Frank Herbert Alton, maternal relative: Ypres 14 Feb 1916

Frank Herbert Alton was related to me via my mothers family. He was born during January 1887 at Staveley, Derbyshire, England and was killed in action on 14 Feb 1916 whilst his unit was holding trenches in the southern area of the Ypres salient, Belgium. He has no know grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium.

The actual lineage to me is:

  • Frank Herbert Alton (1887 - 1916) grand-nephew of husband of wife of nephew of husband of 1st cousin 4x removed
  • Francis (Frank) Herbert Boosey Alton (1866 - 1940) father of Frank Herbert Alton
  • Joseph Alton (1836 - 1900) father of Francis (Frank) Herbert Boosey Alton
  • William Alton Jr (1801 - 1881) father of Joseph Alton
  • Thomas Alton (1832 - 1888) son of William Alton Jr
  • Elizabeth Chambers (1842 - 1931) wife of Thomas Alton
  • John Hartland Cadle (1860 - 1918) husband of Elizabeth Chambers
  • Albert Cadle (1832 - 1896) father of John Hartland Cadle
  • Joseph Cadle (1785 - 1864) father of Albert Cadle
  • James Cadle (1824 - 1902) son of Joseph Cadle
  • Sarah Louisa Gough (1833 - 1895) wife of James Cadle
  • Jane Priday (1808 - 1838) mother of Sarah Louisa Gough
  • William Priday (1763 - 1850) father of Jane Priday
  • Nathaniel Priday Sr I (1794 - 1870) son of William Priday
  • Nathaniel Priday Jr II (1830 - 1900) son of Nathaniel Priday Sr I
  • Joseph Priday (1853 - 1933) son of Nathaniel Priday Jr II
  • Joseph Priday (1888 - 1954) son of Joseph Priday (my maternal Grandfather)
  • Alice May Priday (1917 - 2009) daughter of Joseph Priday (my Mother)
  • William G Hyde - me

His Family

Frank Herbert Alton's father was Francis (Frank) Herbert Boosey Alton.

Francis (Frank) Herbert Boosey Alton was born during January 1866 at Mercaston, Derbyshire, England. His father was Joseph Alton who was also born in Mercaston, Derbyshire, England during 1836. His father was a Farmer of 190 acres and had 3 servants - Joseph Kirkland (Farm Labourer), Elizabeth Rose Better (House Servant) and Sophia (something) also a House Servant.

Joseph Alton married Elizabeth Rose Better during 1859 in what, from appearances appears to be a shotgun wedding, at Mercaston, Derbyshire. Joseph & Elizabeth went on to have a family of 5 children:

  • Eliza Alton - 1859–1860
  • Joseph Alton - 1860–1939
  • Francis (Frank) Herbert Boosey Alton - 1866-1940
  • Frederic Alton - 1868–1955 (died in USA)
  • Elizabeth Alton - 1879–1960

Joseph Alton inherited his Fathers farm, from which he retired to live at Town St, Duffield Bank, Derbyshire with wife Elizabeth. Joseph died at Town St, Duffield Bank in March 1919. His wife, Elizabeth, died approximately 1921.

Francis (Frank) Herbert Boosey Alton married Elizabeth Ellen Luke on 1 January 1885 at St John the Baptist, Church Street, Staveley, Derbyshire. Francis was working at the local Coal Mine in Staveley. They had nine children in total:

  • Mary Elizabeth Alton - 1886–1891
  • Frank Herbert Alton - 1887–1916
  • Clara Alton - 1888–1970
  • Walter Edward Alton - 1890–1891
  • Annie Alton - 1892–1980
  • Florance (Florrie) Alton - 1895–1980
  • Hetty Alton - 1897–1971
  • Emily Alton - 1900–1980
  • Ethel Alton - 1903–1983

Francis (Frank) Herbert was a Stationary Engine Driver, first at a Colliery in Castleton, Rochdale & then at Staveley Colliery, Derbyshire. It is believed Francis (Frank) Herbert Boosey Alton died in 1940, although actual records are hard to find. We do know that his wife, Elizabeth Ellen is recorded to have died in Chesterfield, Derbyshire during June 1923, however I suspect she died at the family home in Staveley which is in the Chesterfield death registration area.

Frank Herbert Alton was born in Staveley, Derbyshire in January 1887, however he & his family were at 61 River St, Castleton, Rochdale, Lancashire by 1891 when is his father was working at the local colliery. By 1901 he was back in Staveley working at the Staveley Colliery, where he was a Pony Driver (underground & aged 14).

Frank Herbert Alton married Lily Parsons on 2 October 1909 at St John the Baptist, Church Street, Staveley. And following the marriage the couple set about raising a family, first at 75 Speedwell Terrace, Staveley. By this time, Frank Herbert had become a Fitter at the Colliery (a Fitter was employed by the Mechanical Engineer to help erect, install or build machines etc. and maintain and repair equipment).

Lily Parsons was born during March 1891 at Brimington, Derbyshire (Brimington today is 10 minutes from Staveley by bus). By 1901 her family were living at 75 Speedwell Terrace, Staveley and it seems that after her marriage, Lily & Frank Herbert lived with her parents (initially).

Frank & Lily moved to 118 Speedwell Terrace, Staveley where they were recorded on Frank's enlistment papers (see below).

Frank Herbert & Lily had just one child - Cyril who was born on 6 August 1910 at 75 Speedwell Terrace, Staveley. Cyril Alton went on to marry Selina D Jervis (1913 - 1993) in Chesterfield, Derbyshire in September 1935. As far as I can see, Cyril & Selina didn't have any children. Cyril died at 20 Bridle Rd, Chesterfield, Derbyshire on 8 June 1991.

His Military Service

Frank Herbert Alton, along with over half a million other young men in Britain, volunteered to join the British Army within weeks of War being declared (on 4 August 1914).

Frank Herbert volunteered on 7 November 1914 at Chesterfield, Derbyshire and was enlisted into the 10th Battalion, Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire (Sherwood Foresters) Regiment as a Private and allocated Regimental Number 20548.

10th (Service) Battalion, Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire (Sherwood Foresters) Regiment

The Battalion was formed in Derby in September 1914 and was part of Kitchiner's New Army K2 Army Group and came under the orders of the 51st Brigade in 17th (Northern) Division. Many of the New Army Battalion's were comprised of men from the same geographical area or from a particular industry or employer and quickly got the nickname "Pal's Battalion's".

Frank Herbert Alton was a Coal Mine Fitter and both Derbyshire & Nottingshire were (at that time) big coal mining areas, so it is quite likely the force consisted of men from that line of work.

Morn Hill tempiorary buildingsWhen formed, the 10th (Service) Battalion, Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire (Sherwood Foresters) Regiment were rapidly moved (September 1914) to the Army Tarining Camp at Wool, which had been created within Bovington Camp, Dorset. And it would have been to Wool that Frank Herbert Alton was shipped not long after joining up. The Battalion undertook basic training at Wool. They were soon moved (October) onto the Camp at West Lulworth, where they did weapons training. They returned to Wool in December 1914.

In June 1915 the 10th (Service) Battalion, Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire (Sherwood Foresters) Regiment transferred to the large military camp that had been created during the 1914/15 winter on the downs east of Winchester on both sides of the Alresford Road. Two British Army Divisions destined for the Western Front formed there, initially in tents, which were rapidly replaced by line after line of temporary huts.

The central role of Morn Hill was as a transit base for troops moving to France and Belgium through the port of Southampton. Most stayed for only a few days before moving on.

Later, the camps expanded further eastward with numerous temporary buildings being erected to create a major barracks comprising hundreds of living huts with cookhouses, cinemas, recreation halls, stables, garages etc.

The population of Winchester at the time was about 20,000. The camps were said to be capable of holding some 50,000 troops at any one time.

As the British Army, joined by thousands from the Empire, grew throughout 1915 to 1917, Morn Hill became the largest concentration in Britain of troops in transit to the Western and other Fronts.

10th (Service) Battalion, Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire (Sherwood Foresters) Regiment were soon moved to Southampton and landed at Boulogne, with other parts of 17th (Northern) Division on 14 July 1915. The division concentrated near St Omer. They moved into the Southern Ypres salient for trench familiarisation and then took over the the front lines in that area, where they remained for the remainder of 1915.

His Death

In 1916, the Division was involved in fighting at the Bluff (south east of Ypres on the Comines canal), part of a number of engagements officially known as the Actions of Spring 1916.

Map of the Western Front around Ypres, Feb 1916The Ypres-Comines canal, running south east from the town, cut through the front lines about 3 miles from the Cloth Hall. This was the position at the end of the First Battle of Ypres and it was much the same by 1916, the Second Battle having not altered things. Facing the British, the village of Hollebeke; on the left was the hotly-contested ground of Hill 60 and Zwarteleen, and on the right the hotspot at St Eloi. On the northern embankment of the canal, a curious mound – a spoil-heap, created when the canal was excavated – gave the British front an unusual observation advantage over the enemy. If the enemy held it, the view across the rear areas of the Salient to Hill 60, towards Ypres and down to Voormezele would have made the Salient very difficult to hold. The position just had to be held.

The German front line fire trench lay some 200 yards ahead of this feature, which the British called the Bluff, and the germans the Grosse, or Kanal, Bastion. British trenches ran around the forward base of the Bluff, snaking around the front of the lips of a number of mine craters that had been blown here in October and November 1915 and in January 1916. Communication trenches ran back over the Bluff itself. The canal cutting was steep sided, and over 100 yards wide. The trenches continued on the other side, with only a single plank bridge connecting the two banks.

17th (Northern) Division had moved to relieve 3rd Division in the canal sector between 5 and 8 February 1916, and placed 51st Brigade (containing Frank's 10th Battalion, Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Sherwood Foresters Regiment) on a 1300 yard front at the Bluff position. It was also responsible for the south bank and had 52nd Brigade there.

Enemy shellfire began to fall on both brigade fronts in the morning of 14 February, intensifying on the Bluff from mid afternoon. (The enemy was also shelling 24th Division at Hooge at this time). British artillery began to retaliate and the infantry at the Bluff stood by to meet an anticipated attack. All telephone wires were cut by the shelling, which severely affected the ability of units in the front line to call for support. German tunnellers blew three small mines at 5.45pm, one under the Bluff (which buried a platoon of the 10/Lancashire Fusiliers sheltering in an old tunnel) and two slightly further north, under the 10/Sherwood Foresters. Shortly afterwards, German infantry attacked between the canal bank and the Ravine. They entered and captured the front line trenches but were driven out of the support lines behind the front. Small local efforts to counter attack over the next two days failed. The all-important Bluff position had been lost, and it would take more than localised efforts to regain it.

The operations in the area of the Bluff from the start of the enemy attack (14 February) to noon on 17 February cost the British 1,294 casualties and one of those was Frank Herbert Alton.

Unfortunately, so severe was the result of the two exploding mines underneath the trenches that the 10th Battalion Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Sherwood Foresters Regiment were occupying, that many men just disappeared and this was Frank's fate on that terrible day, 14th February 1916.

His Burial

Frank Herbert Alton, along with many of his comrades in the 10th Battalion Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Sherwood Foresters Regiment who were blown up by the German mines below the Bluff on 14 February 1916, has no marked grave.

He is commemorated by an inscription on a tablet on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium along with some 54000 other men who also have no known grave.

Frank Herbert Alton memorial reference is Panel 39 & 41, on the right hand side (looking from the moat to the town) Loggia.

Menin Gate ight hand side Loggia (looking from moat to town)

Menin Gate

meningate 2The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is one of four British and Commonwealth memorials to the missing in the battlefield area of the Ypres Salient in Belgian Flanders. The memorial bears the names of 54,389 officers and men from United Kingdom and Commonwealth Forces (except New Zealand and Newfoundland) who fell in the Ypres Salient before 16 August 1917 and who have no known grave.

The names are engraved in Portland Stone panels fixed to the inner walls of the central Hall of Memory, to the sides of the staircases leading from the lower level to the upper exterior level, and on the walls inside the loggias on the north and south sides of the building.

From October 1914 to October 1918, five major offensives occurred at Ypres (now Ieper) in Belgium. By the time the last shells fell in Ypres in October 1918, nearly 200,000 Commonwealth servicemen had been killed.

Broadly speaking, the Salient stretched from Langemarck in the north to the northern edge in Ploegsteert Wood in the south, but it varied in area and shape throughout the war. The Salient was formed during the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914, when a small British Expeditionary Force succeeded in securing the town before the onset of winter, pushing the German forces back to the Passchendaele Ridge. The Second Battle of Ypres began in April 1915 when the Germans released poison gas into the Allied lines north of Ypres. This was the first time gas had been used by either side and the violence of the attack forced an Allied withdrawal and a shortening of the line of defence.

There was little more significant activity on this front until 1917, when in the Third Battle of Ypres an offensive was mounted by Commonwealth forces to divert German attention from a weakened French front further south. The initial attempt in June to dislodge the Germans from the Messines Ridge was a complete success, but the main assault north-eastward, which began at the end of July, quickly became a dogged struggle against determined opposition and the rapidly deteriorating weather. The campaign finally came to a close in November with the capture of Passchendaele.

meningate 1The German offensive of March 1918 met with some initial success, but was eventually checked and repulsed in a combined effort by the Allies in September.

Having seen some of the heaviest fighting in the First World War, Ypres was in ruins. The Town Major of Ypres Henry Beckles Willson described it as ‘holy ground’ and felt the area should not be rebuilt but remain a memorial. However, this was not to be and the town was rebuilt.

The battles of the Ypres Salient claimed many lives on both sides and it quickly became clear that the commemoration of members of the Commonwealth forces with no known grave would have to be divided between several different sites. The site of the Menin Gate was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through it on their way to the battlefields.

Building of the memorial began in 1923 and on 24 July 1927, it was unveiled by Field Marshal Lord Plumer. Veterans, relatives of those commemorated and local people attended. Dignitaries included King Albert I of Belgium and Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Commander of French forces during the war.

During the Second World War, the memorial incurred considerable damage including shrapnel holes on almost all its elevations. The memorial was restored between 1945 and 1948 under the supervision of Reginald Blomfield’s son, Austin Blomfield. Some of the damage can still be seen today as honourable battle scars.