Remembering the men from the Kingsdown and Creekside Cluster
who gave their lives in the First World War
On the centenary of their death, we remember
Reginald FRENCH (of Lynsted)
b. October 1884
d. 10th June 1918. Aged 33
Lance Corporal, 5004
"C" Company, 7th Infantry Brigade
13th Reinforcements, Australian Infantry,
Australian Imperial Force
Remembered with Honour
Australian National Memorial
Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, Somme
Killed in Action
Reginald was born in October 1884 and christened in Teynham Church on the 13th of that month. He was the oldest of the three children of James and Jane (née Johnson) of New House Farm, Greenstreet, Lynsted. Reginald’s younger siblings were his sister Florence Josephine and James. James was also a casualty of the First World War, being killed in 1917, and whose life we have also commemorated.
Reginald worked as a butcher in his father’s shop. His father’s role as a Justice of the Peace meant he signed many conscription papers of local men.
Reginald emigrated to Australia on 18 November 1909, sailing from London to Fremantle, Western Australia, on the Orsova. In Australia he continued to work as a butcher. In 1914 he married Gladys Frances, in Claremont, Western Australia and went on to live at 156 Attfield Street, Fremantle, Western Australia.
Reginald enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 1 March 1916, having previously served two years in the Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles before he emigrated. No records have been found regarding this period of service. On enlistment he was recorded as being 31 years and 5 months of age, 5 foot 7 inches tall with a tanned complexion, blue eyes and dark brown hair. His religious denomination was listed as Wesleyan.
Just four months after enlistment, on 18 July 1916, Reginald started out on the long sea voyage back to England on the Australian troop ship, Seang Bee. He set off from Fremantle, Western Australia and arrived two months later in Plymouth on 9 September. The next five days were taken up by a 128-mile march to Rollestone Camp, near Salisbury Plain.
Reginald’s arrival back in Britain was reported in the Faversham and North East Kent News on 16 September 1916:
|Reginald French, elder son of Mr. and Mrs. James French, of Greenstreet, who went out to Australia about seven years ago, has this week arrived in England with a contingent of the Australian Expeditionary Force, which he joined some time back. Mr. and Mrs. French’s younger son, James, is also serving in H.M.Forces.|
In November, Reginald’s Battalion travelled to Folkestone where, on 16 November, they left for France on board the SS Victoria, arriving the following day at the 2nd Australian Division Base Depot at Étaples. A month later, on 12 December, he, and possibly all his comrades, were admitted to a "Segregation Camp". This was not an unusual occurrence as often troops who arrived from England, either newly posted or on return from leave, were placed in quarantine if there was a risk they had been in close contact with diseases such as mumps or measles.
On 30 December, Reginald proceeded to join his unit in the field in the Fricourt area and was taken on strength on 27 January 1917. The winter was exceptionally cold, wet and snowy.
Reginald saw much action, taking part in operations on the Ancre, the capture of Thilloys (25th February - 2nd March 1917), the Battle of Lagnicourt, in which the Australian army saw fierce fighting in March and April, the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, when the Division captured Bapaume, and the Battle of Bullecourt in May.
On 31 May 1917, Reginald was taken ill and evacuated by the 5th Australian Field Ambulance. The following day he was recorded as being hospitalised. On 10 June he was transferred to the 56th Casualty Clearing Station and admitted with trench fever [footnote at bottom of page]. On 16 June, his condition was serious and prolonged enough for him to be transferred by train and admitted to Rouen General Hospital the following day.
Just over a week later on 24 June, Reginald left Rouen by train for evacuation the following day back to England. He travelled on the Australian Hospital Ship "Warilda", arriving the next day, and was admitted to the Military Hospital in Richmond, Surrey. By 17 July, Reginald was well enough to be transferred to No. 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Harefield Park, Middlesex. At the end of July, Reginald’s condition was recorded as fair with continuing neuralgic pains in arms and legs. He was signed off for light duties as he was not able to walk far.
It is hoped that he now had the opportunity to visit his family in England, as he was given several days of leave before reporting to the No 2 Command Depot, Weymouth, Dorset, then on to the Overseas Training Brigade at Longbridge Deverill, Wiltshire.
Reginald set sail again for France on 20 October and made his way back to his battalion, re-joining them on 3 November. His battalion was refitting and reorganising near Steenvorde, a small town in northern France on the border with Belgium.
November and December (including Christmas) were spent in the front line. They were eventually relieved at 7.30pm on New Year’s Eve. January 1918 was spent mainly on the move and in training. February, however, started with Reginald being promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal in the field on the 9th. The first two weeks also saw the 7th Brigade preparing for their sports day. These were obviously taken very seriously with a high ranking committee and a rule book of several pages being put together. The events took placed over the two days of Tuesday 19 and Wednesday 20 February. These two days were packed with athletic and field events, including English and Australian rules football, but also light-hearted events such as fancy dress football, climbing a greasy pole and pillow fighting up a pole.
March, April and May were spent once again in and out of the front line. June started out with a terrible blow to the men. The war diary explains:
|Date||Summary events and Information|
|1st June 1918||LA HOUSSOYE: Divisional Reserve: Weather: Warm; Relief: At midnight 31st-1st the Battalion was relieved by the 22nd Battalion 6th (A.I. Brigade). The Companies on having relieved proceeded by march route to LA HOUSSOYE independently. On arrival at LA HOUSSOY switch trench of "B" Company an evening flare appeared overhead.
Apparently the Company was observed by a pilot, who, in quick succession dropped two bombs, which unfortunately fell on Headquarters Staff including LT.COL. CURRIE, D.S.O. who had a marvellous escape, they being only seven yards away from where the bombs dropped. At the time of the accident the men were in excellent spirits, after their tour of duty in the trenches & Brigade Reserves.
The affair cast a gloom over the whole of the Battalion. The bodies were buried in Framvillers Cemetery.
General: Apart from this very painful affair, the day passed off very quietly.
Officers: Capt. C. St.Pugh arrived at nucleus camp.
Daily Strength: Sick – 3; Wounded – 39; Died of Wounds – 1; Killed – 25
Present (Officers/ORs): 30 - 617; Detached: 19 - 240
|The next 3 days brought some respite, but on 5 June they started to make their move to the front:|
|5th June||LA HOUSSOYE – Divisional Reserve - Weather: Sunny and bright. Move: At 3.30 a.m. Major Mitchell, "I.O" and Signals Officer left Battalion Headquarter to proceed to the 19th Battalion H.Q. whom the 28th Battalion were going to relieve.
At 9 p.m. the Battalion moved out from Divisional Reserves and proceeded by march route VIA. HIELLY, MERICOURT to relieve the 19th Battalion in the line EAST of MORLANCOURT. En route the Battalion was heavily shelled at MERICOURT, but suffered no casualties.
The dispositions of the Companies in the line were:-
"A" Company front line right. Captain G. MEYSEY HAMMOND, M.C.
"B" Company front line left. Captain Dunkley.
"C" Company Reserve Right. Lieut. Edmonstone
"D" Company Reserve Left. Lieut. Gaby.
Battalion H.Q. were established at J.17.b.3.7. Ref Sheet 62o NE
General: During progress of relief, an enemy patrol was seen to approach one of our posts. Fire was opened on the party who withdrew leaving one enemy dead in front of our line. The soldier was identified as one of the 90th R.I.R.
Officers: Lt. A. Getty badly wounded whilst being attended to at the "C.C.S."
Officers: The following Officers went into the line with the Battalion.
"C.O." – Lt.Col. P. CURRIE, D.S.O.
"C.O." – MAJOR MITCHELL
"C.O." – MAJOR MITCHELL
Adjutant – Capt. McLean, M.C.
"I.O." – Lt. T.B. KEILLOR, M.C.
Signals Officer – Lt. E.R. ANDERSON.
"A" Company – Capt. Hammond, M.C. Lts Blythe, Cubbold, Wilson, Hardwick.
"B" Company – Lt. Edmonston, Lts Bond, O’Grady, Britt.
"C" Company – Capt. Dunkley, Lts McDonald, Skevington, Farquarson, Folly.
"D" Company – Lts Galey, Gouler, McSher, Woods, Smiley
"M.D." – Capt. Harper.
|6th June||East of MORLANCOURT – In Line
Weather: Clear and Warm. Artillery: During the past 24 hours, our and enemy batteries fairly quiet. Aircraft: Our planes continue to fly over the enemy lines and drop bombs on usual targets. One enemy plane seen to crash in front of our sector.
Reconnaissance: The “C.O.” at 6.30 a.m. left Battalion H.Q. to reconnoitre the front line returning at 9.30 a.m.
General: At 11 p.m. a special patrol of 1 Officer and 9 O.R. left our line to locate enemy post. They succeeded in locating this post and returned safely in our lines at 2 a.m. Lt. McDONALD was in charge of this patrol.
During the hours of darkness, work of deepening and widening trenches occupied by the Battalion was engaged in.
The trenches here were very comfortable and the men were in very excellent spirits.
Four American N.C.O.s arrived and were attached to the Battalion for Infantry experience. They were very keen and visited the line at intervals. During the past 24 hours our casualties were nil.
Daily Strength: Arrivals: 1 officers; 15 O.R.; Departures: 1 officer and 1 O.R.. Present: 26/607; Detached: 20/261.
|7th June||EAST of MORLANCOURT – In Line
Weather: Warm & Sunny; Artillery: Fairly quiet throughout the day. During the night enemy batteries kept up their usual scattered shelling of our reserve areas.
Our batteries throughout the day and night kept up fire on enemy targets; Officers: Lieut. Getty killed by aerial bomb at No. 61. C.C.S.; Aerial: Both sides very active throughout the day and evening.
General: Brig.Gen Wisdom visited Battalion H.Q. at 9 a.m.
At 4 a.m. Lt.Col. Curvie D.S.O. left Battalion H.Q. to visit the men in the line, returning at 6 a.m. The men in the line were having a fairly quiet time, sniping with very good results. During the day the American N.C.O.s attached to the Battalion visited the line. Casualties for the day – nil.
During their term of duty in the trenches, work was carried on, consisting of improving and digging new support & C.J. trenches.
Rations at this stage were very good, and the reserve Company “B” carried them up to the men holding the line every night after dark.
Daily Strength Arrivals: 1; Departures: 0; Present 26/604; Detached 20/265.
|8th June||EAST of MORLANCOURT – In line
Weather: Warm & bright; Artillery: Both sides very quiet; Reconnaissance: C.O. & Major Gen 7th Brigade Headquarters visited the Battalion in the trenches.
General: At this time everything was very quiet; both sides apparently reserving themselves for enemy events.
The troops in the line were very happy and in excellent spirits.
“A” and “B” still holding the front line whilst “B” and “D” Companies were occupying trenches in close support.
Daily Strength Arrivals: 0;Departures: 1 officer, 4 O.R.; Present: 26/613; Detached: 19/252
|9th June||EAST of MORLANCOURT – In Line
Weather: Clear and sunny; Artillery: Our Batteries opened usual intermittent fire on registered targets, being less active than usual during night. Enemy Artillery was very quiet all day and up to 11.30 p.m. After which batteries became very aggressive and maintained a Gas and H.E. bombardment practically up to 4.30 a.m.;
Trench Mortars: One of our 6 Newton Batteries opened fire lasting for two hours on enemy trenches and supports with satisfactory results; Aerial: Our planes between 7 & 9 p.m. were very active, but otherwise quiet. Several enemy planes were observed during the day but there was an absence of activity at night.
General: As the result of our Trench Mortar shelling several stretcher cases were observed being carried away from the enemy lines. The casualties were reported on our sector as the result of enemy Gas bombardment although great inconvenience was caused by it to “working” & “carrying” parties in the forward and support areas.
At this stage it was made known that an attack on the enemy lines EAST of MORLANCOURT by the 7th A.J. Brigade was to take place & arrangements were carried out according to plan.
Casualties for the day were still very light.
Daily Strength Arrivals – 12 O.R. No Departures; Present: 26/625; Detached: 19 officers/252 O.R.s
|10th-11th June||EAST of MORLANCOURT – In Line
Weather: Sunny and warm; Artillery: Throughout the day ours and enemy batteries were very silent, only at intervals, very slight shelling up back areas.;
Reconnaissance: “C.O.” and Major Mitchell visited the line during the day;
ATTACK: After great preparation everything was in order for the attack on enemy positions, the troops of the 7th A.I.Brigade occupying the following positions. 27th Battalion Right of attack, 25th centre, 28th left of attack, 26th Battalion support. The men of the W.A. Battalion (28th) and were as follows, “A” Company (right) commanded by Capt. G. Meysey Hammond, M.C., M.M., “D” Company (centre) Lt. GABY, A.E., “C” Company (left) Capt. Dunkley. “B” Company “carrying Company” occupying support line. Lt. Edmonston. Previous to attack, Battle Headquarters, shifted up to the GOBAR LINE. Lt.Col Curvie, Capt McLean and the necessary liaison Officers occupying a dugout in that line.
At 9.45 p.m. (10th) according to plan our Artillery opened up a terrific bombardment, with all kinds of shells on enemy positions, followed by the Infantry who at this time were keen and determined to win. The attack was made in great style. Within ten minutes the Infantry were storming the enemy and his positions with bomb, rifle and bayonets. The centre of the attack on the 18th Battalion sector by “D” Company was carried in Gallant style led by Lt. Gaby and platoon officers. The Company put up a record show, for at 10.5 p.m., lines were laid, and communications established to the Battle Headquarters, and the situation well in hand. On the right and left flanks, opposition was much stronger, where “A” & “B” Companies had to fight for positions, held by enemy Machine Gunners. “A” Company led by that gallant and able leader, Capt. G. Meysey Hammond performed very excellent work, and soon overcame enemy gunners and bombers, who stuck to their posts till the last. There the enemy, disorganized and broken fled in all directions leaving many prisoners and dead in our lines. “C” Company led by Capt. Dunkley also did splendid work and on this sector stiff opposition was encountered by this Company, but very soon the situation was won and the line reported intact from both flanks. (Original messages sent on arrival and capture of objectives are enclosed under separate cover.)
By 10.30 p.m. the whole situation was lost and won and our men occupying the enemy trenches, were soon consolidating their positions and preparing for any counter-blow which might eventuate. In the attack the casualties were comparatively light. The first Officer to fall gallantly leading his men was Lt. Cubbold. This Officer was grand and displayed excellent courage during the whole of the attack. Other Officers to fall were Lieutenants Blythe and Goullee. Both did splendidly. Other casualties to Officers (wounded) were Lieutenants McDonald, Skevington and Farquason. Casualties suffered by the Battalion were comparatively light, the total not exceeding 50.
At 12.30 a.m. Lt-Col CURRIE visited the newly gained ground, and organized the defensive system in case of an enemy counter attack (which formed up, but failed to reach our position) and returned to Battle H.Q. at 2.am. Prisoners and material captured were as follows: Officers 2, O.R. 173. 10 Machine Guns, 2 Light Trench Mortars.
At 3.30 a.m. “C” Company were withdrawn from the line and the ground vacated by that Company, was taken over by “D” Company. “C” Company now occupied the old front line trench BURKE LINE, as close support.
At 6.30 a.m. (11th) Battle H.Q. shifted back to their old H.Q. at J.17.b.3.8. (Ref Sheet 62D N.E.1:20.000). Throughout the morning of the 11th the enemy guns were silent, but towards noon his batteries having registered on our new line began a heavy shelling on our front line system and supports.
At 6.30 p.m. the sad news was wired through that Capt. Hammond M.C., M.M. had been wounded (sniped by enemy). Lt. Hardwick now took command of “A” Company, and Lt. Smiley was posted to “A” Company for duty.
Towards nightfall the enemy shelling quietened somewhat and the remainder of the night passed off very quiet. Throughout the whole of the Operations, every man played his part ably and well. Special praise is due to the “Carrying Company” “B”, commanded by Lt. Edmonston who followed the attackers under a very heavy enemy barrage, with S.A.A., bombs, wire, hot cocoa and rum.
Daily Strength Arrivals: 1 Officer, 1 O.R; Departures: 2 O.R.; Present: 26/620; Detached: 20/252.
There was some controversy over this attack because the “Secret” orders appeared to have been leaked with even the men at the front-line knowing what was about to occur. It was suggested that orders should in future be hand-written and not typed by office staff. Additionally, the timing of Zero Hour being 9.45pm meant that the enemy would have seen the troops moving into their positions in broad daylight. This was thought to have been a good idea, as it was an approach that had not been used since attacks at Pozièrs. It was suggested by Officers that it should not be used again, at least not for some time.
There was confusion over Reginald’s fate and nothing would be confirmed for many months. A letter dated 26 June 1918, still referring to him as a Private, was sent to his wife, Gladys, in Australia, simply saying he had been “wounded”.
On 3 August 1918 the following report was published in the Faversham and North East Kent News:
|CORPL. REGINALD FRENCH,
AUSTRALIAN FORCES, REPORTED MISSING
Corpl. Reginald French, Australian Forces, elder son of Mr. and Mrs. James French, of Greenstreet, is, we regret to hear reported missing since June 14th. It seems he took a part in an action on that date, the objective being to take the enemy’s first and second lines of trenches. Corpl. French, however, passed the second line and reached the third, and what happened to him is at present unknown. It may be, of course, that he is a prisoner of war and that in due course news will be heard of him.
We hope this may be the case, Mr and Mrs French having already lost their younger son, James (Queen’s Westminster Rifles), who was killed in action about eighteen months ago. Corpl Reginald French, who is married, joined up in Australia in the early part of the war, being anxious to do his bit. During the two years or so he had served in France he had been in a lot of hard fighting, but had maintained an unfailing cheerfulness. A Sergeant of his platoon who recently came to England on leave and called on Mr and Mrs French and explained the circumstances under which Corpl French was reported missing, spoke of him as “the inspiration of his platoon,” and of his reliability and courage in any situation. Corpl French has hitherto come through all his engagement unwounded, but he suffered for a time from trench fever following his experiences at Bullecourt.
The British Red Cross sought information regarding the fate of Reginald, and thousands of others. A statement recorded on 14 August 1918 by a Sergeant J S Wiggins, said:
“I was T/C.S.M. of “C” Company of my Battalion, and L/Cpl French was attached to this Company. On the evening of the 10th day of June 1918, when the Battalion was engaged in a minor attack operation, L/Cpl French was reported to me by his platoon sergeant (who has since been killed) as being wounded. This platoon sergeant told me that French’s wound was a slight one, and that he was being evacuated. This was the general opinion of all who saw French, but I did not see him myself and cannot give definite information.”
On 1 October, Private 6073 J B Fitzsimmons, then in 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Dartford, stated:
“He [Reginald] was in C Coy and was a L/Cpl. Refer to Sgt Woolnough C Coy 28th Battn who is now in England at an OTS for he saw him lying in a sap.”
On 14 November Cadet T H Woolnough made the following statement:
“Re 5004 Pte French, 28th Battalion, AIF. Am sorry to inform you my information is very remote concerning the said man. He was in my Company at the time the engagement took place in which he was reported Missing and I personally searched for him at the time but could find no trace of him. I also made numerous enquiries at the time, and since, but could get no information whatever.
His description as far as I can remember is as follows: dark hair, full face, rather thick set, medium height 5’8”, rather prominent forehead, and age roughly 23 to 27.
Cadet T H Woolnough, B Coy No 3 OCB, Parkhurst I of W”
The day after the Armistice, on 12 November 1918, Reginald’s mother wrote:
I have enclosed photos as requested of 5004 L/C R French 28 Battalion AIF who was wounded and missing on June 14 [sic] 18 at Morlencourt, France. Will you please make all enquiries possible.
(Mrs) J French”
Mrs French had already lost her younger son, James, and was obviously desperate to receive positive news of Reginald. However, the reply dated 26 November 1918 did not bring the wished-for news:
We have received your letter of 12. 11. 18 in which you state that you enclose two photographs of No 5004, L/Cpl R French “as requested”. Although we appreciate your thoughtfulness in sending these, we cannot trace the request to anyone in this Office. We think, however, that our enquiry to Sgt Woolnough, in which we stated that a “short description of his personal appearance” would be appreciated, may have been passed on to you, and you have forwarded these photographs of L/Cpl French, thinking they would help in the search. We have decided, however, to return them to you, as we find that a personal description, copies of which can be distributed to our searchers to all possible sources of information, is of much greater value to us than a limited number of photographs which cannot be handed round so freely.
If you can furnish us with a personal description in place of these, you will greatly assist our work.
Thank you in anticipation,
A Court of Enquiry was held on 12 December 1918, with the result that on 23 January 1919 the Australian military authorities confirmed that for official purposes it was to be assumed that Reginald had been killed in action on 10 June 1918. On 24 January 1919, Reginald’s mother was sent the following letter:
We deeply regret to inform you that 5004 Pte R French, 28th Battn AIF, previously reported wounded and missing has now been officially reported Killed in Action 10-6-18. We have put his name on our lists and hope soon to forward you particulars of his death and burial.
With sincere sympathy.
The Red Cross file holds a note that on 15 February 1919, Reginald’s father had asked a friend to call into the Red Cross Office to ask if anything more was known. It was confirmed they had no further information.
The matter was complicated when the following response to earlier correspondence was received by Reginald’s mother in a letter dated 3 March 1919:
With reference to your enquiry for 5004 Pte (sic) R French, 28th Battalion, AIF. We beg to inform you that we have received an unofficial report from 5788 Sgt J S Wiggins of the same Unit interviewed at Longbridge Deverill who states that on the evening of 16(sic) June 1918 during a minor operation L/Cpl French’s platoon sergeant (since killed in action) reported L/Cpl French as having been slightly wounded. Wiggins regrets he cannot give further definite information as that is all he knows. We are doing our utmost to obtain further particulars, and will notify you immediately we receive any news.
With sincere sympathy
(Miss) A Griffiths, Secretary.”
The last communication on the matter seems to have been a certificate from a Captain Mills dated 22 October 1919 confirming that no trace had been found of Reginald in prisoner of war camps or hospitals in Germany.
There is little correspondence from Reginald’s wife in Australia apart from requests for information included in 2 letters informing authorities of her change of address. The letters were written within two days of each other in early December 1918, the first giving details of her move from Fremantle, Western Australia to Paddington, New South Wales. Then changing her address to Cottesloe Beach, Western Australia.
Reginald’s widow married Arthur Thomas Davidson Ryan in 1920, sadly she died on 4 May 1922, aged 29, leaving a widowed husband and a 7-month-old daughter, Patty. Reginald's father died on 23 December 1920, having lost both his sons and leaving just his wife and daughter.
Reginald was posthumously awarded the British War and Victory medals.
Unfortunately Reginald’s date of death is recorded on the Lynsted memorial plaque as 14, rather than 10 June 1918. Due to the research undertaken by the Society, we have been able to correct the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records, where they gave Reginald’s year of death as 1917.
Reginald is commemorated on the Australian National Memorial, at Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, Somme, France. The memorial commemorates all Australian soldiers who fought in France and Belgium during the First World War and have no known grave. Reginald is one of 10,738 named.
He is also commemorated on the Australian National War Memorial in Campbell, near Canberra, Australian Capital Territory. Reginald is commemorated on panel 113, the position of which is indicated on the plan by the poppy.
Footnote 1: Trench fever is a disease transmitted by body lice. It infected troops in Flanders, France, Poland, Galicia, Italy, Salonika, Macedonia, Mesopotamia and Egypt in World War I. Between one-fifth and one-third of all British troops reported ill had trench fever. The incubation period was around three weeks and the onset of symptoms is sudden. They include high fever, severe headache, pain on moving the eyes, soreness of the muscles of the legs and back, and a heightened sensitivity of the shins. The initial fever is followed in a few days by a single, short rise but there may be many relapses. The most persistent symptom is pain in the legs. Recovery takes a month or more. Lethal cases are rare, but in a few cases the persistent fever might lead to heart failure. After-effects could include nerve and muscle pain, and cardiac problems.