Private Frank Sturgess
15600, 9th Bn., Leicestershire Regiment who died on 1 October 1917
Born in 1881 in Oadby, Frank Sturgess (known as Dick) was the youngest of eight children. His father John was a framework knitter married to Jane (nee Colver). Dick’s siblings were John H (1860), George (1865), Thomas (1867, William (1869), Edward (1872), Elizabeth (1874) and Martha (1878).
The Leicester Corporation Tramways archive reveals that Dick had several jobs prior to enlisting and that he was able to provide good references from various ‘Oadby worthies’ when he applied to train as a ‘points-man’ in July 1906.
Dick was educated at the Oadby Council Senior School and probably left at 13 years old to become a sock machinist. He then worked for 3 years for Mr George Clarke of Oadby as a boot laster. From there he moved to the Co-op Society Wheatsheaf Works in Knighton Fields for 6 years. Dick left the Co-op to ‘better himself’ in January 1906.
Co-op Wheatsheaf Works, Knighton
Dick began work for Thomson Bros. on Eastern Boulevard, Leicester, again as a shoe laster. Unfortunately he was laid off after 6 months due to shortage of work. However he was given a good reference when he left and applied for a position at Leicester Corporation Tramways. At the time he was living at 29 Ashbourne Street, Leicester. He began training as a points-man in September 1906.
In 1912 Dick, by now a tram conductor, married Lillian Gertrude Yeates. The couple moved to 49 Cross Street, Oadby. Their son Stanley Thomas was born on 17 August 1913.
Dick’s application to join the Leicester Corporation Tramways
Leicester Tram on Gallowtree Gate c.1917
On 5 October 1914 Dick enlisted in the Leicestershire Regiment. This seems like an odd decision, given that he was married with a baby son, but it could have been that he was inspired by a recruitment drive in Leicester. The army recruitment drives targeted workplaces and those run by local government bodies were some of the first to be approached.
Dick, like many of the Oadby men who answered the call to arms in autumn 1914 joined one of the recently formed 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th ‘service battalions’ of the Leicestershire Regiment. However the chaotic way in which these battalions for ‘Kitchener’s New Army’ were established meant that the transition to army life was far from smooth. The battalions initially lacked basic items such as uniforms and rifles! Recruits were issued with the hated ‘Kitchener Blue’ uniforms. Some drilled in ‘civvies’. When khaki uniforms were received they were often hastily made and badly fitting. Drilling with wooden or decommissioned rifles was common.
‘The Depot’, Glen Parva Barracks on Saffron Road, South Wigston
Dick’s first posting was to Glen Parva Barracks in Wigston. Built to house 350 troops, in autumn 1914 it had to accommodate 3000. Many ‘men (were) sleeping on the parade ground by the hundred without a blanket between them. The sanitary and catering arrangements were quite inadequate and soon became chaotic’. (DA Bacon typescript memoir LRO). Some recruits found billets in Wigston or slept in gardens or on waste land in Bassett Street.
New recruits at Glen Parva Barracks 1914
The severe shortage of officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) at the depot hindered the training of recruits. Those responding to advertisements in the Leicester Evening Mail in September 1914 were mainly retired soldiers whose experience and skills were outdated with the form of ‘modern industrial warfare’ that the recruits were soon to face.
Recruits in ‘Kitchener Blues’. Initial training was based on developing physical fitness and discipline. This included drill marching in lines and columns, following commands and learning to work as a unit.
On 25 October 1914 Dick was posted to 6th Battalion. By 15 January 1915 he had been promoted to Lance Corporal. However he reverted to Private at his own request on 29 May, possibly so he could serve alongside the pals he had enlisted with. Shortly before this, on 16 March 1915, Dick had been admitted to Strensham Hall Hospital for 32 days suffering from bronchitis and laryngitis, possibly this also affected his decision.
In early spring 1915 the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Battalions were formed into the 110th Brigade also known as the ‘Leicester Brigade’. On 13 July 1915 three thousand men embarked at Southampton for Boulogne.
The following year, on 25 June, Dick was evacuated from the field suffering from PUO (pyrexia unknown origin), possibly ‘trench fever’. He was hospitalised at Etretat (Le Havre) and on 1 July 1916 evacuated to England on the HMS Asturias hospital ship. On 3 July 1916, Dick was admitted to Reading War Hospital with debility and loss of appetite. He was discharged on 27 July and by 27 August 1916 he was considered fit for active service in France and embarked at Southampton. Dick arrived at Calais and transferred to the 9th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. He joined his unit in the field on 29 August. He must have still been suffering from whatever had ailed him previously as he was instantly re-admitted to the hospital, again with NYD (not yet diagnosed) pyrexia. After treatment Dick was discharged back to his battalion on 10 September 1916.
With the 9th Leicesters Dick would have fought at Gueudecourt, 25/26 September 1916, the last action involving the 110th Leicester Brigade on the Somme battlefield.
Dick was hospitalised at Reading in July 1916
Winter in France and Belgium 1916/17 was the coldest on record
Dick spent a freezing winter in France on the Loos battlefield and in spring 1917 the 9th Leicesters, and the other battalions of the 110th Leicester Brigade’ were ordered to follow up the Germans, who had conducted a scorched earth exercise, as they withdrew to the Hindenburg Line. Conditions were difficult through a terrain of destroyed villages, booby trapped roads and poisoned wells. They engaged the enemy unsuccessfully at Les Croisilles on 3 May and 16 June and then retired to divisional reserve until entering the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) in September 1917.
Duckboard paths on the Passchendaele battlefield
On the night of 30 September 1917 the 110th Brigade marched along duck boards across the muddy Passchendaele battlefield to Polygon Wood to relieve the 32nd Australian Division. D A Bacon of 9th Leicesters recalled that at 5.30am, ‘the enemy launched a determined infantry assault against our positions, through a smoke screen.’ The attack continued in waves throughout the day. The 8th and 9th Leicesters sustained heavy losses including Private Frank (Dick) Sturgess.
Destroyed landscape of Polygon Wood 1917
Dick Sturgess has no known grave and is Remembered with Honour on the Tyne Cott Memorial, Belgium. He is also commemorated on the Oadby War Memorial, the Oadby Senior School Memorial, the Adult School Memorial Tablet in Oadby Baptist Church and on the Leicester Corporation Tramways Memorial
Tyne Cott Memorial, Belgium
Leicester Corporation Tramways Memorial
Adult School Memorial Tablet in Oadby Baptist Church
Other Family Members
Dick’s widow Lilian Sturgess signed for his Memorial Plaque on 2 December 1919 and his 1914-15 Star Medal on 22 Feb 1921 whilst at 49 Cross Street, Oadby. On 22 February 1922 Lillian signed for Dick’s British War and Victory Medals in the name of Hodge. She had recently married Edwin C Hodge at Coventry (Q1 1922). Their daughter Alma was born on 30 December 1922. In 1939 Lillian, Edwin and Alma Hodge were living at 132 George St, Coventry with Edwin’s 79 year old mother Ellen Hodge who was described on the census as an ‘infirm cripple’.
Dick and Lillian’s son, Stanley Thomas, joined the police force and in 1939 census he was listed as a police constable, living with his wife Ada at 78 Sutton Road, Kidderminster.
We are grateful to Chris Jinks for additional information and photographs from the Leicester Corporation Tramways archive.