Frank Hodge was born in Dartmouth in 1898. He was the youngest son of John Thomas Hodge and his wife, Sarah Elizabeth Wotton.
John, who was born in Stoke Fleming, married Sarah on 3rd June 1883 at St Saviours, Dartmouth (for some reason, the entry in the register shows her name as Sarah Susan, rather than Sarah Elizabeth). In the 1881 Census, John was working as a farm servant, at Hole Farm, Dittisham. Sarah came from Capton, near Dittisham, although at the time of the 1881 census, she was in domestic service at Higher Broadridge farm in Cornworthy.
By the time of the 1891 Census John and Sarah were living at one of the cottages at Old Mill Creek, where John had also lived as a child twenty years earlier, and quite close to Hole Farm. John now worked as a general labourer. There were four children:
- Thomas John (shown as John Thomas on the census return), born on 29th November 1883, and baptised at St Saviours on 5th February 1884
- Alice Maud, born 29th November 1885, and baptised at St Saviours on 18th May 1887
- Frederick George, born 6th May 1888
- Annie Eveline, born 6th March 1890
Also living with them at that time was John's younger brother Frederick George, a boatbuilder. Frederick, Annie and the newest baby, James, born on 16th March 1892, were baptised at St Saviours on James' first birthday, 16th March 1893.
Cottages at Old Mill Creek
The family continued to grow. William Henry was born on 17th November 1894; Phillip on 13th February 1896; and Mabel Lucy sometime during April 1897. Sadly, Mabel died on 11th August 1897, aged only four months, and was buried three days later at St Clements, Townstal. Five days later, on 19th August, William Henry and Phillip were baptised at St Saviours. By this time the family had moved into Dartmouth, to a house on Clarence Hill.
Frank was born in 1898, Margaret Louisa on 22nd June 1899, and Edith Helena, a Christmas baby, on 27th December 1900. The 1901 Census recorded John, Sarah, and eight children living in Clarence Hill. John was working as a "moulder's labourer" in a foundry, probably at one of Dartmouth's shipbuilding and engineering firms.
Thomas and Alice, the two eldest children, had left home, though were not far away. Thomas worked for a Baker and Confectioner, John Clarke, in Market Street. The Clarkes employed four bakers, of whom Thomas was one; a pastry cook; and a baker's assistant. All lived "above the shop", with the Clarke family. Alice Maud was in domestic service. She worked as a housemaid in a house called "Montagu", in Ridge Hill, close to Clarence Hill.
Sadly Edith died aged only 13th months, and was buried at St Clements, Townstal on 5th February 1902. Beatrice Mary was born only a few weeks later, on 20th March 1902; John and Sarah's last child, Selina May, was born the following year, on 9th June. Frank thus grew up in a crowded household with many brothers and sisters.
By the time of the 1911 Census, however, Frank, aged 12 and still at school, was the eldest of the four children remaining at home with John and Sarah in Clarence Hill. John continued to work in the foundry.
Thomas, Alice and Annie had married and had homes of their own in Dartmouth. Thomas, who continued to work as a baker, married Ada Mary Auger in 1905. He is on our database, and his story is continued here. Alice married Sydney Abraham Callard in 1910, who is also on our database. Annie married William Alan Edmonds in 1905.
Frederick joined the Navy as a Stoker II Class, reporting to HMS Vivid, the naval base at Devonport, on 9th January 1907, and signing on for 12 years service. At the time of the 1911 Census he was serving in HMS Sentinel, leader of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla at Chatham in the Home Fleet. James, aged 18, was nearer home, working as a horseman on a farm in Bozomzeal, near Dittisham; and William Henry, aged 16, worked as a cow boy at Woodbury Farm, Norton, just outside Dartmouth.
In 1916 compulsory military service was introduced; the second Military Service Act of May 1916 made liable for military service all men aged 18-40 inclusive, single and married, although no-one would be sent abroad until he had reached the age of 19. Frank's service papers, unusually, have survived, so we know that he was called up on 19th February 1917 at the age of 18 years 7 months. He was single, worked as a labourer, and lived with John and Sarah at Clarence Hill. His medical examination recorded that he was 5ft 7½ins tall and was of "good physical development".
The arrangements for training had been re-organised in September 1916 when the Training Reserve was set up. Infantry regiments no longer recruited locally; reserve units which had the function of training recruits for their regiments were redesignated as Training Reserve Battalions. On joining up Frank was first posted to the 35th Training Reserve Battalion and then, on 26th May 1917, posted to the 37th. Both were based at Wool, Dorset. Frank's record shows that during this period he suffered from influenza, from 30th March 1917 to 7th April 1917, and fully recovered.
He went to France on 25th July 1917. While still at Base Depot (unspecified) he became a member of the 210th Graduated Battalion, when the 37th TR Battalion was redesignated as such following a further reorganisation of Army training. Under these new arrangements, "Graduated Battalions" were for soldiers aged between 18 years and 5 months, and nineteen years. As the name implies, soldiers were posted to "Graduated" Battalions having received their initial training with a "Young Soldiers" Battalion, for specialist training until they were old enough to be drafted, though Frank may have received this designation for administrative purposes only, since he was already in France at the time.
Finally, on 15th August 1917, he was posted to the 7th Battalion of the King's Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment, with the number 28201. The 7th King's Own were part of 56th Infantry Brigade, in 19th Division. As Frank joined them, they were in camp at Le Wast, in northern France, having come out of the line east of Oostaverne on 1st August following the attack at the beginning of the Third Battle of Ypres on the previous day. (For the general background to this offensive, see the story of William John Farrow Bates).
The Battalion's War Diary reports for 15th August that "Reinforcements [of] 180 other ranks [were] received" and on 17th August, a further 46 other ranks and two officers. After doubtless much needed rest and recuperation, including organised bathing at the seaside, they were brought back to the battle area at the end of the month, arriving at Corunna Camp at Westoutre, south of Poperinghe, at the beginning of September, for continuing training and preparation for their next involvement in the continuing battle. On 7th September, they moved a little further south, to Dranoutre and spent the next ten days providing men for working parties in various locations. They began the move forward to the front line on 18th September, arriving at their assembly point on the night of 19th/20th.
On 25th August, General Haig had transferred responsibility for planning the next stage of the offensive to General Plumer, commanding Second Army, from General Gough, commanding Fifth Army. General Plumer planned a series of "bite and hold" attacks, in four steps, each followed by a six day pause, to allow for consolidation, defence against any counter-attack, and preparation of the next step. The first step was planned for 20th September.
The Battle of Menin Road
The 19th Division was positioned on the extreme right of the attacking front, from the Comines Canal to Groenenburg Farm. Fortunately for Frank, the 7th Kings Own was in reserve for the attack, which began at 5.40am. They had assembled on the north bank of the Comines Canal. They were not called upon until 11am, when C & D companies were called forward to replace the 9th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, who had in turn moved forward to reinforce the front line. By 2pm the whole Battalion was "in close support to the 58th Brigade, who [had] taken the whole of their objective". As this illustrates, the first stage of General Plumer's "bite and hold" approach was, broadly, a success. The 56th Brigade, including the 7th King's Own, took over the new front line secured by the 57th and 58th Brigades, on the night of 21st/22nd September.
After this action, the 19th Division was not involved in any of the attacks of the later stages of the Third Battle of Ypres (for an account of these, see the stories of Edwin Burnell, Thomas Rendle, William Langworthy, John Webber, Frederick Widdicombe, Frederick Worden, Frank Grant and Charles Turner). Instead a period of trench warfare followed, in the same sector of the line. On 1st November, two officers and 28 other ranks of B Company carried out a trench raid on a group of dug-outs, which was "a great success". Three of the seven dug-outs were occupied; they were successfully cleared, and several prisoners taken, who provided useful information about German dispositions. The Battalion sustained no casualties in the operation.
It appears that at some point during this period, Frank was wounded. His name (and number) appear among the wounded of the Kings Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) in a casualty list dated 14th November, published by the War Office on 20th November 1917. However, there is no record of this in his service papers, so the date, circumstances and severity are unknown.
On 10th November, 19th Division was relieved; by 11th November 1917, the 7th King's Own was "settling into billets [and] cleaning up" at Sercus in Northern France, where they remained until early December, undertaking an extensive programme of training. On 4th December they began the journey to the Somme, where they were to join the Third Army. They arrived at Etricourt on 10th December. The 19th Division had taken over a section of the Flesquieres Salient, formed by the positions taken up after the Battle of Cambrai (see the stories of Samuel Love and Gordon Lake). The Divisional front ran from south of Marcoing northwesterly to east of Flesquieres; the 7th King's Own was near Ribecourt. The atmosphere was not without tension, but the period to the end of December was uneventful. The Battalion was in the front line on Christmas Day 1917, which was:
A very clear day and visibility good. A fair amount of movement observed in enemy's lines. There was no attempt at fraternisation. Hostile artillery was active on the area about Ribecourt but otherwise the day passed quietly.
Christmas Day was celebrated on 30th December, when they were out of the line at Havrincourt Wood. That day an attack was launched on the front held by 63rd Division, and 7th King's Own was ordered to hold itself in readiness, but 63rd Division was able to counter-attack successfully, and the Battalion was not required.
However, towards the end of January, the Battalion received a terminal shock in a major reorganisation of the BEF. Due to restrictions imposed on the Army's requirements for manpower, Divisions were reduced from twelve to nine Battalions, and many under-strength Battalions were now disbanded, so that men could be reallocated to bring other Battalions up to establishment. The War Diary records, on 25th January 1918:
The Divisional Commander informed the Commanding Officer of the break-up of the Battalion, brought about by the reorganisation of the Army in France into 3-Battalion Brigades. The GOC apparently made every effort to keep the Battalion in the Division even going to GHQ for the purpose. He was informed that he could keep the Battalion, verbally, but written instructions which came later ordered that the 56th Infantry Brigade, all Battalions, were to be disbanded.
The next two weeks were spent in the processes necessary to wind up the Battalion. On 5th February:
The men were each presented with a tin of salmon or herrings, a bottle of beer, a packet of biscuits and some candles … some extra food and champagne was issued to the Officers' Messes … In the evening there were farewell dinners in the Messes, Battn HQ dined with A Coy, the other 3 Coys dined all together in one hut.
In the meantime, the Adjutant, Major Charles W Wingrove MC, had gone on leave, but, on hearing the news, according to the War Diary:
He was so annoyed that the Battalion should be broken up … that he had had an interview with the Secretary of State for War, Lord Derby; he had then appealed to the King as our Colonel in Chief to save us from disbandment and had also been to all available Lancashire Members at the House of Commons.
On arriving at Buckingham Palace, Major Wingrove and his colleague, Captain Peers, eventually were allowed entry and saw Clive Wigram, the King's Private Secretary, who promised that, if they put their case in writing, he would ensure the King received it. They sat down to write the letter there and then, apparently with Wigram's help, and he duly submitted the letter to the King. A letter was then sent from the Palace to Lord Derby and Clive Wigram also spoke to him. But, perhaps inevitably, the appeal fell on stony ground. On 11th February 1918 Clive Wigram wrote to Charles Wingrove:
It is needless to say how sorry I am that nothing can be done to save your fine Battalion, but there it is - The King is Colonel in Chief of 14 British Infantry Regiments, which aggregate 169 Battalions, and if His Majesty overruled the Secretary of State in one case, what would other Battalions in the same plight have to say?
In any case, by this date the Battalion had already effectively disappeared. The "last day" was 6th February, when the men left in lorries, in two drafts:
Captain Overton & Captain Simpson, 5 officers and 205 OR left for the 1/4th King's Own; Captain Hunt, 4 officers and 162 OR for the 1/5th Bn King's Own. They marched from Grazing Camp, first as it was getting light having paraded in the dark, to Bus where they embussed and entrained at Fremcourt under the order of their own officers.
Thirty surplus NCOs and WOs, plus Battalion HQ, were left to deal with the final administration. Frank was one of the 205 posted to the 1/4th King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, on 7th February 1918.
1/4th King's Own
The 1/4th King's Own were a Territorial Force unit of the Royal Lancaster Regiment. They had first arrived in France in May 1915 as part of 51st Division; at the beginning of 1916 they joined 164th Brigade of 55th Division. In early February 1918 they were on their way to the Givenchy-Festubert sector.
On 8th February, they were marching from Busnettes to Houchin, through Bethune, when they were "joined en route by 6 officers and 194 ORs of the 7th R Lanc R who had been posted to this Battalion when the 7th R Lanc R were disbanded". They camped at Houchin the following day. Frank's first few days with his new Battalion involved company training, interspersed with football matches, tug of war events, and a YMCA concert party, before moving into the line around the ruined village of Givenchy on Valentine's Day.
Much time was spent repairing and improving the defences. Here too the new system of "defence in depth" was implemented (see the story of Reginald Drake) but unlike the Somme area, the line here already had many of the required features to convert the existing system; and (according to Peter Hart) "by now there was a greater understanding … of the new defensive tactics …".
In general, things were quiet. On 21st March, as the Germans launched the first of their major offensives, to the south in the Somme sector, the War Diary reported:
The enemy open heavy Gas shelling on Windy Corner and back areas about 4.30am and continued to shell until about 9am. A few shells fell in the vicinity of Moat Farm and Bn HQ. Mustard Gas being the variety used. No casualties were sustained. After the bombardment ceased the remainder of the day passed quietly …
On 26th March, the War Diary recorded that some prisoners taken by 1/5th the Kings (Liverpool) Regiment during a raid had stated that an attack was "imminent". On 27th March there were "more rumours of attack", but these were "entirely without foundation".
The Battle for Flanders: the Lys Offensive 1918: the Battle of Givenchy-Festubert
On 1st April 1918, after a short rest, they were back in the line. A few days later, Frank found himself in the path of the second phase of the German spring offensive. Peter Hart summarises the strategic setting:
The Somme and Arras spring offensives had failed. This time [General] Ludendorff was determined to strike the decisive blow in Flanders, where there were genuine strategic targets just behind the British lines … An offensive in Flanders offered glittering prizes to the Germans and … the wet lowlands had dried out following a relatively dry early spring … Operation Georgette [was] planned to commence on 9 April 1918. Seventeen divisions of the German Sixth Army would smash into the junction of the Second and First Armies between Armentieres and La Bassee Canal … Next day the German Fourth Army would attack along the Messines Ridge near Ypres.
The 55th Division, including the 1/4th King's Own, was one of the few divisions holding the line in this sector which had not already been involved in the March fighting. They were positioned at the southernmost end of the attack. It would appear from the Battalion's War Diary that, other than the rumours described above, there was no immediate warning of the attack. Indeed, the day before the attack, 8th April, was the quietest they had experienced for some time.
The War Diary includes a clear and detailed report on the action of 9th April and "following days" prepared in 1931 by Lt Col R Gardner, from which these extracts are taken:
Like the other infantry battalions in the 55th Division the 1/4th R Lanc R was well able to offer a determined resistance to the German onslaught. Its physical and spiritual stamina was high. After the fighting on the Cambrai front at the end of November 1917 the Division had enjoyed two months rest .. and early in February 1918 had moved up into the Givenchy-Festubert sector. The Division had had time not only to assimilate the ordinary reinforcements received after Cambrai but also to welcome detachments from other Divisions of battalions which had been broken up … 1/4th R Lanc R was reinforced by a large draft of seasoned officers and troops from the 7th Bn R Lanc R (19th Division). Not only was the fusion between the old and new elements in the battalion quickly and easily completed but the newcomers soon proved their value in action. The six weeks which elapsed between the taking-over of the trenches and the German attack were sufficient to make all ranks thoroughly familiar with the system. Defences were strengthened; a great deal of wire was put up; the front was constantly patrolled …
… At midnight April 8/9th the dispositions of [1/4th Battalion] were the following. Two companies A and D held the outpost line from the most advanced post "Death or Glory Sap" on the northern bank of the La Bassee Canal to the vicinity of Warlingham Crater, together with the main line of defence: "Spoil Bank Keep" - "Bayswater" - "Oxford Terrace" - "Cambridge Terrace"; two companies B and C held the support line "Gunner Siding" and the defended posts "Orchard Keep" and "Mairie Keep"; Bn HQ were located in a couple of ruined houses on the west side of Windy Corner-Pont Fixe road… a small concrete dugout which had just been completed by the Engineers … sheltered the HQ staff of two battalions during the remainder of the tour …
At 4.15am on April 9th the enemy opened a heavy bombardment on gun lines, road, HQs and back areas … phosgene instead of mustard gas being employed… A fog reduced visibility to about 30 yds … At 6.15am … an intense bombardment of the trench system began. The enemy attacked actually at 8.45am aided by a mist so thick that the SOS signal was rendered invisible … [so a runner was sent]
1/4th R Lanc R suffered heavily during the preliminary bombardment. The enemy advanced in great strength … overrunning the lightly held outpost line and the main line of defence … But he was gripped and stopped on the line "Spoil Bank Keep" - "Gunner Siding" - "Mairie Keep". Owing to the thickness of the fog and the strength of the wire defences the fighting resolved itself into severe local encounters, in which individuals and small units behaved with great distinction. The weight of the attack was broken by isolated platoons and sections holding out in strong points and defended localities …
By about 10.45am the attack against 1/4th R Lanc R had spent itself and the survivors were at large in the area between "Mairie Keep" - "Gunner Siding" - "Spoil Bank Keep" - "Death or Glory Sap" …
During the next five hours, from 11.0am till about 4.0pm the 1/4th R Lanc R and the 1/4th N Lan R reinforced by the support battalion 2/5th Lan Fus counter-attacked and recovered the whole of their defensive system with the exception of the saps leading to the southern craters which had been destroyed by shell fire. At the outset the work of recovery was begun by small parties acting on their own initiative, but when the Brigade realised that the surviving enemy were lodged in two deep pockets, orders were given for the mouths of the pockets to be closed … the enemy within were cut off and surrendered … fresh German troops assembled in a reserve trench were annihilated by a barrage which opened at 11.30am and was designed to support the Brigade counter-attacks [though] unfortunately twenty three of our men [held prisoner there] were killed at the same time …
After darkness the recovery of the southern crater saps was taken in hand by 1/4th R Lanc R so successfully that at 2.45am … [the] line including the forward saps was held once more as on April 8th… During the remainder of the tour the Brigade sector was heavily bombarded but no further attack was attempted and on the night of April 15/16th the Brigade was relieved …
During the actions of April 9th and the night of April 9/10th the Brigade lost in killed, wounded and missing 35 officers and 659 other ranks …
Elsewhere, however, the Germans had broken through and achieved a gain of up to 5½ miles; but, the incursion had been held, as Peter Hart says, "aided greatly by the heroic resistance of the 55th Division".
On 11th April 1918, General Haig issued a special order of the day:
There is no other course open to us to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man; there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end.
But for Frank the fighting was already over. His service record states that he was killed in action on 9th April. There is no clue as to his exact position or role in the battle. The battalion's casualties for that day, recorded in the War Diary at the end of the month, were:
Missing: six officers, 102 OR
Although his name died not appear in the daily casualty lists until 1st June 1918, news of his death reached home much sooner. A short notice appeared in the Dartmouth Chronicle on 3rd May 1918:
Pte Frank Hodge, 19 years old, youngest son of Mr and Mrs J Hodge, of Clarence Hill Dartmouth, was killed in action on April 9th.
He was nineteen.
It would appear that Frank's body was never found, or never identified. He is commemorated on a panel of the Loos Memorial, one of 20,000 officers and men who have no known grave, who fell "in the area from the River Lys to the old southern boundary of the First Army, east and west of Grenay, from the first day of the Battle of Loos to the end of the war" (CWGC).
He is commemorated in Dartmouth on the Town War Memorial and the St Saviours Memorial Board, along with his eldest brother, Thomas Hodge.
Service papers for Frank Hodge included in collection "British Army Service Records", series WO 363 - First World War Service Records "Burnt Documents", accessed through subscription website Findmypast.
War Diary of the 7th Battalion King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) July 1915 - February 1918 available at the National Archives, fee payable for download, reference WO 95/2078/1
The Nineteenth Division 1914-1918, by Everard Wyrall, republished 2012, Naval & Military Press
The King's Own Royal Regiment Museum:
1918, A Very British Victory, by Peter Hart, pub Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 2009
Information Held on Database
|Military Unit:||1/4th Bn King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment|
|Date of Death:||09 Apr 1918|
|Age at Death:||19|
|Cause of Death:||Killed in action|
|Action Resulting in Death:||Battle of the Lys|
|Place of Death:||Near Givenchy, France|
|Place of Burial:||Commemorated Loos Memorial, France|
|Born or Lived in Dartmouth?||Yes|
|On Dartmouth War Memorial?||Yes|
|On St Saviour's Memorials?||Yes|
|On St Petrox Memorials?||No|
|On Flavel Church Memorials?||No|
|In Longcross Cemetery?||No|
|In St Clement's Churchyard?||No|
|On a Private Memorial?||No|
|On Another Memorial?||No|