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
Frank Russell (of Teynham)
b. 1896, Q2
d. 8th October 1917. Aged 20
Lance Corporal, T/200204 (previously 1600)
1/4th Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment)
Remembered with Honour
Madras 1914-1918 War Memorial (Face 8), Chennai (Madras)
Buried at Bareilly Cemetery, Janakpuri Nehru Park Colony
Row L, Grave Number 76 with Cross
Died from Disease
Frank's extended family, back to his great-grandfather was strongly tied to agricultural labouring and carting from Lenham, Wychling, and Frinsted. Frank was the elder of three children and the only boy to Frank and Elizabeth Ann (nee Hicks); his siblings being Sarah Ann and Annie Elizabeth. Following marriage, Frank and Elizabeth set up their marital home in 1901 at 25, Crown Quay Road, Sittingbourne. He was employed as a "labourer in the Cement Factory" (neighbouring Murston brickworks having been extended to include cement production, as did Conyer on a grander scale). The birth of Frank (junior) was registered as Milton Regis, Sittingbourne, in 1896. In 1911, both father and son were farm workers, now living at 2, School Lane, Iwade. We know that by the close of the war, both parents had moved to 3, Eastward Cottages, Conyer - potentially working at the brickworks or cement works.
There are no further war records from which we can build a picture of the man.
Following his death through unspecified disease, Frank left his effects to his parents. This amounted to £21 11s. 1d with an additional War Gratuity of £14 10s.
Frank is remembered in a piece from The Faversham and North East Kent News of 17th November 1917: "CORPORAL F. RUSSELL, THE BUFFS. Corporal Frank Russell was the only son of Mr. and Mrs Frank Russell, of Brunswick Row, Conyer, and was in his 22nd year. He died of enteric in India on October 8th. His parents had not seen him for nearly three years, so that the news of his death was a distressing blow to them. Deceased was in the Sittingbourne Territorial unit of the the Buffs prior to the war, volunteered for war service when war broke out, and was drafted to India before the end of 1914."
On 1st August, 1914, the British Army in India amounted to 75,000 (including Establishment, officers and other ranks). By August 1919, the forecast requirement for British Other Ranks alone stood at 59,146. The post-war estimate of need was up to 79,000 to govern the subcontinent. By the close of hostilities, the number of British casualties in India amounted to:
These statistics reflect the use of British officers to lead native Indian troops.
We know from the War Gratuity, that Frank enlisted during August 1914. This enlistment date places Frank Russell in that group of men who responded to calls to arms during August 1914 to make up the numbers of 4th (Territorial) Battalion, The Buffs, before it could be ready to serve overseas. Under the banner "Every Village must give its Support", potential recruits were pointed to a list of towns across Kent, including Faversham and Sittingbourne. Once numbers were made up, any further recruits would be entered into the 2nd/4th Battalion The Buffs. By 29th August, the Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald reported, "we are informed that as many as 500 of the men of the 4th Battalion of the Buffs, (East Kent Regiment) have volunteered for the front. The total strength of the battalion is about 700".
The story of how and why the Battalion found its way to India and the Middle East is best told by turning to extracts from the "Historical Records of the Buffs, 1914 – 1919" by Colonel R.S.H. Moody, C.B." – as we have not been able to consult the War Diary for 1/4th The Buffs. Consider the fact that Frank saw service from the outset of war until his untimely death 3 years later. It is possible (we have no evidence) that Frank was a member of the pre-War Territorial force as all Territorials had to ‘sign up’ for overseas service at the outset of war.
Their departure, planned for 29th October 1914 was remarked by the Mayor of Thanet in the Thanet Advertiser (31st October):- "In the course of the evening, the Mayor, in a few appropriate words, spoke of the impending departure of the men of the 4th Buffs. He said he felt certain the men would much prefer to have gone straight to the front to have a slap at the Germans – (here, here) – but possibly their turn would come. He wished them all God speed on their journey and a safe return home again. He knew they would do their duty while away from home. (Applause.)" Of course this didn't happen and the 4th were present in a variety of roles from Aden, to Singapore, to the frontier-lands of the Indian Sub-continent.
The Battalion went to India, remaining there throughout the war. Although, the Division was broken up on arrival in Bombay. Joined Mhow Brigade in 5th (Mhow) Division. On 26th July 1915, the Battalion sailed to Aden (now in modern Yemen). During January 1916, the Battalion returned to India and 7th Meerut Divisional Area. In July 1918, they moved to Lahore in 16th (Indian) Division.
Local newspaper reports tell us Frank died of "enteric". The area of India in which Frank was serving was characterised as "wet and unhealthy" - ideal conditions for a virulent outbreak of plague in the north and west of India that led to heavy mortality. Other candidates that year that fell on the region, include epidemic malaria following the especially heavy monsoon in a wet year. Yet another candidate was Relapsing Fever (a recurring febrile disease transmitted by lice or ticks.). That particularly wet year may have worsened the seepage of human faeces into water-sources through flooded latrines, drains and water-courses leading to outbreaks of numerous cases of enteric fever (a form of typhoid).
Serving from the outbreak of war, Frank Russell was awarded the posthumous 14-15 Star, Victory and British War Medals:-
British War Medal
Click on image for larger version
- None found.
IVa. 4TH BATTALION
The 4th and 5th Battalions of the Buffs were Territorials, and when war was declared they were both out for their annual training at Longmore with their division - "The Home Counties." Every Territorial unit had what was called special service sections - that is a few selected men were always held in readiness to guard, in case of sudden emergencies, important strategic points throughout the country. These special sections of the 4th Battalion were mobilized as early as 28th July - a week before war broke out - and were consequently amongst the very first to be put on a war footing, at a time, indeed, when very few of their countrymen had begun to think that England was on the verge of this tremendous epoch of her history. These men were despatched to safeguard the wireless stations in Thanet and the cable at Dumpton Gap. On the 5th August the battalion was completely mobilized at Dover and was in the new Connaught Barracks there to guard the nearest point to the Continent till their place could be taken by the 3rd or Special Reserve Battalion. A few days later the Kent Infantry Brigade retired to Canterbury and was billeted there.
Here Lt.-Colonel G. Gosling, commanding, called for volunteers to serve in France or elsewhere abroad, and in response to his appeal enough stout fellows volunteered to serve anywhere to ensure that the 4th Buffs could be reckoned on as an overseas unit. Those who failed to volunteer formed the nucleus of a new battalion for home service only and were denominated the 2/4th Battalion.
The following extract from the Kentish Gazette describes the situation after the battalion became an overseas unit:-
"Towards the end of August, 1914, when the Germans were devastating Belgium and there were grave probabilities of a raid on the coast, the 4th Battalion was suddenly ordered to Thanet. Recruits flocked in from East Kent until the battalion was nearly 1,300strong. The training was carried on under difficult conditions and a great deal of discomfort, but the cheerful willingness to learn made things easy, so that by the middle of October a very fine battalion was ready to be sent wherever required. Just before the end of October, 1914, the 4th Battalion and part of the Home Counties Division was ordered to India, to enable the Regulars to be moved from India to France."
It is noteworthy that of this rush of patriotic young men to swell the ranks of the 4th Battalion, which is referred to in the extract I have quoted, forty-four students from Wye College joined in one day.
It was on the 29th October that the battalion left Thanet, as did all the rest of the Home Counties Division, with the exception of the 4th Royal West Surrey, detached for other important services. At Suez and Aden the convoy was delayed three and four days respectively owing to the activity of the Turks, who had already attacked Perim and were now threatening the Canal. In fact, the battalion disembarked at Suez and marched through the town as a demonstration.
In addition to the troops sent from our country to the various war theatres, there was a very considerable army kept up at home during the whole four years of war. The main duty of this force was, of course, to find reinforcements for the units abroad, but the safety of our own shores had all the while also to be considered.
Invasion, properly so called, may have been an impossibility, at any rate, till the British Fleet had been sunk, because an invasion takes time: armies and enormous quantities of munitions, stores and horses must be landed and arrangements made to keep up connection between the invading troops and the country they come from. But this is not the case with raids: comparatively small forces can sometimes be landed in an enemy's country, do an infinity of damage and destruction for a day or two and then re-embark. To guard against a possibility of anything of this sort happening was another and very important duty of the home army, and there were other reasons for its maintenance. When the bulk of the 4th and 5th (Territorial) Battalions of the Buffs volunteered for foreign service, those who did not do so were still willing enough to fulfil their original undertaking to aid in guarding their native shores, and these men formed the nucleus of new battalions for home service only, called the 2/4th and 2/5th.
The 24th was formed at Ashford, Kent, under Lt.-Colonel Skey, and the following month proceeded to Sunninghill and Ascot, but its station during the first portion of 1915 was Rochester, and its vicinity and later on it went to Sevenoaks. The intensive training which had necessarily obtained in the case of the battalions required for immediate war service was not in the nature of things pressed so persistently on units of the home army, and their training was of a steadier and slower description. Regular garrison duties were carried out, which included a considerable amount of guard work when at Strood and Rochester.
In May, 1915, the 214th and the 2/5th Buffs each furnished one company complete for a Kent composite battalion to serve in the Gallipoli Peninsula, which unit will be referred to later. Lt.-Colonel Atkinson was in command about the middle of 1915, and a year later the 2/4th went back into the Ashford district. There were very numerous drafts found and sent overseas by the 2/4th. These generally went to the 1/4th in India, but there were notable exceptions; for instance, in August, 1916, nearly four hundred men went to France to the 18th and 19th London Regiment and to the King's Royal Rifles. The battalion was disbanded in August, 1917.
Colonel C. Hawley Williams, V.D., Honorary Colonel of the 4th Battalion of The Queen's Own (Royal West Kent) Regiment was appointed, when the 5th Buffs went to India, to command the home-keeping remnant which made the 2/5th. He had Major (Hon. Colonel) the Viscount Goschen, V.D., as his Second-in-Command. The battalion belonged to the Second-line Kent Infantry Brigade, and like its neighbour the 2/4th, it underwent several moves, and was at Ashford, Ascot and Bracknell successively. Recruiting was carried on, but as the Weald of Kent is not very thickly populated, the number did not increase as rapidly as in the case of some other units, though very considerable efforts were made. The progress of training was retarded by lack of instructors, lack of equipment and lack of rifles, but the officers and men neglected no effort to become efficient and difficulties were gradually overcome. The history of the 2/5th was much the same as that of the 2/4th. It, too, went through a period of service near Chatham and was worked heavily at the guard duties, and it, too, as has been stated above, sent a company to Gallipoli.
The 3/4th Battalion of the Buffs was raised by Major L. C. R. Messel, T.D., at Canterbury in July, 1915, and Lieut. G. C. Bateman from the 2/4th was appointed adjutant with the temporary rank of captain. The establishment was originally only one company, commanded by a major, but this was shortly increased to two and an excess of strength up to fifty per cent permitted. Lieut. R. Smith, late of the Buffs and Army Pay Department, became Quarter- Master, and that well-known and greatly respected veteran, J. Bennell, Regtl. Sergt.-Major, up till February, 1916, when he was relieved by C.S.M. C. Brown. On the 31st December, 1915, the battalion moved to Cambridge, together with other units of the third-line groups (as they were called) of the Home Counties Division. Later on the whole went to Crowborough.
The 3/5th was raised by Major Charles P. Kingsland of the 2/5th. The original description was Third-line Depot 5th Battalion The Buffs, but this was soon altered to 3/5th The Buffs, and in 1916 to 5th Reserve Battalion The Buffs. The establishment was the same as that of the last-mentioned unit, but in 1916 it was increased to 750 men in consequence of the 1/5th being in Mesopotamia. At this time also the commanding officer was given the temporary rank of lieutenant-colonel. Major A. Stuart Elmslie was at first the adjutant, but later became second-in-command. R.S.M. Bolton, 1st Battalion, The Buffs, was regimental sergeant-major. This unit also joined their third-line group at Cambridge at the very end of 1915, and it was accommodated in Trinity College, and it also went to Crowborough in 1916, having sent a large draft from Cambridge to Mesopotamia. On the 1st September, 1916, the battalion was amalgamated with the 3/4th, and with it became the 4th Reserve Battalion of The Buffs, under the command of Lt.-Colonel L. C. R. Messel, T.D. It was part of the Home Counties Reserve Brigade, and had a strength now of no less than 1,560 men. A little later it became the reserve unit for the 10th Buffs, of whom we shall hear later. In October, 1917, Lt.-Colonel Messel was succeeded by Major W. D. Sword from the North Staffordshire Regiment.
SINCE the 29th October, 1914, England had been at war with Turkey. Now both our own country and the Ottoman Empire were much interested in the East, and both had, of course, very extended Eastern possessions; consequently, we were always knocking up against the Turk, and in many parts of the world, such as the Gallipoli Peninsula, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia and Arabia.
It was on the 2nd July, 1915, that, as it was discovered that the Turks had had the audacity to enter the Aden Protectorate, permission was obtained from the Indian Government (Aden being officially a part of India) to send out from the town a mobile column, with the result that a very small one, but the best the little garrison could do, proceeded on the 3rd to Shekh Othman, which is a point from which the isthmus which connects the town with the mainland, and which is only about a mile across, can best be defended against aggression from the land side. The sea power of our country was, of course, sufficient to prevent any hostile attempt from the water.
A Turkish advance into the Protectorate by about 900 men, nearly half of them Arabs, with 8 guns, was confirmed; but it was found that our own force, consisting as it did of only a little over 1,000 men, 10 guns and to maxims, was far too small to attempt operations in the hilly country, and it was compelled to remain on the defensive and hope for a chance of catching the enemy in the act of debouching from the mountains.
Another and very excellent reason for remaining quiet was that our native transport men were deserting in crowds. It was all very well for the canny Aden native to draw English pay in peace time as a transport servant, but he was not going to be shot at. On the 8th July, in fact, the mobile force had to withdraw into Aden and ask for reinforcements. The heat was tremendous; the roads mere sand tracks - quite unfit for mechanical transport, and along which it was reckoned that eight camels would be required to drag one gun.
There are a few brackish wells at Shekh Othman and good water for one brigade, but this supply was cut off by the enemy on the loth July, and condensed water was all that was obtainable. On this day it was found that the Turks were being reinforced, and General Younghusband with his brigade was ordered to Aden from Egypt, with directions to take Lahej.
It was, however, later taken into consideration that Aden itself was safe enough, because, as we had the mastery of the sea, the enemy could only attack it along a narrow isthmus commanded on both sides by the fire of the ships; and therefore it came to pass that in this region active service for a long period degenerated into two forces remaining more or less passively facing each other: the English at Aden, and their enemies at Lahej. But Shekh Osman was reoccupied on the 21st July. The English infantry consisted only of the Brecknockshire Battalion of the South Wales Borderers.
Aden is not a white man's garrison, and in normal times a British battalion only remains there one year on its completion of an Indian tour and on its way home to England. The summer proved extremely trying to the Brecknockshires, and they suffered so much from sickness that they eventually had to be relieved from India by the 4th Battalion of The Buffs, which sailed on the Varsova on the 26th.
The battalion disembarked at Aden on the 4th August, 1915. By the 18th the Turkish force at Lahej was reckoned at 2,500 Turks, 1,500 Arabs and 20 guns, and it was supposed that only the absence of water between them and Shekh Othman prevented their advance.
On the 28th a reconnoitring force of ours reported that 2,000 Turks with 14 guns were at Waht. They assumed the offensive when approached and our party fell back on Shekh Othman with 20 wounded, and after this a passive defence of that place, covering Aden, was resolved on; General Younghusband and his men, therefore, returned to Egypt and the command devolved on Br.-General Price.
On the 25th September a column went out on a reconnoitring expedition and entered Waht after slight opposition. There was one Buff casualty, No. 2073 Pte. L. H. Fuller, being the first of the battalion to be slain in the great cause of England. The roads by this time were improved, but the heat was indescribable and proved a more serious enemy than the Turk. No less than fourteen men died of sunstroke, including Sgt. Brazier and Ptes. Bromley, Brown, De la Mare, Dyer, Martin and Steadman of the Buffs.
On the 26th November 80 men of the regiment were reported unfit for further service at Aden, and reference to sick reports shows that on the 1st of that month there were no less than 93 of the battalion In hospital and 121 attending daily. The determination not to attack the enemy and his disinclination to come on resulted in comparative peace till the end of the year.
On the 8th January, 1916, however, the Turks appeared to be contemplating a movement against the Fad country, and it was considered that British prestige seemed likely to suffer from our inaction. It was reckoned that about 700 of the enemy with 4 guns were at Subar, 1,000 with 8 guns at Waht and a small body at Lahej so another reconnoitring column was arranged and sent out from Shekh Othman to threaten the enemy's line Waht-Subar. The men carried two days' supplies of all sorts, and were afterwards to be rationed from Shekh Othman. Our force took up a position at 5.30 a.m. and a covering line advanced, but hostile artillery opened upon it from the Subar direction, and at 10.30 compelled a rearward movement, and the party was finally withdrawn at 2.30 a.m. Later, the Turks themselves advanced about 1,000 strong with 2 machine guns, but this advance on their part was checked at about 500 yards from our position. Attempts were made by our small body of cavalry to take this hostile movement in flank and rear, but the close country impeded movement and the enemy's artillery soon checked the horsemen. At 4.30 the Turks withdrew towards Subar. Their artillery had been well handled and had kept up a very persistent fire. The officer in command determined to return to Shekh Othman, being unable to carry out the programme and recognizing the impossibility of getting the upper hand of his enemy's artillery. The retirement was faultlessly carried out.
A telegram from India arrived early in February ordering the battalion to proceed to Bareilly on relief by the 4th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry from that place. The movement was duly carried out a few days later, and only some few men, who had been trained as gunners, remained behind until their places could be taken by newly made acting gunners from the new regiment. The 4th Battalion remained at Bareilly till July, 1918, and though as a complete unit it saw no more fighting, most of its men did so, for while at Bareilly it sent up detachments to the North-West Frontier and several large drafts about five hundred men in all, to the 5th Battalion in Mesopotamia.
I. 4TH BATTALION RETURNS ENGLAND, 1919
BEFORE studying the final phases and great events of 1918 in France and Flanders, and the conclusion of the war in that area, it may be as well to see how matters ended further afield and in other regions where the Buffs were engaged. It may be remembered that the 10th left Palestine in March, when the initial successes of the German offensive rendered it necessary to reinforce the Western Armies with every available man. Therefore the continuation of the history of that battalion is similar, as regards locality, to that of the 1st, 6th and 7th. The 4th remained in India till sometime after the end of the struggle. The 5th endured a weary time in Mesopotamia, and the and was in the neighbourhood of Salonica. As far as the 4th Battalion is concerned, with the exception of the tour of work at Aden, already described, it saw no war as a unit, though nearly all its individual members at some time or another were seriously engaged. For instance, when this battalion returned from the Aden campaign and was stationed at Bareilly, it sent, as well as detachments to the north-west frontier of India, about five hundred officers and men to the 5th in Mesopotamia.
In July, 1918, the 4th Battalion proceeded to Multan, in the Punjaub, and was in this place when news of the armistice reached India. Now, the great cessation of hostilities brought the blessings of peace to all the rest of the Buffs, even if it brought no immediate change of surroundings, but this was not the case as regards the garrison of India; all sorts of internal troubles were fomented in the great eastern dependency, particularly in the Punjaub, chiefly because certain ignorant and foolish folk at home are too full of the sense of their own importance to leave the ruling of foreign lands to those of our nation who really know all about it and have made their adopted country their life study. Troublous times there were, and in May, 1919, six months after war was supposed to have ended, martial law having been proclaimed, the Buffs were employed on different important points on the railway line and at Amballa, Lahore and other places. Another Afghan war, too, broke out and about half the battalion was employed upon it, both officers and men being called upon to perform various duties at the front. Headquarters, under Lt.-Colonel Dunstan, who had succeeded Lt.-Colonel Gosling, remained at Lahore during the hot weather of 1919. At last, at the end of October, a year after the European peace, the men were collected, embarked on the S.S. Nevasa and landed at Devonport in November, after five years' foreign service, which must be a record, or nearly so, for a strictly home service unit.
The good work of this battalion is recorded in the following letter written, just before its departure from India, by the Commander-in-Chief, General Sir C. C. Munro:-
"Officers, Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men of the 4th Battalion the Buffs, East Kent Regiment. On your departure from India I desire to place on record my high appreciation of your services to the Empire during the period of the Great War.
Many of you, previous to the outbreak of War, had by joining the Territorial Force already given proof that patriotism and public spirit for which the Force has rendered itself so conspicuous.
On the declaration of War, your ranks were filled by eager volunteers animated by the same spirit of self-sacrifice. When called upon to undertake the further obligation of service overseas your response was immediate and unanimous. By so doing you set free a large number of regular units for service in the main theatres of war, at a time when every trained soldier was of the greatest value. Many of you have seen service, and by your conduct and bearing have added to the reputation of the famous regiment whose name you bear.
Since the termination of active fighting in all the theatres of war you have been subjected to the further stress of waiting for your relief. That you appreciated the difficulties which the authorities have had to face in this respect is clear from the patience with which you have borne this trying period.
You are returning to your homes in Kent, and I bid you God Speed and a Happy Homecoming.
As an old Commander of a Territorial Division at home I am proud to have again been associated with you in India."
The government of India, in a long resolution at Delhi (dated 31.12.19), recorded that:-
"The Governors-General in Council desire to express to all ranks of the 4th Battalion the Buffs, East Kent Regiment, the thanks of the Government of India for their patriotic services, which will long be remembered and will serve as a noble and enduring example of good citizenship to future generations."