Wednesday 17 April 2013

World War One Soldier's Story - Frank Armitage from Barnsley

Frank Armitage is the OH's 2x great aunt's husband's half brother, a tad obscure I admit, but as it was possible to find out, fairly easily, a great deal of information about his First World War (WW1) story I used him for the main case study in my "Barnsley Soldiers in the First World War" talk in March 2013.

He was born in 1889 in Barnsley, the second son of Joseph Armitage, a coal miner by his second wife Ellen.  His elder half-brother Joseph Wade Armitage also served in WW1 as did his younger full brother Walter Armitage.

When he marries Marion White in February 1910 he gives his occupation as a Fitter.  By the time of the 1911 census the following April he and Marion have a daughter, Marjorie aged 1 and his occupation is Loom Fitter, a little more illuminating.  The little family are living at 112 St George's Road and they have four rooms - which isn't bad at all for a newly married couple with just one child in those days, many would have been lodging with relatives or living in a shared house.  Their neighbours include an iron moulder, a boot repairer, a coal miner and a cinomatograph operator.  I really do think that says a lot about the time in which they lived - you could get your boots mended, lots of men worked in the pit and the local iron industry and popular cinema just beginning.

War broke out in August 1914 and everyone thought it would "be over by Christmas"; well, it wasn't and on the 1st February 1915 Frank enlisted.  He didn't have to, conscription for married men didn't take effect until June 1916; rather he did what hundreds of other men in Barnsley were doing that spring, he enlisted in the York and Lancaster (Y&L) Regiment, into the new 13th and 14th Service battalions, which would become known as the 1st and 2nd Barnsley Pals.  Service battalions were those formed especially for the duration of the war and are sometimes called Kitchener's battalions or the New Army as they formed in response to his famous appeal for men.  The theory behind the Pals battalions was that men who were used to working alongside each other, or who had grown up together would fight bravely and well alongside their friends.
Frank's Attestation on 1st Feb 1915 (from Ancestry)
As you can see from the snip above Frank's service record was one of the many damaged in the blitz during the Second World War.  Over 60% of the soldier's records did not survive so finding service records for an ancestor is a enormous stroke of luck.  Frank was 26 years old (and 113 days) and he declared his Trade as Fitter, which matches what we already knew about him.  That question 6. which has been blotted out, asks "Are you married?", to which he answers, "Yes".  He was also, by now, the father of three children under five years with baby number four well on the way.  We can only imagine what Marion said to him when he announced he was going to enlist.

Frank's initial service number was 14/366, the 14 denoting the battalion - so he started off in the 2nd Barnsley Pals. His elder half brother, Joseph Wade Armitage, had enlisted in the same rush of men, and he has the distinction of having the regimental number 14/1, the first man enlisted to the 2nd Barnsley Pals.  Walter Armitage, Frank's younger brother had signed up even earlier, his regimental number being 13/33; his service records have also survived and from them we can see that he enlisted on 28th September 1914.  Did the older brothers envy the younger his chance at adventure?  Because at this stage that is what most of the men still thought enlisting would be.  For men of their class joining the army was the only way to travel and see more of the world.  They might have heard stories from slightly older men who had served in the Boer War and were keen to join up before they missed their chance.
Family details from Frank's Service papers (from Ancestry)
The army collected information on all aspects of the men's lives and for family historians the detail is amazing.  We have a description of Frank, 5’ 4.75” tall, 116lbs (8 stone, 4lb), so smaller than we might have imagined, chest 34” and General physical condition – Good. His religion was given as United Methodist Free Church on one form and Wesleyan on another.  The snip above gives the date of Frank and Marion's marriage, and the birth dates of their children, Marjorie, Joseph and Clifford.  By the time Marion gave birth to their fourth child Frank would have been in a uniform of some kind (proper uniforms were in short supply so some of the Barnsley men found themselves in a make do blue uniform for a while) and training at Silkstone Camp on the outskirts of Barnsley.  I imagine they allowed him home to visit his wife and new son, named Roy and born on 17th March 1915. Roy's details were squeezed in at the bottom of the Children box on the form above.

The men moved to Penkridge Camp on Cannock Chase in May and on to Ripon in July.  Frank was promoted to Lance Corporal in November 1915 by which time the two Barnsley battalions were camped on Salisbury plain, preparing to be sent overseas.  (Thanks to the Long, Long Trail for the information on the movements of the battalions.)

Frank didn't go overseas with the Pals though - someone in authority must have been reviewing the new soldiers' records and spotted that Frank had important technical skills.  In December 1916 Frank was transferred to the 15th battalion, the reserve and appears to have been sent to Loughborough to do war work for a company called Herbert Morris Ltd. 
A letter from Herbert Morris Ltd regarding Frank Armitage (from Ancestry)
His records note a period of sickness from "Bronchitis and valvular disease of the heart" during March and April 1916, when he was able to stay "at his own home", but on the 27th April he returned to work in Loughborough until permission was granted by the Ministry of Munitions to discharge him in May 1916. 

Meanwhile the Barnsley Pals had been sent overseas, firstly to Egypt and then to France, arriving there in March 1916.  They were in the front line on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on the 1st July 1916 and suffered huge losses.

Frank was sent to France on the 4th July 1916 - just as news was starting to filter back to Barnsley about the casualties in the battle.  He was transferred to the 1/5th West Yorkshire Regiment on 9th September 1916 and posted as missing on 28th September.

We know from the regimental diaries of the West Yorkshire Regiment what happened around the time that Frank was lost.  They and the Bedfordshire Regiment were attempting to capture the Schwaben Redoubt on Thiepval Ridge, a German strongpoint.
A map of the area in which Frank was lost (from The Bedfordshire Regiment in the Great War)
The strongpoint had been fought over since 1st July when the Ulstermen of the 36th Division had been nearly wiped out attacking it.  In late September it was the turn of the 7th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment and the 1/5th West Yorkshires.

The following is an extract from the 1/5th Regimental History: (Thanks to

27th September 1916
At 3 p.m. in the afternoon the 1/5th West Yorkshires (attached to the 54th Infantry Brigade) were ordered to form up by 4 p.m. ready to attack at 5 p.m. In full view of the Schwaben Redoubt and under considerable shell and rifle fire, this difficult operation was carried out, the men moving to their positions with fine steadiness. The attack was, however, cancelled and a retirement had to be made to the point of deployment, during which the Battalion suffered about sixteen casualties. Shortly afterwards a heavy hostile barrage fell on the front of Thiepval Village. During the night 27th/28th the Battalion was again ordered to form up for the attack, the movement to be completed by 6-30 a.m. on the 28th. 

The German resistance was very strong, but the men managed to capture part of the Redoubt.  The fighting carried on all day and night, hand to hand at times, until the men were relieved just before dawn on the 29th by men from the West Kents.  The 1/5th lost 3 officers  and 76 other ranks killed, whilst 7 officers and 87 other ranks were wounded. 

Back at home in Barnsley Marion Armitage received notification that Frank was missing and apparently a letter from his Commanding Officer saying he had been killed.  A report appeared in the local newspaper the Barnsley Chronicle.
Snips from the Barnsley Chronicle of 21st October 1916 (from Barnsley Archives)
The picture of Frank on the left appeared on the front page along with eleven other men who had been reported dead or missing that week.  The snip with details appeared as part of a long column on Local Casualties.

"Another Barnsley soldier, Private Frank Armitage, of the 1/5 West Yorkshire Regiment, has been officially reported missing since September 18th.  He was 28 year of age and before enlisting worked at Taylor's Factory.  Private Armitage leaves a wife and four children who reside at 13, Blucher Street, Barnsley.  Mrs Armitage last received a letter from her husband about a month ago."
The letter Marion wrote York in December 1916 (from Ancestry)
In Frank's service record letters from Marion Armitage back and forth to the Officer in Command of the Territorial Force Records in York have been preserved.  She first writes in December 1916, some of the words are illegible due to the damage to the records.

"Dear Sir,
I am writing to ask you if you can get to know anything more about my husband, Pte F. Armitage No 6347 of the 1/5 West Yorks and was reported missing on the 28th Sept as I have had a letter from his C.O. to say he was killed on the 28th.  So I beg of you to let me know if you ? as it is nearly three months since and I do yet ?? any more news of him ?? must know what an ?? time it is for me.
I remain, yours truly,
Mrs Armitage"

The Records Officer asks her to forward the letter from the Commanding Officer, which she does and he forwards them to London so "enquiries might be made".  

In May 1917 Marion is awarded a pension of 28/9 (twenty-eight shillings and nine pence, about £1.44) a week for herself and her children.  She is still referred to as the wife of a missing soldier at this point.  In July 1917 it is decided that for official purposes Frank should now be regarded as dead and notification must have been sent to Barnsley to that effect as another item appears in the newspaper in early August.
Barnsley Chronicle 4th August 1917 (from Barnsley Archives)
It took nearly a year to let Marion Armitage know for sure that her husband was dead.

We get more family information in this newspaper cutting, this time his parents and brothers are mentioned; however we should always be aware that the newspapers could only print what they were told.  Sydney was probably his nephew, the son of one of Frank's sisters, but he may have been brought up as a brother as he was only nine years younger than Frank and when he marries he gives his father as Joseph Armitage.

"A Barnsley Fitter Presumed Killed  - One of Four Brothers in the Army
Mrs F Armitage of 13 Blucher Street, Barnsley has received offical information that her husband Private Frank Armitage who has been missing since September 28th 1916, is now presumed to have been killed on that date.  Private Armitage, who leaves a wife and four children who reside at the above address is the son of Mr and Mrs Joseph Armitage of 14 Blucher Street.  He has three other brothers at present serving in France - Joseph Wade Armitage, Walter Armitage and Sydney Armitage.  Private Armitage was previously employed as a fitter by Messers Wilson and Longbottom, Barnsley."

Once the war was over it was time to send out medals and other commemorative items and to return any property of the deceased to his family.  Marion Armitage received a memorial plaque (commonly referred to as the Dead Man's Penny) and a scroll in 1919 and Frank's British War Medal and Victory Medal in 1922.  The sole item of his property that was returned to her was a disc, probably his identity disc, in September 1919.  This suggests that his body was found and identified after the war during the clearing of the battlefields and the concentration of the dead into the various battlefield cemeteries.
Connaught Cemetery photographed in September 2009
Frank's grave can be seen in the Connaught Battlefield Cemetery, near Thiepval in France.  He's in the middle of the front row of the picture above, taken by the OH and myself on a trip to the battlefields in 2009.

I hope they let Marion know they had laid him to rest properly, I wonder if any of the family ever managed visited him.  Marion died in 1967 and is buried in Barnsley Cemetery in the same plot as Frank’s parents.  She did not remarry. 

Frank’s brothers Joseph Wade and Walter and his nephew Sydney came home from the war and in 1920 his Joseph named his last and youngest son Frank, after his brother. 


Morley said...

Many thanks for this fascinating account. Frank is my 1st cousin x3 removed.

BarnsleyHistorian said...

Lovely, thanks for letting me know, it's always nice to know people are reading my posts.

I hope I added something to your knowledge of Frank and his family. My husband is distantly connected through marriage, but you are much closer!


Unknown said...

Frank was my husband's Great, Great, Uncle. His grandfather was Sydney Armitage. As you quite rightly deduced, Sydney was Frank's nephew -the son of Frank's half sister, Sarah - but was brought up & was always known as his brother.

If you care to visit the link below, to my flickr page, there is a close up photo of Frank's grave, at Connaught cemetery, which I took when we visited France, in 2010. If you scroll down the comments below you will see several photographs including his medals & Penny...

BarnsleyHistorian said...

Thank you for this Tina, it is so moving to see a good photo of a WW1 soldier and having a picture of Marion is wonderful. I have often used them in my talks to various groups around Barnsley as I feel I know them so well. Today I know them even better, thank you so much.
So, was Roy in WW2 then? This is fascinating!
Would it be possible for me to use these image on our Barnsley Soldiers Remembered pages? As part of a tribute to Frank, and of course I will credit you for their use. Contact me at

Unknown said...

The family would be honoured to have Frank remembered this way. Of course you may use the photographs. Would you also credit Frank's granddaughter, (Roy's daughter), Jacky Polowy, as she provided me with scanned versions of the original photos. I fixed them up a bit & repaired the damage digitally & put them online so that they could be shared with the family.

Roy was indeed in active service during WW2.

My husband, Steve has quite a bit of information for you regarding Frank's family. I have passed on your email address to him. He'll be in touch with you before the week's out.

Unknown said...


My Great Grandfather fought with the 14th Division was was fortunate enough to come back alive. You can see his service document here: please feel free to use if you wish.

BarnsleyHistorian said...

Hi Andrew,

I'm afraid that didn't work for me.

Would you like to email me on and tell me more about your Great Grandfather?


Brian Burkinshaw said...

My family link to this branch of the Armitages is a bit stretched - my great uncle Fred Pankhurst was married to Frank's niece, Annie Armitage (his brother Joseph Wade Armitage's daughter). Could I please use these photos on my family tree page, thanks, Brian Burkinshaw

Oliver Broadwith, Son of Helen Simpson said...

I am 11 and Frank is my Great great great great grandfather. This was a really good document and i thank you for making it.