This story is the result of an investigation of documents held by Surrey History Centre. The file (SHC ref. CC7/4/4, nos. 1-50) contains correspondence and insurance claims on behalf of Surrey County Council Education Department employees who had been killed in action during the Great War. The cases date from 1915 to 1918.
Name: Francis Gerard Henry Allum
Occupation: Junior Clerk, Education Centre Office, Surrey Education Committee
Birth Place: Petersham, Surrey
Residence: Petersham, Surrey
Date of Death: Died of Wounds 29th May 1917
Age: 20 years (born 30th November 1896)
Location: Gavrelle, near Arras
Regiment: 1st Battalion, Honourable Artillery Company
Regimental Number: 3445
Francis was born in 1896, the son of Alfred, head gardener at Petersham House, Petersham, and Annie. His father was also an assistant overseer of the parish of Petersham.
Francis had one brother, Harold, and three sisters Dorothy, a clerk, Norah and Olive, who were both teachers. Harold also served in the Honourable Artillery Company during the war and survived.
Francis joined the Education Centre Office, Surrey Education Committee, in the spring of 1915, earning £25 a year. He had joined the Council straight from school. Upon enlistment he was resident at Bute Lodge, Petersham, Surrey.
He enlisted in Finsbury on 30th April 1915 into the Honourable Artillery Company (H.A.C.). He originally joined the 2nd Battalion before transferring, on the 21st of July 1916, to the 1st Battalion. In March/April 1916, he spent almost two weeks in a Farnborough hospital with influenza.
The Honourable Artillery Company is the oldest regiment in the British Army, dating back to 1537 when Henry VIII granted a charter to the Fraternity or Guild of Artillery of Longbows, Crossbows and Handguns for ‘the better increase of the defence of this our realm’ and ‘the maintenance of the science of artillery’. Since 1908, the Honourable Artillery Company had been a Territorial Force (T.F.) unit – part-time soldiers – established for ‘Home Service’ only. Like other T.F. soldiers, Francis would have had to volunteer for overseas service, and he did so on 30th April 1916. At some point before departure to the front Francis had trained as a signaller.
The 1st Battalion, Honourable Artillery Company had gone to France in September 1914, and despite its name, it would fight the war as infantry. It had fought in the First Battle of Ypres in 1914 and then remained in the Ypres sector for much of 1915. In June, it made a successful attack in the area of Hooge, at the cost of some 200 casualties.
On 23rd October 1915 the battalion withdrew from the frontline after five months of near continuous trench warfare. It transferred to G.H.Q. (General Headquarters) near St Omer the same month. G.H.Q. attachments meant that the battalion provided guards for British General Headquarters locations in France. It continued this duty until the start of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916, when it transferred back to a fighting unit, the 190th (non-naval) Brigade within the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division.
Francis went to France on 21st July 1916, embarking from Southampton and arriving in Le Havre the next day. He did not join the 1st Battalion until the 18th November and was assigned to ‘D’ Company two days later.
In November, the battalion had moved up to Hamel, on the Somme, and on the 13/14th it took part in the Battle of Ancre, attacking the village of Beaucourt-sur-Ancre, which it captured. Francis joined just after the attack, and just as the battalion moved to Nouvian-en-Ponthieu to take part in a special training programme.
In February, it was involved in what the H.A.C. official history describes as the ‘Somme Circus’ – rotating in and out of trenches, carrying out working parties and occasionally attacking the enemy. They finally left the trenches at the end of March, moving out of the line for training.
In April the battalion moved to the Arras sector, and on the 22nd took part in operations at Gavrelle, just to the east of Arras.
On May 20th, after time in reserve, it moved back into the trenches near Gavrelle where it carried out routine trench duty. The official history describes the battalion as coming under sporadic artillery fire. On the 29th May, Francis was hit; his army service record states he suffered a compound fracture of the skull. He died the same day in the 1st Field Ambulance.
His family received a letter dated 8th June 1917 from his commanding officer, Captain Hurgis of ‘A’ Company:
‘Your son was hit on the 29th by a shell which burst in the trench and although he was attended to at once and taken straight down to a field hospital he died within 24 hours from his wound. He was buried in a military cemetery close to the Hospital by an Army Chaplain and a cross was made by the Battn. and placed over his grave.
I am the commander of the company in which he served and I want to tell you he was a good soldier and a very fine fellow and that he was liked and admired by all his comrades and officers and also at the same time to express my deepest sympathy and that of his comrades in your great loss.
That I fear is little consolation but perhaps the knowledge of the justice of our cause for which he has given his life may afford you some consolation.’
His family also received an undated letter from Sergeant N.W. Flack, Signals, H.A.C.:
‘I very much regret to advise you of the details connected with the death of your son. He was seriously wounded by an enemy shell while serving in the trenches on May 29th and succumbed to his wounds in a Field Ambulance some hours later. He is buried in a British Cemetery, and I understand his brother, of whom you speak in your letter of June 9th, visited his grave.
Always cheerful, facing discomforts with a smile, and willingly undertaking any duties allotted to him no matter how arduous, he had become a great favourite with his fellow signallers amongst whom his loss is keenly felt.’
On 19th September 1917, his mother Annie wrote to the Territorial Forces Record Office trying to trace Francis’s personal possessions. They had been taken off his body and sent to the base, but appeared to have gone missing. She asks that anything would be ‘gratefully received by his sorrowing ones at home as little mementos’. On the same day, the 19th of September, the Record Office sent his family Francis’s belongings: ‘letters, photos, pocket book, torch, German belt, books, scarf, rifle cover, mirror, disc badges, flask, titles, pipe, strop razor, dictionary, fountain pen, cig. holders, scissors, cig. case, w.watch (bken).’ Annie received them on the 20th, returning a letter of thanks.
After his death, Francis’ family pursued an insurance claim with Surrey County Council, who had taken out an insurance policy on behalf of Francis. They eventually received £90 and 10 shillings.
Francis is buried at Ste. Catherine British Cemetery in France and commemorated on the Richmond War memorial.
He is entitled to the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Surrey History Centre CC7/4/4 File 29
War Diary – 1st Battalion, Honourable Artillery Company
Major G. Goold Walker, The Honourable Artillery Company 1914-1919 (London, Seeley, Service and Co. Ltd. 1930).
National Archives, WO363, Army Service Records – Francis Gerard Henry Allum
Commonwealth War Graves Commission – https://www.cwgc.org/
Ancestry website – https://www.ancestry.co.uk/