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Wednesday
Nov202013

Bk2: Frank Robinson and the Baker Boys: SOME CAME BACK

Once again I am hoping that someone will help me fill in missing details and correct any mistakes. My e-mail is david@warboys.com

Frank Robinson and the Baker Boys: SOME CAME BACK.

As people researching their families find, life is full of coincidences. While looking around the War and Peace Exhibition at Ringstead on Saturday 2nd November 2013 I met up with Kay Collins from the Rushden and District History Society. She had a photograph of a family including four young men in uniform. It was thought to be in some way related to Frank Robinson from Ringstead and the men were named from the left Charlie (3rd), Herman (eldest) Arthur (2nd) Walter (5th). The women were Clara (6th) and Edith Ann (4th). There was some confusion about the older woman in the middle and it was wondered if she was Edith and the younger woman on the right was Ann.

Luckily Herman was an unusual name, and perhaps one which attracted some comments in 1914. It was comparatively simple to find him and thereby the family name and Frank Robinson’s connection. Frank was born in 1895, the son of Francis and Violet Robinson. In 1920 he married Clarice (Clara) Baker and it is her family that we see in the photograph.

 

Charlie (1892)    Herman (1887)  Arthur Harry (1889)         Walter (1896)

Clarice (1899)     Annie (1864)      Edith Annie (1894)

The Baker Family with approximate birth dates and named as the pencilled note seems to indicate

The eldest child, born in Ringstead in 1887, was Herman Baker who is second from the left in the photograph. He was the son of shoemaker, Ralph Baker and his wife Annie. His father died in 1906 and Herman married Yorkshire girl, Charlotte Octavia Gray (usualy known as Lottie), on 21st September 1908 In the 1911 Census for Ringstead they living in Chapel Yard in the High Street with their one-year-old daughter Elsie Florence.

What the photograph of the family does not make clear is how small the brothers, and most men at the time, were in comparison with today’s average young man. Herman looks one of the tallest of the brothers but his Record of Service shows that he was 5ft 6½ inches in height with a 34½ inch chest. For his trade or calling he has put down “shoe hand” and had asked to enlist in the RFA (Royal Field Artillery).

At first he went to a Field Depot but on the 1st February 1917 he transferred to the 6th Company of the Machine Gun Corps (Reg. No. 83933). On 11th April 1917 he was posted to the British Expeditionary Force in France. He embarked at Folkestone and disembarked at Boulogne before moving to the Base Depot at Camiers which was just north of Etaples. It was not until 4th May 1917 that he joined the Machine Gun Corps in the front line.

 On the 1st June he became ill and was taken to the field hospital at Camiers where he was diagnosed with P.U.O. or Pyrexia (fever) of Unknown Origin which was usually called Trench Fever, (not to be confused with Trench Foot). Trench Fever was an increasing problem in the trenches as the war progressed and produced symptoms of headaches, rashes, inflamed eyes and leg pains. It was not considered by the men a serious condition and often disappeared in under a week although the sufferer might need to be hospitalised for a further couple of weeks to fully recover. It also often recurred at 4 – 6 week intervals although usually with diminishing intensity. It must be remembered that soldiers afflicted with the disease would compare the symptoms to the fear and misery of their life at the Front. Finally, in 1918, it was discovered that P.U.O. was caused by the excretions of the lice, the illness being transmitted in their bites which were one of commonplaces of life in the trenches.

On 13th June Herman returned to England on the SS Brighton and remained for some 280 days in England. He was first at the V.A.D. Hospital at 27 Charles Street, Berkeley Square, a large Georgian house in Mayfair and then to the Paddington V.A.D. Hospital at 37 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater. These V.A.D. or Auxiliary Hospitals had been set up by the British Red Cross and St John Ambulance working together as the Joint War Committee. These hospitals usually had a commandant, quartermaster and matron but were mainly staffed by members of the local V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment) who were trained in basic first aid and nursing. The patients were generally the less seriously wounded and these hospitals allowed the wounded or ill soldiers to recuperate under a more relaxed regime. One of the alternative names for Trench Fever was Shin Bone Fever for it could produce great pain and sensitivity in that area. In 1918 Paddington was designated an Orthopaedic Hospital so it may be that Herman was receiving some form of massage or even electrotherapeutic treatment for this condition.

On the 19th July 1917 he was certified fit enough to go home to his family in Rushden on an eight day furlough.

His war was not over, however, for on the 29th March 1918 he embarked once more at Folkestone and joined the Machine Gun Corps’ Base Camp at Camiers and on the 6th April 1918 he returned to the front line. He seems to have remained there until 8th February 1919 but from the 14th September 1918 he was performing the duties of a shoemaker for the army left in France. It is often said that an army marches on its stomach but of course it also needs well shod feet: a car certainly needs fuel but it also needs tyres.

Finally Herman returned to Purfleet and was demobbed on 14th February 1919. Appearances can be deceptive but when we look at Herman in the photograph we do see the character noted on his army record, He was described as temperate, reliable and intelligent.

At some point his mother and the family had moved to Rushden. Herman too had moved with his wife Lottie and child to 3 Oak Street in Rushden and this is why he was not included in the 1919 Ringstead roll of men who had served in the Great War.

Soon after returning home Herman and Charlotte moved to 73 Queen Street, Withernsea in East Yorkshire, still as a shoemaker. What we discover from later events is that Herman played the clarinet and saxophone while Charlotte sang and played the piano. The photograph of the Ringstead Band in the chapter on Benjamin and George Roberts in Ringstead People and the many newspaper reports shows that the village had a long musical tradition which Herman and Charlotte carried on. While in Withernsea they had a son born on March 1st 1921 who they named Kenneth. Kenneth as a child learned, probably mostly from his parents, to play piano, saxophone, violin and accordion. He later switched to the cornet and played in the local Gospel Mission Band. The family then moved on to Hull and Kenneth joined the West Hull Silver Prize Band as a solo cornet player. It is through the life stories of their son that we are told a little more about Herman and Charlotte because, known as Kenny Baker, he became one of the most well known and internationally respected British jazz musicians of his age.

Herman died in 1948 aged 61.

Arthur Harry Baker, the second oldest son was the last of the Baker boys to enlist. He had been born in 1889 so, when he enlisted in 1917, was some twenty- seven years old. His brothers had been in the boot and shoe trade but Arthur was a farm labourer and he went into the Army Veterinary Corps. This corps had qualified veterinary surgeons as officers but farmworkers, ostlers and blacksmiths and others used to dealing with horses formed the other ranks.

At the beginning of the war the cavalry regiments, along with the Guards, were sees as the premier regiments in the army. In 1915, at Mons there was a major cavalry charge but that was the last one of real significance although some useless, suicidal attempts occurred throughout the war. Trench warfare and the machine gun ended the horse as a useful fighting force. The Charge of the Light Brigade had been over fifty years earlier but the old order could not believe that the cavalry had become obsolete.

Nevertheless, as the books by Michael Morpurgo and the subsequent War Horse play and film have once again made clear, horses still played an important part in the Great War and, despite the various veterinary corps’ attentions it is believed that some eight million horses died on all sides during the conflict. Mechanised transport, especially over rough terrain was still unreliable and horses had a vital role in the movement of supplies and artillery to and around the battle front.

Unfortunately Arthur’s records do not survive so we do not know if he ever saw active service.

Charles Mayes Baker [Charlie] worked as a platelayer for the London and North Western Railway Company. He enlisted when he was 23 years old, joining the 298th Railway Corps of the Royal Engineers at their headquarters at Longmore Camp in Hampshire on 9th December 1915. The Woolmer Instructional Military Railway had been constructed there and this was used in the training of the railway troops who would have to carry out their work in very different conditions to the ones they had been used to.

The railway troops are another less well known part of the war effort in the First World War. There had been a large recruitment drive among the employees of the various railway companies. A special port was built at Richborough in Kent from which trains were loaded onto boats in a sophisticated roll-on roll-off system and taken across the Channel. Boats would also bring trains loaded with tanks to France so they could be taken to the Front. By mid-1915 there were eight Construction Trains operating in France which carried the sappers and their equipment to where they were needed. Once at their destination they would pitch tents for their accommodation. They would try to lay standard gauge track as close to the front as possible and also carry out repairs to sections destroyed by shellfire.

Charles first embarked with the British Expeditionary Force on 6th February 1916 and he seems to have adjusted to army life well for he was first made Lance Corporal, then to full Corporal and finally to Second Corporal. [Second Corporal was only used in the Royal Engineers and Army Ordnance Corps and meant that the person held full non-commissioned officer rank.]

In April 1917 he was admitted to hospital, perhaps with Trench Fever, but rejoined his unit within a week. In July he was given leave and on10th July 1917 he married Winifred Shallow and appears to have moved to 25 Red Row in Raunds. Winifred Shallow had been born in Pentney, the daughter of Robert, a bread baker, and his wife Clara from Irthlingborough. She had been a Britchford and in 1911 Winifred is staying with her mother’s sister, Laura and her husband George Robinson. It does not seem that he was a relation of Frank Robinson who married Charles’s sister Clarice.

On 5th April 1919 Charles was demobilised as a Class Z Reserve. There were still some fears that Germany might not accept the terms of the Peace Treaty and these Class Z men would be recalled immediately in the case of the conflict breaking out again.

Walter Baker, born in 1896, was the youngest son in the family. His enlisted in 1916 like his oldest brother, Herman, but he was enlisted into the Northamptonshire Regiment rather than the Machine Gun Corps. Walter’s records have nearly all disappeared so we only know a little of his army career from his medal card and a brief newspaper report.

He remained a private throughout the war but changed regiment twice. The reasons for these transfers could be because so many men in a battalion had been killed in action that it ceased to be a viable unit and the survivors were sent to bolster up other regiments. It was also the case that after the first wave of deaths the new recruits would be transferred to whichever regiment was in need of replacements.

By checking the records that have survived of men with similar regimental numbers and military history Steve (Stebie9173) on the Great War Forum website has managed to reconstruct the likely path of Walter’s early army career. Like Horace Allen of Irthlingborough, Walter would have enlisted at Northampton in November 1916 and been posted to the 3rd Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment for training.

He was sent to France on 1st February 1917, initially to No. 17 Infantry Base Depot at Etaples, south of Boulogne. Frank James in his recollections, A Privates War, describes “Etaps” as it was known to the soldiers.

It was a large bivouacked area near the sea and covered several acres. Its purpose was to hold and give further training to troops fresh from England and then send them off to join their various units in the battle zone.

This was in 1914 and James and the other men of the Northamptonshires travelled from Le Havre in overcrowded cattle trucks. There may have been some improvements by early 1917 but one suspects that it was a largely similar experience for Walter. He had travelled with the Northamptonshire Regiment (Reg. No. 30926) but it is likely that at Etaples he was transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and his regimental number was changed to 40722. He joined his new regiment and soon after, on April 1st, as part of the 32nd Division, he took part in the fierce battle to take Savy Wood near St Quentin. The Battalion War Diary for April 1st records:

Battalion receives order at 11.30 am to advance at 1.30 pm. Battalion advances to SAVY in Artillery formation, under hostile artillery fire. Battalion formed up and advanced at 3 pm in extended order. C, B and D companies in front line and A company in support. Battalion met with heavy enemy artillery and machine gun fire.

The Inniskilling Fusiliers, as part of this advance, gained the wood after thirty minutes intense fighting and consolidated “strong posts” but at the cost of 132 casualties: Officers 1 killed and 10 wounded; Other Ranks 31 killed, 107 wounded and 3 missing. John William Elliot of Raunds was also in the same battalion and was killed there. He is remembered on the Raunds and Stanwick War Memorials.

Walter was badly injured in one leg and would have been taken back to a field hospital behind the lines. He was probably evacuated from France on 17th April to Newcastle Military Hospital. It may be that his return to England was delayed by the mining of the hospital ship Salta on 10th April.

He was in Newcastle Military Hospital (a requisitioned lunatic asylum) for five months. It is presumably, after he had recovered, in the autumn of 1917 that he was transferred finally to the Royal Irish Regiment (Reg. No. 18580). We do not know if he ever returned to active service but he was demobilised before June 1919 when the Ringstead Roll of Honour was printed.

The three women in the photograph are Clarice Emma (Clara) who married Frank Robinson and, on the right Edith Annie Baker. Edith married Herbert Woodham from Kimbolton in 1921. Herbert too had served in the army, in the 4th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment and had received a severe gunshot wound in his left arm.

The father of the family, Ralph Baker, had died on 3rd August 1906 and it his wife, Annie, who sits in the middle in her widow’s weeds. Ralph was buried in Ringstead Cemetery and although Annie moved to Rushden sometime in the 1910s but when she died, on 31st August 1944, she was buried near her husband.

If we now return to Francis (Frank) Horace Robinson, he was the grandson of Elijah Robinson who had been the landlord of the Black Horse public house in Ringstead High Street as well as being a small farmer and carrier. Landlords of small village pubs often had a second occupation and it meant that the wife, in this case Sarah Ann (née Childs) would have done most of the bar work. Elijah gave up the licence to his eldest son William in 1894 but continued with his carrier business and perhaps a little farming. He became ill and was diagnosed with “consumption of the throat”. He became very depressed and committed suicide by cutting his own throat on 31st October 1902. He was 62 years old.

In 1901 his son, Francis senior, and wife, Violet were living at 5 Denford Road with their children, Frank, Dora and Beulah. Francis was an army welt sewer and by 1911 his son, Frank, aged sixteen, was a shoe finisher. The family was now living in the High Street. The military boot and shoe trade began to improve as by 1913 war with Germany seemed inevitable. Most of Frank’s records have been lost but we know that he joined the 28th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (Reg. No. G/11402). At some point he was injured and also transferred to the 7th Battalion of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment (Reg. No. G/14941). Losses were often so great that who Battalions were almost wiped out and became part of another Regiment and it may be that Frank (or Horace as he was known by his family) was part of this movement. The exact sequence of events is unclear as Frank’s records were probably burnt with many others in a German bombing raid in 1940.

The War Diary of the 7th Battalion of the Queen’s (Royal Surrey) Regiment has survived and been put online. We do not know when Frank was wounded and captured but it seems likely that the two occurrences were linked. His early repatriation would have been because of his wounds so it seems likely that he was taken some time early in 1918. We know from the Diary that the 7th Battalion was involved in the attack on the Bois de Hangard, some 20 kilometres west-south-west of Amiens on 26th April. The Battalion was attached to the 53rd Brigade which was itself part of the 58th Division. Like many battles at this time it was an attempt to retake positions previously held and lost.

The rain was falling heavily when the Battalion moved off, soon after 7.30 pm. They struggled to the Villers-Bretonnneux - Domart Road after having been badly guided, arriving at 10.30 pm. They halted in Artillery formation, while being shelled at intervals by heavy explosives and gas. Everywhere was confusion, made worse by a mist which crept up soon after midnight hiding the wood from their view. They eventually reached their allotted positions by 4 a.m. and were told that zero hour had been brought forward from 6 to 5.15 am. Three tanks took part in the operations that morning but had little effect and returned back to their base. The Diary continues:

From midday till 3 p.m. 26th the enemy subjected the whole area of VILLERS – BRETONNEUX and DOMART to a most intense bombardment of H.E. and gas. No infantry action followed. Troops holding the line South of the wood were forced to leave their posts during the bombardment, but returned immediately it ceased.

The Queens were finally relieved by a French Battalion and by 1 30 am of the 28th they moved back to bivouacs at Blangy-Tronville, having “partaken of tea” at Gentelles Wood on the way. The table for the Battalion’s total casualties shows that two officers and ten” other ranks” were killed but only one officer was wounded, one missing and one wounded and missing, whereas other ranks had 85 wounded, 41 missing and one wounded and missing and a further four had died of their wounds. The whole daylight attack was called a “dismal failure” in the official history of the Great War and the capturing of the wood by the Queens was one of the few successful actions, however temporary.

It seems a possibility that Frank was one of the men listed as missing although we cannot be sure. What we do see from the Diary is the training, drill, billet cleaning and organised football matches behind the lines; the carefully drafted battle instructions with details of meeting points, dress, equipment to be carried, and battle formation that would have defined Frank’s daily life We also glimpse how quickly the conditions and enemy action shredded these plans so that at Hangard Wood it became a series of separate skirmishes with almost all coordination gone. It was often in this sort of action that prisoners were taken.

Certainly we know that Frank was captured by the Germans and taken to Langensalza Prison of War Camp in Germany. Conditions may have improved a little by the time Frank became a prisoner but in December 1916 George Mulford from the 12th Yorks and Lancs Regiment recalled:

Think of the conditions of 12,000 men huddled together on a large sized ploughed field so situated that it caught all the water draining from the surrounding hills. . . Food of the vilest and unhealthiest nature for human consumption. Long ramshackle dilapidated barracks to hold 7-800 men with no thought in their construction for comfort and accommodation.

George also stated that the guards at Langensalza were the most brutal and ferocious that he ever saw and it is likely that at the time when Frank was there it could still be a brutal place. Even as late as November 27th 1918 Corporal Golding of the Leicestershire Regiment recalled an officer named Krause exacting revenge. There had been a wooden theatre and the various nationalities had built small changing rooms on the side. These they were now dismantling for firewood. The camp had a Help Committee made up from the prisoners which tried to make life at the camp as bearable as possible and it seems they had their own hut. Suddenly Krause came with his men and surrounded the theatre and committee hut. Golding continues:

There must have been 15 to 20 prisoners standing outside the hut and I should say about 30 others round the theatre. When the order to fire was given, I tried to get into the committee hut, but the door was so crowded by others endeavouring to do the same that I could not get in. At least 15 shots were fired in the direction of the committee hut.

He saw three of the men who were killed and two others were wounded. It must be remembered that on 11th November 1918, over two weeks earlier, the Armistice had been signed.

Fortunately for Frank he had been repatriated on 5th May 1918 almost certainly because of his injuries which were considered to have rendered him incapable of taking part in any further military action.

The dates are unclear but it appears that early in May 1918, just before his repatriation, Frank had been allowed to send a postcard home, addressed to his father stating his name, regiment, prisoner number and the camp and the simple message, “I am well”.

On the front of the postcard is a photograph of Frank in his darker uniform with another prisoner. It seems to have been taken in a substantial place with ornate windows and perhaps it was in the chapel which we know was in the camp. We also know that there was a bootmakers’ workshop and perhaps Frank worked there to help repair the prisoner’s boots.

Frank (Horace) is on the left in the darker uniform

With kind permission of Rushden & District History Society

It is not clear when Frank finally arrived home although the fact that he was discharged probably means that it was soon after his repatriation to England and any medical care. He returned to his job as a shoehand in a factory and married Clarice E. Baker on 31st July 1920 in St Mary’s Church, Rushden.

Frank died in 1970

At each Remembrance Day we are asked to remember the dead of the Great War but all those who served  are now dead and we should also remember the millions who survived and lived shattered or troubled lives because of the terrible places that these ordinary men found themselves. We also see that the war memorials do not show just how many people in a village like Ringstead were directly affected by this deadly attrition of men by machines.

References

Ringstead Registers and Censuses. (www.rushdenheritage.co.uk, www.ancestry.co.uk and NRO).

Postcard from Frank Horace Robinson and Patriotic Rushden Family newspaper cutting (www.rushdenheritage.co.uk).

Ringstead Roll of Honour. Rushden Research Group. (www.rushdenheritage.co.uk).

British Army WW1 Service Records (www.ancestry.co.uk).Inniskilling).

Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers War Diary for 1st April. (My thanks to Graeme Clarke for sending me this).

Great War Forum. My thanks to Steve (Stebie9173) for providing detailed information on the probable course of Walter’s early army career by comparing it with others. (http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums).

The Long Long Trail website for information on many topics (http://1914-1918.net). Including Army Veterinary Corps.

A Private’s War. Frank James . Edited by Ron James. ( Elizabeth Ingham 2013).

History of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. Army Medical Service. (www.arms-museum.org).

Trench Fever (Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine November 2006 (www.ncbi.nih.gov).

History of Red Cross nurses and hospitals (www.redcross.org.uk).

Account of Corporal Golding of 8th Battalion Leicester Regiment of Langensalza told in piece on Private Berty Tucker (www.worcestershireregiment.com).

7th Battalion of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regimental War Diary (www.queensroyalsurreys,org,uk).

Letter giving some details on Frank Robinson’s prisoner-of-war dates (Surrey History Centre).

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP 2004).

 

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