Researched and written by Anne Wright
Pte F W Foster
1st Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment)
All three Foster brothers served in the Great War. Two did not survive: both were killed in the final months of the conflict. Francis William was the eldest of Francis (Frank) and Martha Elizabeth’s children. He was born in Oatlands Park on 23 July 1882 and baptised three months later at St. James’ Church, Weybridge on 18 October. His first home was in Vale Road, Walton-on-Thames before the family moved to 4, Yew Tree Cottages, New Road in Weybridge where they were living in 1901. By this stage Francis had started his working career as a domestic gardener. He had the same occupation when he married Elizabeth Collyer on 14 January 1911 at St. Michael & All Angels Church in Pirbright. At the time of their marriage both were residents of Pirbright but soon established their home at 2 Heath Road in Weybridge.
Francis enlisted in Weybridge; he did not serve against Germany during 1914-15 as he did not receive the 1914-15 Star campaign medal. He joined the 1st Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment). They, as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), landed at Le Havre on 13 August 1914 and remained on the Western Front throughout the war. By the time Francis joined them they were part of the 100th Brigade in the 33rd Division and from 2 February 1918 were part of the 19th Brigade in the same division. They were involved in the British Army’s first engagement with the Germans at the Battle of Mons, 23-24 August 1914 and the retreat which followed. Amongst other battles, they fought at the Marne in September 1914, the Somme in 1916, plus the Arras Offensive and the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) in 1917.
Francis would have experienced desperate fighting at the Battles of the Lys in April 1918, the second phase of the German Spring Offensive. His final engagement came near the end of the Battles of the Hindenburg Line, 12 September – 12 October when the Germans were at last being pushed back. During the first two weeks of September Francis and his comrades were training and carrying out normal routines at Ivergny (near Lens). They then had two short stints in the front line the second of which, on 21 September, cost them 39 killed, 134 wounded and 89 missing. Just over a week later they were in the line again and suffered a gas attack. After a brief respite Francis went into the line once more on 3 October. His last battle was the 2nd Battle of Cambrai launched on 8 October. By 6.30pm the battalion had moved to La Pannerie North and bivouacked in the open. At 9.45pm they received the order to be ready to move forward at short notice. At 1.45am on 9 October they advanced. They marched through Aubencheul-aux-Bois and Villers Outreaux but the road was then found to be mined and the transport could go no further; the Lewis guns were unloaded and the advance continued through Malincourt. Casualties were sustained: amongst the other ranks 3 were killed, 16 wounded and 25 taken prisoner.
Francis was one of the fatalities. The battalion’s ‘Report on Operations, 9 October’ records that that two men were killed at 5.20am when ‘….a few of our shells fell on A Company’s ‘jumping off’ position.’ Francis may have been one of them. However, he may have fallen victim to enemy machine gun fire. The British and Canadian forces liberated Cambrai on the day Francis died. The Germans were forced back to a new line on the R. Selle near Le Cateau. Ironically, the British were moving back to the battlefields of 1914. One month of fighting remained.
Francis is buried in Hautmont Communal Cemetery (IV.B.40) 5 km SW of Maubeuge. Immediately above him on the Weybridge Memorial is his brother, Ernest James. His wife, Elizabeth, was a widow for almost ten years before remarrying to Henry Phillips at St. Paul’s Church, Woking on 16 June 1927. The youngest brother, Nelson John, served in the East Surrey Regiment (L/12381) and survived the war. He returned to the family home in New Road where he lived until at least 1931.
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), www.longlongtrail.co.uk/