First World War Project
William Frank BACK (of Teynham)
b. 2nd May 1896
Lance Corporal, Service Number SR/10707
William Frank was born into a family with very strong generational links to Teynham. His was born to Farm Labourer, Charles, and Annie (née Hammond) Back. William had two elder siblings, Agnes Ivy and Percy Charles (who emigrated to Toronto as an electrician), and three younger brothers Frederick James, Thomas Back who also served in France and Edward. He lost his mother in 1910.
He lived at his parent's home until his decision to enlist. Living at Triggs Cottages, Barrow Green, Teynham, William was a farm labourer who stood at 5' 6" height, weighed 112 lbs and have a chest measurement of 33" and 2½" expansion. He had blue eyes and light brown hair. His declared distinguishing marks were two small scars on his buttock.
Apart from his lengthy periods in Hospital in Sussex being treated for sexually transmitted disease, it appears that William did not return home except for 14 days home leave granted from 31st January 1918.
William's father, Charles, was named as William's next of kin. However, all paperwork was handled by William's sister, Agnes Ivy Foster, of 66 Tonge Road, Sittingbourne as well as "Gortanore", Tunstall Road, Sittingbourne.
He was posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medals. [See Appendix 1]
[Note: There is a seemingly random and misleading hand-written reference on his record: "Died from wounds and Broncho Pneumonia" at Traylingwell War Hospital, Chichester. This is simply wrong and should be ignored for our purposes.]
Military Experience of William Frank Back
William served for 3 years and 78 days. In summary, William enlisted at the outbreak of war, on 7th August 1914 he presented himself at Canterbury declaring his wish to join the "Buffs Special Reserve". He remained at Home until 18th August 1915, being posted into the 3rd (Service) Battalion on 26th October 1914 in response to the urgent need for soldiers to be readied for service overseas in the new Battalions. He joined the British Expeditionary Forces in France on 19th August 1915 in which he served until 12th February 1916 when he was posted Home sick. William remained at Home until 2nd May 1917 before being returned to the Front on 3rd May 1917 until his death on 23rd October 1918.
We benefit from a complete record of William's service which helps us unwrap his story in more detail. Early on, William appears to have found it difficult to adjust to the disciplined environment of service life. He faced a number of disciplinary punishments, when at Home in both Dover and Shoreham.
Disciplinary Record: In November 1915, William was in Dover, and faced several confinements to barracks (C.B.):
3rd November (witness Corporal Fox) "When on Active Service absent from punishment drill at 6 p.m.". He received 3 days C.B.
10th November (witnesses Corporal Wanson and Corporal Bean) "When on Active Service quitting the ranks without permission." 2 days C.B.
29th November (Witness C.M. Spicer) "When on active serice late falling in on 6.30 a.m. parade." 2 days C.B.
When posted Home to Shoreham by Sea due to sickness, William again faced disciplinary punishments:
7th June 1916 (Witnesses Corporal Oakley; C.S.M. Spears; Sergeant Cooper) "Quitting 'leg drill' at 11.30 a.m. until reporting himself at 2 p.m." - admonished.
8th June (Witnesses 2/Lt Macpherson; Acting Corporal Back) "Improper Conduct - i.e. failed to salute an officer". 2 punishment drills.
11th August (Witness Sergeant Greenlaw) "Overstaying his pass from midnight until 2 a.m. on 12th inst." 3 days C.B.
12th March 1917 (Witness Corporal Madge) "Absent from parade." 5 days C.B. after which he was immediately posted back into 3rd Battalion.
For the last time, at Dover, following 6 days "slight attack" of pleurisy and ahead of his return to the Front:
21st April 1917 (Witness Lance Corporal Rich) "Failing to salute the Commanding Officer." 5 days confined to Barracks.
William's service was interrupted by several medical episodes.
The first was on 24th August 1915 - he was admitted to Étaples Hospital Lists with "Shock. Result of submersion on Sea on 24th August". The circumstances are unknown - no transport ships sank or were damaged on this date. He Joined the 18th Infantry Base Depot at Étaples, into the 7th Battalion, on 22nd September 1915.
On 13th January 1916, William went to a Field Ambulance. A week later (21st) he was sent to 21st Casualty Clearing Station diagnosed with Neurasthenia (non-specific condition with loss of energy and headaches) and so passed on to No.8 General Hospital, Rouen, on 26th January. At this stage it became clear William was suffering from Gonorrhoea and he was transferred to England aboard the "St. Denis" on 12th February 1916. He remained in England (VD Hospital and convalescence in Shoreham by Sea) where his condition continued to receive treatment. During this period, at Dover, he suffered a "slight attack of Pleurisy" over 6 days. He was Posted back to Depot and active service on 3rd May 1917 in France, returning to the 7th Battalion on 18th May 1917.
Only two months later, 12th July 1917, he was wounded in the Field, receiving a gunshot wound to his right arm but soon returned to his Battalion on 14th July.
On 15th September 1917, William was sent to the 58th General Hospital at St. Omer from which he went to No.7 Convalescence Depot, Boulogne on 7th October where he remained until 18th October. On 22nd October, he rejoined his Battalion in the Field.
On 12th August 1918, William was appointed unpaid Lance Corporal, which was later confirmed.
On 2nd September, William was shot and wounded in one of his legs so that he was sent to No.6 General Hospital, Rouen. It appears this was injury enough to keep him at Rouen and then No.15 Convalescent Depot, Trouville on 5th September. He arrived at Étaples Depot on 23rd September from which he returned to his Battalion.
Circumstances of the death of William Frank Back
William rejoined the 7th Battalion, "D" Company in the Field on 4th October 1918, which is where we pick up the War Diary. He was confirmed as Lance Corporal by the time of his death. The 7th Battalion had been very active during September 1918 and there was discussion on record that the war was entering a distinctive "open warfare" phase; that is to say a more mobile phase with open and active pursuit of the enemy to bring the war to a close. To understand the upbeat message we have transcribed an "Order of the Day" acclamation from the Brigadier General, see below. But the reality was rather more down to earth for those being sent into the fray.
1st October: Near EPEHY: Day broke fine and warm which was very much appreciated after the recent cold and wet. At 8.30 p.m., battalion marched to LIERMONT and bivouacked for night in a field. Night extremely cold though weather fine. "C" Company remained behind to form part of Divisional Burial Party.
2nd October: LIERMONT: Embussed at 10.00 a.m. Moved at 11.40 a.m. and arrived at CONTAY at 4.50 p.m. where battalion was billeted.
3rd October: CONTAY: Battalion resting, cleaning arms, equipment, and clothing.
4th October: Battalion re-organizing and reconnoitring for training area, and C.
5th October: Company training 08.30 to 12.30 hours. Afternoon, recreation.
6th October: Voluntary church service. C.O. inspection of billets at 10.30 hours
7th October: Companies training 08.30 to 12.30 hours. Lectures and recreation in afternoon. "C" Company rejoined.
8th October: ditto
9th October: Companies training 08.30 to 12.30 hours. Companies re-organised. Platoon with 4 section (2 rifles and 2 Lewis Gun).
10th October: Companies training 08.30 to 12.30 hours. Lectures and recreation in afternoon.
11th October: Practising attack formation, vide Training Leaflet No.4 issued by I.G. training. Lectures and recreation in afternoon.
12th October: Companies training 08.30 to 12.30 hours. Lectures and Recreation in afternoon.
13th October: Sunday - Voluntary Church parade. Inspection of billets by Commanding Officer at 10.30 hours. Afternoon – Brigade Race Meeting which was a very successful and sporty meeting.
14th October: Battalion practised new attack formations and methods; pressing home with strength on weak points of defence and thereby outflanking any strong position. Many lessons learnt and noted for following days training. Inter-platoon Football Competition commenced in afternoon (6 a side)
15th October: Companies training 08.30 to 12.30 hours correcting faults discovered during scheme ono 14th inst. Afternoon – continued Inter-platoon Football Competition. Lecture by R.A.F. officer on Organisation and uses of R.A.F. and by Professor Perkin on the History of Serbia and Bulgaria.
16th October: Companies Training 08.30 to 12.30 hours. Inter-platoon Football in afternoon
17th October: Marched to HEILLY at 08.30 and entrained. Departed at 11.30 hours, passing through LONSEAU – VILLERS BRETTONEAUX – CHAULNES – Péronne arriving at ROISEL at 16.30 hours. Marched to TEMPLEUX –LA FOSSE and bivouacked for night.
18th October: TEMPLEUX-LA-FOSSE: Marched at 10.00 hours via VILLERS FAUCON – ST.EMILIE – RONNSOY – BONY – GOUY to BEAUREVOIR arriving at 17.45 hours. Billeted for night.
19th October: BEAUREVOIR: Marched to ELINCOURT at 10.00 via SERAIN arriving at 11.40 hours and billeted. Inhabitants in village.
20th October: ELINCOURT: Sunday. Voluntary Church Service. Inspection of billets by Commanding Officer, 10.30 hours.
21st October: Marched at 15.30 hours to MAUROIS via AVELU, MARETZ arriving at 17.30 hours. During night enemy aeroplanes dropped bombs on the village – also shelled by long range guns.
22nd October: MAUROIS: Marched at 23.25 hours via REUMONT to concentration area West of LE CATEAU.
22nd to 26th October [See report on Operations attached]
27th October: BOUSIES: 6th Northants Regiment carried out a daylight relief and Battalion moved to billets in BOUSIES and held as Divisional Reserve. Disposition shown on attached map.
7th Battalion, THE BUFFS
Report on Operations 22nd – 26th October 1918.
Reference Maps. 57A., 57B., 62A., 62B
22nd October: "Y" Day. At 23.25 hours the Battalion marched via REUMONT to Concentration Area at K.32.a. arriving at 00.45 hours. Hot tea and food was issued.
23rd October: "Z" Day. At 02.00 hours the Battalion marched via MONTAY to assembly position at K.18.c. and d. arriving at 04.15 hours. The head of the column was held up just East of MONTAY and the Battalion suffered 15 casualties from shell fire in the sunken road at K.22.d.7.7.
At 05.00 hours the Battalion moved in artillery formation towards forming up line. Before reaching this position the leading Companies came under heavy machine gun fire directed from the right flank, the Brigade in front of us apparently only having established the line of the first objective. The chief trouble from Machine Guns was settled by an aeroplane dropping 4 bombs onto the position.
The Battalion then advanced, order of Companies being:
Right assaulting Company. "C" Company under Lieut. L.C. Willis.
Left assaulting Company. "D" Company under Captain E.V. Morse, M.C.
Right Support Company. "A" Company under Lieut. P.H. Greig.
Left Support Company. "B" Company under Captain A.J. Whitmarsh, D.S.O.
The second objective was passed at 08.00 hours.
"D" Company on the left very successfully outmanoeuvred and captured a battery of enemy guns at L.7.b.6.9.
Soon after this Captain E.V. Morse, M.C. was killed. He had very ably led his Company dealing with many difficult positions.
"C" Company on right, under Lieut. L.C. Willis, also captured a battery of guns at L.8.d.5.2.
After passing the second objective the enemy offered more resistance – a great deal of M.G. fire coming from BOUSIES.
However the leading Companies made ground and at 10.00 hours were established on a line roughly L.3.d.8.4. – L.3.b.5.8. – F.27.c.7.8., Battalion Headquarters being established at EPINETTE FARM.
At 10.20 hours the Commanding Officer ordered Captain Whitmarsh, D.S.O., to take over command of all troops in the left Battalion Sector and to endeavour to establish the green line. (3rd Objective).
12.30 hours. Tank Commander Lieut. GREY, who had been ordered to reconnoitre and deal with the Village of BOUSIES reported that he had entered the village with the right support Company ("A" Company) which he had left mopping up the village.
14.40 hours. All Companies were reported on the road running through F.22.a. and c. in touch with the right flank, but the left flank apparently exposed. Patrols were ordered to gain touch with the left flank and reported that the 2nd Argyle and Sutherland highlanders were in rear of our position, but then moving forward.
The Commanding Officer reconnoitred position and decided to organise the Companies in depth as follows:-
"A" and "B" Companies holding line of road with posts established in front.
"C" and "D" Companies close support.
Heavy machine gun fire was experienced from high ground in F.22.c.
At 17.00 hours, orders were issued to occupy sunken road in F.22. and F.28.b. At 18.00 hours "A" and "B" Companies moved forward and had made good their objective by 19.15 hours with little opposition.
20.30 hours, orders received that the Battalion would be relieved by the 6th Northants Regiment. The relief passed off without incident.
Battalion moved to positions in L.14.b. and held as Brigade Reserve.
During the operation excellent work was done by the Tanks allotted to this Battalion.
The services of Lieut. GREY were especially appreciated. He several times reconnoitred forward of the Infantry and dealt with many machine guns shewing absolute disregard of danger and his own personal safety.
24th October: The Battalion remained in trenches L.14.b.
16.30 hours. The Battalion moved to positions in BOUSIES forming main line of resistance as follows:-
"A" Company holding road from L.6.c.2.7. to L.5.b.0.6.
"B" Company. L.5.b.0.6. to L.4.b.5.9.
"C" Company. Support L.5.d.0.3 to L.5.a.1.05.
"D" Company. L.5.a.1.05 to L.4.c.8.8.
The night passed without incident.
25th October. The Battalion remained in BOUSIES.
16.45 hours report received that the Right Sector of Brigade front was withdrawing. "C" Company were pushed forward to counter attack any enemy counter attack but found that the 7th Queens were in position.
The Battalion relieved the 8th E. Surrey R. in outpost position in ROBERSART and vicinity N. to RENUART FARM. Relief was complete by 00.55 hours.
The Battalion was disposed as follows:-
"A" Company. Right front. A.25.b.6.5., A.19.d.4.3
"B" Company. Left front. A.19.d.4.3., F.24.b.7.4.
"C" Company. Support. A.25.b.3.3.
"D" Company. Garrison.
Line of roadway through A.25.b. and F.24.c.
Battalion Headquarters. A.25.b.2.1.
26th October. 01.00 hours. The Brigade on left carried out an attack, during this period efforts were made to gain ground and establish the sunken road in A.18.b. Owing to heavy M.G. fire little ground was gained.
27th October. The 6th Northants Regiment carried out a daylight relief and the Battalion moved to Billets in BOUSIES.
Signed: Lieut Wellman for Intelligence Officer. 7th Buffs.
Family of William Frank Back
Other Family Members and WW1
Percy Charles Back moved with his wife to live at 82 Dyvenor Road, Toronto, Canada. His occupation was as an electrician. He stood at 5 feet, 5.5 inches, chest measurement of 34"+3" expansion. Fresh complexion, blue eyed and brown hair. His distinctive mark was a mole on the back of his neck. On 22nd November 1915, Percy enlisted to serve as Private 202073 in in the 95th Battalion, C.E.F., which judged him "fit" and in "good" physical development. However, his records show he suffered from Rheumatism - 30th January 1916 to 19th February 1916 and again from 1st March 1916 to 22nd March 1916. Each time occasion we learn he made a "fair recovery" and then "temporarily cured". On 19th April 1916, he was discharged "medically unfit". He never made it out of Toronto.
Edward Back, who may be the "Edward J" who died in the Second World War serving in the Queen's Own Royal West Kents (September 1942)?
SPECIAL ORDER OF THE DAY
By Brigadier-General E.A.WOOD, D.S.O.
Commanding 55th Infantry Brigade.
28th September, 1918.
After a long period of vigorous defensive, finishing with two days of stubborn resistance on the 6th and 7th August, we have fought together for 7 long weeks to drive the Hun from all the ground he gained at heavy cost in the Spring.
In this fighting, thanks to your bravery and dash. We have achieved our initial object in a most splendid manner, - in such a manner in fact that the exploits of the 18th Division will be known to everyone for many generations. Never before had human endurance been so tested.
And now that through this work of yours the GREATEST Battle of the year is possible, is it your wish to be left out? NO! The task given us is of the kind we have specialised at – the clearance of a town.
REMEMBER ALBERT, FREGICOURT AND RONSSOY.
Go wisely, yet with your customary dash. Don't leave anything behind. I shall be with you, and I want you to clear VENDHUILE (and whatever other villages we may be allotted at any time) so quickly and thoroughly that I can move my H.Q. into the town on the evening of the Battle.
Already the French, Americans and our First and Third Armies have commenced the GREAT BATTLE, and, as you know, are going well. Look to it that we do as well, if not better.
Best of luck and many Huns to each one's bayonet.
E.A.Wood, Brigadier General,
Commanding the 55th Infantry Brigade.