Frank STOKES
Rank: Private
Number: 263105
Unit: 1/5th Battalion King’s Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment
Date of Death: 30 November 1917
Age: 22
Cemetery: Cambrai Memorial, Louveral, Nord, France

Between October and December 1894, William Stokes married Bertha Chapman and, the following year, their son, Frank was born. The 1901 Census suggests that he might have been one of twins as another boy, Tom, is also aged 5. It would seem that Bertha may have had a child from a previous relationship as a son called Arthur is listed as then being aged 12. The family were living at 3 Nicholas Street, Stockport (but later moved to 24 Caroline Street, Edgeley).

Frank enlisted into the army at Stockport joining the King's Own (original service number - 5950). At some point, he was deemed unfit for combat duties and was transferred to the Labour Corps (service number 125593). He returned to the King's Own some time after 1 January 1917 (after which date front line soldiers were given the six-digit service numbers).

On 20 September 1917, British troops launched a major attack on German positions near the French town of Cambrai. Tanks were used in very large numbers for the first time (their first use had been a year before) and the advance was at first successful. The men of the King's Own, part of 55th Division, were not actively involved in the initial phases and the Battalion's War Diary entries record several days of relative quiet.

This was all to change on the morning of the 30th when the full weight of a German counter attack fell on their positions. At 7am, the German artillery started to heavily shell the British artillery positions and, 15 minutes later, the Battalion was ordered to "Stand to". As they manned their positions in the support trenches, German aircraft strafed the front line and enemy infantry could be seen advancing in large numbers. Men from "B" Company were sent forward to reinforce those in the front line. At about 8.30am, large numbers of Royal Field Artillery troops could be seen retreating from the forward areas. These were stopped by men from the King's Own Headquarters. The artillery men and, shortly after, some Royal Engineers, reported that the Germans had broken through sections of the front line. All available HQ troops and the remainder of "B" Company were now sent forward into a small valley to set up a defensive line. "D" Company was ordered to set up a similar line on the right. At about 9am, several hundred Germans appeared over the crest of the nearby ridge and proceeded to dig-in. The King's Own opened rapid fire on them with rifles and machine guns causing some casualties.

Meanwhile, "A" Company had also been pushed forward towards the front line and now reported that this was coming under extremely heavy attack. By 10am, the Germans had captured large sections of the front line, but were not advancing further. Although limited fighting took place during the afternoon, there were no reports of any significance until 4pm, when  a patrol from "D" Company reported that the Germans had strengthened their hold on the front line areas and that the sections still held by British troops were, effectively, surrounded. There were then no further reports until 10pm, when two privates reported to HQ that they had managed to escape and that the survivors of "A" and "C" Company's were surrounded and under heavy attack. Attempts were made to send a message to this group ordering them to withdraw as best they could, but the messengers were unable to get through.

Orders were then received to try to reinforce the centre of the sector and "D" Company was ordered to this position but was met by such strong machine gun fire that they had to withdraw. The Germans were now moving along the trench system and fierce hand-to-hand fighting took place. Officers took independent decisions to withdraw and the survivors were eventually back in the relative safety of the new British front line.

The 1/5th King's Own had lost about 50 men killed, another 200 wounded and an unrecorded number captured. Most of the dead will have been buried by the Germans and, whilst this will have been done with respect, individual identifications will not have been undertaken. Frank, like most of his dead comrades, has no marked grave.

   
           
   
     
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