Frank THEWLIS MC
Rank: Lieutenant
Number:
Unit: 1st Battalion COLDSTREAM GUARDS
Date of Death: 15 September 1916
Age: 26
Cemetery: Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France

Frank's parents, Joseph and Elizabeth, originated from Nottinghamshire and Frank, their first child, was born at Heanor on 27 June 1890. Shortly afterwards, they moved north and, in 1901, the family was living at 42 Woodhouse Street, Gorton, Manchester. Frank now had a number of siblings - Winifred (then 9), Lucy (7), Olga (2) and Agnes (9 months).

Frank attended Varna Street Boys School in nearby Openshaw and later trained to become an accountant. He is thought to have worked for British American Tobacco. When war was declared, Frank was living at 136 Sutherland Road, Maida Vale in London. He was also a member of the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps. He's believed to have joined the Cheshire Regiment as a private and, probably in the early part of 1915 whilst still in training, had applied for a commission with the Regiment. On 14 June, he wrote to the War Office withdrawing this application as he had been accepted into the Coldstream Guards. Between 14 July and 25 September, he was attached to the General Staff in London. During this time, there was correspondence between the War Office and the India Office. Consideration was being given to Frank transferring to the Indian Army Reserve of Officers, with a view to him going to Mesopotamia as a Turkish interpreter.

It would seem this transfer didn't take place and, in due course, Frank joined his Battalion in Belgium. In the early part of 1916, Frank was in the front line when the enemy mounted an attack. He was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery on that day. The official citation reads "For conspicuous gallantry. After an intense bombardment by the enemy, which demolished parts of his trench and during which he was himself twice buried, he rallied the men around him and drove out a party of the enemy which had penetrated into the trench". It is uncertain when this action was. It was possibly on 19 April, when Frank's service file records that he was briefly hospitalised with shell shock.

The Battle of the Somme had started on 1 July but the Coldstreamers had not been involved that day, nor had they seen major action in the following weeks. After a period in reserve, the Battalion started to move back towards the front line on 12 September. The 13th and 14th were spent resting near the village of Carnoy and, during the evening, they marched through the areas captured on the first day to assembly positions near the village of Ginchy. The Battalion War Diary records that it was a long and difficult march and they were not in position until 2.45am on the 15th.

The Guards were taking part in a major attack which would see the use of a new secret weapon - tanks -  for the first time. The plan was that the tanks would advance with the infantry behind them. However, the new machines were still very unreliable and the two tanks intended to attack in front of the Coldstreams never arrived. The noise of the tanks moving up must have alerted the Germans that an attack was imminent and their artillery opened up on the British trenches at 6.10am, causing many casualties. The British barrage started ten minutes and the men advanced just 30 yards behind its covering fire.

The enemy positions were believed to be about 1000 yards away, but within 250 yards, the Coldstreamers found a heavily defended trench system. The War Diary notes that this "led to some confusion but nothing stopped the advance and their two trenches were taken nearly all the enemy being killed in them." At this point, the men halted to re-organise while re-enforcements were brought up. The attack then continued to the German second line, in spite of heavy machine gun fire from high ground on the right. Here there was less opposition than earlier and many Germans surrendered. The Diary records that, by this time, almost all the officers had become casualties and the Battalion was very much split up and men were intermingled with other attacking units.

The final Diary entry for the day notes that the Battalion had started the attack with 17 officers and 690 other ranks and had come out with only 3 officers and 221 men. There is a note that Frank was wounded and missing. His body was never found and identified and his name is commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at nearby Thiepval.

Frank had left a will, leaving everything to his mother. His estate totalled £584.12s.5d.

   
           
   
     
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