Frank Pelham

Family story contributed by Henry Pelham

Frank Pelham was born 19 April 1897 in Leigh, near Reigate in Surrey, to Henry and Mary Pelham (née Chantler), and was one of eight surviving children, three boys and five girls. Frank, like his father and brothers, was employed on the land as an Agriculture Labourer.

Frank enlisted and followed his elder brother Harry by joining the Royal Garrison Artillery at Woolwich, in early 1916. His army number was 81220 and with the rank of Gunner. He firstly, he was in the 149th Siege Battery with his training completed at Bexhill in Sussex. He was sent to France on 2 December 1916 where he joined the 223rd Siege Battery, with which he stayed until 1919.

Frank’s war records have not survived, most likely because of the heavy bombing of London in the Second World War; these are now known as the ‘Burnt Records’.  The Siege Batteries did not keep war diaries themselves due to the part they played in battles, being constantly on the move wherever heavy bombardment was needed, and hopefully not to get located and targeted by opposing German Artillery.  The war diaries were kept by the Battalions to whom the Siege Batteries were allotted and this is from them we are able to follow Frank’s unit’s movements.

The 223rd Siege Battery, together armed with four 6 inch 26 cwt Howitzers, went to the Western front in France on 2 December 1916, and joined the 19th Heavy Artillery Group the Fifth Army on 7 December 1916. They were taking part in operations on Ancre, Miraumont, Thilloys, Rettemoy Graben, the Hindenburg Line, and Bapaume and the first attack on Bullecourt. He was transferred on 13 April 1917 to 46th Heavy Artillery Group to counter the German attack on Lagnicourt.

On 20 June 1917, Frank was transferred to the 70th Heavy Artillery Group of the First Army, who were joined by the 360th Siege Battery. The combined unit was taking part at the Souchez River, and the capture of Avion and Oppy Wood. On 24 October 1917 he was transferred to the fourth Heavy Artillery Group, with whom he saw action at the Battle of the Ancre in 1918.

Frank was demobilised in 1919, and returned to working on the land. He married Emily Emma Morley in 1937, living in Burstow and Smallfield for the rest of his life. Frank and Emily had one son Henry Frank, born 25 March 1942. Frank died in 1974, aged 77.

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