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Regimental Sergeant Major Frank Herbert Radford DCM, Devonshire Regiment

Frank Radford was born in Exeter, the son of an Irishman, John Radford, and his wife, Harriett.  His birth was registered in the first quarter of 1889.  By the time of the 1891 census the family were living at 5 Red Lion Court, St Sidwell, and his father was a coal yard labourer.  The 1901 census shows them with eight children (Frank was the second) at 5 Clade’s Cottage, and John is shown as a seaman.[1]

Frank enlisted in the Devonshire Regiment at Exeter on 18 October 1905, giving his previous occupation as labourer and his age as 18.  (He was either 16 or just 17.)  His regimental number was 8005.[2]  The 1911 census lists him serving on Malta with the 2nd  Battalion the Devonshire Regiment [3], with whom he then served in Egypt before arriving in France as a sergeant on 6 November 1914.[4] 

A week after the Battalion’s costly attack near Neuve Chapelle on 18 December 1914, in which they lost 8 officers and 121 NCOs and men killed and wounded, they took part in the unofficial truce on Christmas Day, when British and Germans soldiers met and fraternised in No Man’s Land. 

Three months later Frank distinguished himself in a second attack at Neuve Chapelle on 10/14 March 1915.  8 officers and 235 NCOs and men were killed and wounded, and it seems likely that Frank was among the wounded.   His record shows that at some stage he received a severe gunshot wound in the face and was evacuated to hospital in England. 

He returned to France on 15 December 1915 and rejoined his Battalion in billets near Hazebrouck.  But in the meantime he had been twice decorated for bravery.  On 24 June 1915 the Battalion War Diary had reported that he was one of several officers and men mentioned in Despatches[1], and he also received the Czarist Russian Medal of St George 2nd Class.[2]

The War Diary records an abortive raid on the German trenches at Hulluch, near Loos, on the night of 5/6 October 1916 in which one officer was killed and 34 NCOs and men were killed and wounded.  Afterwards the CO interviewed the three surviving officers and Company Sergeant Major Radford to produce a report that the leader of the raid, Captain A H Smith was killed at once and most of the leading men knocked out.  The party then became disorganised and withdrew.[1]     

On 31 July 1917, by now acting RSM of the 2nd Battalion, he was involved in the initial attack of the 3rd Battle of Ypres and it was almost certainly here that Frank won his DCM.  The citation, published later in the London Gazette of 26 January 1918, read:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in charge of regimental dumps.  He was responsible for getting water and bombs forward for the use of companies during the attack. The enemy was shelling very heavily, and his parties came under heavy machine gun fire.  He, however, continued to exhort his men to further efforts with the utmost determination and courage, and by his splendid personal example under appalling weather conditions and intense hostile fire the dumps were kept filled.[2]

The War Diary on 21 August 1917 reported the award of his DCM on the day the Division was inspected by Field Marshal Haig.  Three days earlier, on leave in Exeter, Frank had married 26-year-old Florence Mabel Hooper, who had been a servant at Red Lion Court, where his family had lived.[3]

According to the Battalion War Diary, on 21 December 1917 Frank won the semi-final of the Divisional Boxing Competition held at Quelmes but, soon afterwards, was taken ill because on 1 February 1918 the Diary reported his return from hospital a day earlier.

The London Gazette of 3 September 1918[4] published the award of a Bar to his DCM, which had probably been earned four or five months earlier during the March Retreat:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.  He showed marked ability and fine leadership in organising and leading remnants of two companies that had lost all their officers, and clearing a large area of wood of the enemy.  He set a splendid example to his men.

It is likely that the action referred to in the citation was either the defensive battle on 31 March, when the Devons lost 14 officers and 304 NCOs and men killed or wounded, or on 23/24 April, when they again lost heavily.  Although 24,620 DCMs were won in the 1914-18 War, only 472 men earned a Bar, compared to 627 VCs awarded during the war. 

By 5 June, when the 2nd Battalion War Diary recorded the award of Frank’s second DCM, the Battalion had practically ceased to exist.  On 27/28 May 1918 they had made a gallant, sacrificial stand at Bois des Buttes against an overwhelmingly superior German force, losing 551 all ranks killed and missing.  

Frank had played a characteristically courageous role, encouraging his soldiers to fight on and desperately gathering ammunition to enable them to do so. 

Captain Milner and Captain Burke, together with RSM Frank Radford, were moving about, shouting words of encouragement, and the men responded by firing more rapidly than before. Their “Well done, lad!” meant a lot to those men.....

Horrible discovery!  The men had run out of ammunition.  RSM Radford dashed from one dead man to another emptying his pouches and throwing the clips of cartridges to the survivors.  He did heroic work and bore a charmed life.  As he was stooping over one body, unfastening the ammunition pouches, half a dozen Germans rushed on him from behind, and he was taken prisoner.[5]

Private Frank Prout of D Company recalled:

My pal and I really thought we were the last two left.  We came across the Colonel and Franky Radford – not for long…  We were fortunately taken prisoner instead of being shot.  With this Jerry behind us we were marched up the road and joined by others.  Franky Radford was able to tell us the Colonel was killed.[6]

Even in captivity, the RSM immediately encouraged seven of his soldiers to make a break for it, warning them to avoid Roucy.  Four made it back to the British lines[7], but Radford remained a prisoner for the rest of the war.  After his return from prisoner of war camp Frank joined the 1st Battalion at Raglan Barracks, Devonport, where he was struck by a double tragedy.  His baby son, Francis Henry, died on 20 December 1919, followed on Christmas Day by his wife, Florence.[8]   This was the time of the influenza epidemic.

Five months later the Battalion was posted to Waterford in Ireland, where Frank Radford, amiable, easy-going Frankie, who had been at Bois des Buttes, was found not to have the necessary educational requirements for high office and was superseded by the ferocious ‘Buck’ Melhuish as Regimental Sergeant-Major.[9]  One can only speculate whether a more ferocious or more educationally qualified RSM would have been capable of providing the sort of example Frank Radford had shown at Third Ypres, in the March Retreat or at Bois des Buttes.

While in Waterford, Frank met a local girl, 21-year-old Mary McEvoy, whom he married there on 15 September 1921.  Their first son, Francis Herbert, was born in Meerut on 24 December 1923 while Frank was serving in India with the 2nd Battalion.[10]  The 2nd Battalion’s journal, The Star, made several mentions of Frank and his wife in India during the early 1920s.  As CSM of D Company, Frank was still active in boxing, hockey and shooting.   The January 1926 issue wished CSM Radford and family, who were leaving for England in the near future, Bon Voyage.[11]

On 19 April 1926 Frank was discharged in the rank of CSM after 21 years’ service.[12]  He had served in Malta, Egypt, France, Ireland and India.  He had received the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar, the 1914 Star, 1914-18 War Medal and Allied Victory Medal, the Russian Medal of St George and a mention in Despatches.  During his almost unbroken service with the 2nd Battalion in France between November 1914 and May 1918, he had been severely wounded, captured and four times decorated for bravery.  He was the only Devonshire Regiment soldier ever to win the DCM twice.  It seems extraordinary that Atkinson’s comprehensive history of the Regiment in the Great War made no mention of him.

One of his medal index cards noted an enquiry in 1924 about a Long Service & Good Conduct Medal, but I have found no record of one having been awarded.  It is possible that, despite his 20+ years’ service, an early misdemeanour precluded his receiving the medal – his conduct on discharge was described as Very Good, rather than Exemplary!  He retired on a pension of 4s 4d per day[13] (or just over £1.50 per week at a time when average employed earnings were a little over £1 per week).

On 13 April 1929 a second son, John William, was born in Exeter.  In retirement Frank and Mary lived at Higher Lodge, Bystock, Withycombe Raleigh, Exmouth, where Frank died on 30 April 1948, aged 59.  Mary died in January 1970.  Their son Francis became a schoolmaster and John a welfare officer.[14]

 

 

 

 


[1] 2nd Devons’ War Diary report appended to October 1916 – The Keep, Dorchester

[2] Award published London Gazette 22 Oct 18 p10867; citation 26 January 1918 p1326

[3] Marriage record and census records via Ancestry.co.uk

[4] p10259

[5] Through Hell to Victory by R A Colwill pp 216-218

[6]  Riley collected reminiscences of survivors of Bois des Buttes – The Keep, Dorchester

[7] The Bloody Eleventh Vol III by W J P Aggett 1995 p140

[8] Death registers via Ancestry.co.uk

[9] The Bloody Eleventh Vol III by W J P Aggett 1995 p202

[10] Marriage and birth registers via Ancestry.co.uk

[11] The Star January 1926 (Sergeants’ Mess News) – The Keep Dorchester

[12] Devonshire Regiment enlistment book – The Keep, Dorchester

[13] Devonshire Regiment enlistment book – The Keep, Dorchester

[14] Family tree of Graeme John Radford via familytreemaker.genealogy.com, and National Probate records via

    Ancestry.co.uk

 


[1] London Gazette 22 June 1915 p5992

[2] London Gazette 25 August 1915 p8512

 


[1] Birth register and census records via Ancestry.co.uk

[2] Devonshire Regiment enlistment book – The Keep, Dorchester

[3] Via Ancestry.co.uk

[4] Frank Radford medal index card via Ancestry.co.uk