Private Robert Albert King France

R.A.K. France

Thank you to Margaret Dennis for this research

Private France served in the 1st/8th Battalion Territorial Force of the Durham Light Infantry, Service number 2926.

He died on 26th April 1915 aged 32, killed in action at Broodseinde crossroads near Ypres. His name is inscribed on the Menin Gate in Ypres (Panel 36 and 38, Bay 36 Stone L).

Robert Albert King France was born in Fetcham near Leatherhead, Surrey in April 1883. He was the third child of George Harvey France (a coachman) and Mary Anne France.   Robert started school at the South Holmwood Church of England School in August 1889, and in the 1891 census the family (with six children) were recorded as living at 7 Brook Cottages in South Holmwood.

1891 England, Wales & Scotland Census Transcription

Brook Cottages, Holmwood, Dorking, Surrey, England

George H France Head    Married                  Male       40            1851      Coachman Domestic Servant                                                                                                                                                                 born Turvey, Bedfordshire

Mary A France   Wife        Married                  Female                    36            1855      –                 Suffolk, England

George H J            France   Son                           Male       11            1880      Scholar                   Fetcham, Surrey

John J C                  France   Son                           Male       10            1881      Scholar                   Fetcham, Surrey

Robert A K            France   Son                           Male      7               1884      Scholar Fetcham, Surrey

Emily S A                France   Daughter              Female                    4               1887      –                 Fetcham, Surrey

Mary E C                 France   Daughter              Female                    3               1888      –                 Dorking, Surrey

Alice J M                 France   Daughter              Female                    0               1891      –                 Dorking, Surrey

 

In the 1901 census, the France family lived at Brook Valley, Holmwood where Robert, then aged 17, was an under gardener and was the eldest child living at home. There were also the daughters Emily, Mary and Alice, and a son Frederick aged 4.  In the 1911 census, Robert’s mother is a widow living at 4 Ansell Rd, Dorking, with her son John James, a coachman.

After Robert’s death in action in 1915, his mother received £1.15 shillings as his effects, and in 1919 she received a further £3, and his brother John received 11s 8d.

Background on the Durham Light Infantry in 1914/1915:

04.08.1914 The 1/7th stationed at Sunderland and the 1/8th as part of the Durham Light Infantry Brigade of the Northumbrian Division and part of coastal defence.

Sept 1914 Moved to Ravensworth Park and then Newcastle.

17.04.1915 Mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne.

In 1915, the Infantry saw action at The Battles of St Julien, Frezenburg Ridge, and Bellewaarde Ridge.

The following extract from War Diaries has relevant information about the location of the Durham Light Infantry around the time that Private Robert France died:

War Diary of Sir John French. Taken from The Long, Long Trail: The British Army in the Great War, 1914-1918

From the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, The British Army in the Field.

“It was only on the morning of the 25th (April 1915) that the enemy were able to force back the left of the Canadian Division from the point where it had originally joined the French line. During the night, and the early morning of the 25th, the enemy directed a heavy attack against the Division at Broodseinde crossroads which was supported by a powerful shell fire, but he failed to make any progress. During the whole of this time the town of Ypres and all the roads to the East and West were uninterruptedly subjected to a violent artillery fire, but in spite of this the supply of both food and ammunition was maintained throughout with order and efficiency. During the afternoon of the 25th many German prisoners were taken, including some officers. The hand-to-hand fighting was very severe, and the enemy suffered heavy loss.

During the 26th (April 1915) the Lahore Division and a Cavalry Division were pushed up into the fighting line, the former on the right of the French, the latter in support of the 5th Corps. In the afternoon the Lahore Division, in conjunction with the French right, succeeded in pushing the enemy back some little distance toward the North, but their further advance was stopped owing to the continual employment by the enemy of asphyxiating gas. On the right of the Lahore Division the Northumberland Infantry Brigade advanced against St. Julien and actually succeeded in entering, and for a time occupying, the southern portion of that village. They were, however, eventually driven back, largely owing to gas, and finally occupied a line a short way to the South. This, attack was most successfully and gallantly led by Brigadier-General Biddell, who, I regret to say, was killed during the progress of the operation. Although no attack was made on the southeastern side of the salient, the troops operating to the east of Ypres were subjected to heavy artillery fire from this direction which took some of the battalions, which were advancing North to the attack, in reverse.”

Born                            Fetcham, Leatherhead, Surrey
Lived                           Hastings, Northumberland

Son of                          Mr and Mrs George France

Enlisted                       Scotts Camp

Regiment                     Durham Light Infantry
Number                       2926

Date of Death              26th April 1915
Place of Death             Flanders
Cause of Death           Killed in Action

Age                              32

Memorial                     Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial

Image © Royston Williamson 2015