very proud to know that the great sacrifice made by her two sons was still recognised and respected so many years later.
HOLT, Toni and Valda: Bttlefields of the First World War Pavilion Books 1995
CAVE, Nigel; Hill 60 Ypres. Pensword Books Ltd 1998
COWPER, Col J M; The King's Own, The Story of a Regiment Vol III
BANKS, Arthur;Maps of the world War 1 Campaigns
1/5th Battalion, Royal Lancaster Regiment. War Diaries.
My thanks to Brian for his support and for coming with me to France and Belgium.
To my research assistants, Mother and Moyra.
To Bill for scanning in the photographs and letting me use his photocopier
In Grandma's book it was also noted that 'Joe' was killed Aug 11/15.
I think this must have been J.B. Holding son of Martha Ann Holding (Mother remembers an Aunt Martha) of 56, Westram Street, Lancaster and the late Joseph Bell Holding. He was with the Scottish Rifles and died on 10th August 5 aged 20.
Editors Note: It is now established that this was indeed Joseph Bell a cousin of the Holding Brothers. His details are:
JOSEPH BELL HOLDING
Private 17289 9th Bn., Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
who died on Tuesday 10 August 1915 . Age 20 .
Son of Martha Ann Holding, of 56, Westham St., Lancaster, and the late Joseph Bell Holding
List of Annexes;
A. Maps of the actions when the Brothers were killed.
B.Transcript of Letters
C. Town Hall Report Forms and memorabilia
D. The King's Own in Sevenoaks (?) and The "Sergeants Mess"
E. Facsimiles of official letters
TRANSCRIPT OF LETTERS ANNEX B
Post mark ? April 1915
To Kenyon Holding, 10, Gage Street, Lancaster.
5th Kings Own RLR
19th April 1915
Dear Mr. Holding,
You will have already heard from Capt Carter of the sad death of your son Frank. He was a splendid lad in every way and was an excellent soldier and it is very hard to be deprived of such fine young fellows. He was in my company and I saw a good deal of him. He was always cheerful and knew no fear and was a splendid spirit among the men. I was with him from the time he was wounded until his death and he passed away quite peacefully and
of any pain. He is buried with the other boys in a small cemetery in a wood near here. I am extremely sorry and offer you and your wife my sincere sympathy in your great trouble. You will probably remember me at WE? Clarks Partners
5th September 1915, Sunday
To ? F. Burke
Yours to hand this morning and I must say that I am pleased to receive a letter from a friend of poor Frank, as I knew him well, but I am afraid that it is not possible for you to visit his grave as he was buried in Zonnebeck woods, before the retirement of May 2nd, so that at present at least, to the best of my knowledge, his grave is behind the german firing line. I was near him when he was killed and I can assure you that he knew no pain as he was hit in the head by an expanding bullet
.only lived about an hour without regaining consciousness. Trusting this will meet your inquiries.
J. Rydeane (?)
23rd September 1915
Private F. Burke, 1824 No 2 Signal Sect RE, 146th Inf Bde Hqs B.E.F.
Dear Mrs, Holding,
Many thanks for your parcel of Good Stuff. I enjoyed them and sat down after Eating to a Good Cigarette, I am sending you a photo of a Few of our lads; I don't know if you will be able to pick me out; but I am in the back line (with a hood on)
We had them taken when we were out for a rest and the kiddy on the photo wanted to go back to the trenches with us, nice little kid too.
Well I am pleased to say that I am alright and in good health but am sorry our rest is over.
I have had a letter from home to say that Annie is going on alright, but that she is still in the Infirmary.
I did not know you had Germans as prisoners in your town, ugly lot of Brutes arnt they. How is Dick going on. Tell him I send my best regards.
I don't know when this lot will be over, but I don't think it will last another twelve months. The German soldier is about beat Whereas up to two or three months back they had everything their own way, but they don't do it now. However when it does finish there will be only one winning side.
I have not much more to say this time so will conclude with many thanks for the parcel and hoping you are in good health.
from yours sincerely,
are the three "Civic Reception Forms" for the Holding Brothers and for
Joseph Bell Holding. These forms were used in 1924 to invite the relatives of
the fallen soldiers to the Civic Reception and also to inscribe the names on the
Memorial. Below is a picture of the inscriptions.
Above is a photograph of the King's Own "somewhere in England" and below "The Sgts Mess" "Somewhere in France"
The first facsimile below is that of a letter from the Records Office Fulwood Barracks Preston enclosing the medals for Frank. Their Mother received this letter and the medals and all are still in the family.
The letter below dated May 1946 to Mrs Holding ,Mother of the Brothers, from Westfield Memorial Village thanking her for providing "Woollen comforts" during the Second World War. The letter is
headed "The King's Own Comforts Fund".