Frank Martin

Frank Martin was born at Stockcross in 1883, the youngest son of Joseph and Frances. 

His father had served overseas with the 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment of Foot, and the birthplaces of Frank’s older brothers and sisters reflected the Regiment’s postings abroad during the 1860s and 1870s: Ireland, Gibraltar, Malta, and Hong Kong.  His mother had herself been born on the British colony of St Helena.  Joseph Martin had family connections with West Berkshire - his father was the canal lock keeper at Kintbury – and so after leaving the army, he settled in the area.

From 1880 to 1884, Joseph was landlord of the Cricketers inn at Stockcross.  He and his family then moved just along the road to Wickham Heath, with Joseph now supplementing his army pension with farm labouring.

Frank followed his father into farm work, later becoming a gamekeeper.  He was a familiar figure in the area, partly from his occupation, and also from his appearances at social gatherings, at which he performed original songs and parodies which were well received by his audiences and “in which his strong Conservative opinions were brought into play” (Newbury Weekly News).

The 1911 census shows Frank, age 27 and single, living at home with his widowed mother Frances (his father having died earlier that year), widowed sister Caroline, older brother Frederick and nephew Harry Weskett.  Frank’s occupation is given as ‘gamekeeper’.

Frank volunteered early in the war for service with the 1/1st Berkshire Yeomanry, enlisting at Reading.  As a resident of Wickham Heath, before the war Frank would most likely have joined ‘C’ Squadron, which covered Newbury, Lambourn and Hungerford.  However, when the regiment mobilised in 1914 ‘C’ Squadron was disbanded and its manpower redistributed amongst the remaining three Squadrons to bring them up to war strength.  Hence, Frank was allocated to ‘D’ Squadron (Wantage, Abingdon and Faringdon).

In common with many other Yeomanry regiments, the Berkshire Yeomanry were initially retained on home defence duties, but in April 1915 were despatched to Egypt, where they trained in their traditional role as mounted troops.  Trooper Frank Martin, regimental number 2075, went with them on 21 April.

In August 1915 the Yeomanry were ordered to Gallipoli. The decision had now been made that they would fight there as dismounted troops.  They sailed from Alexandria on 14 August aboard SS Lake Michigan, landing on ‘A’ Beach East at Suvla Bay on the morning of the 18th.

They were soon to make their first contact with the Turks, and it was prove to be a costly encounter for the Berkshires.  On the night of the 20th their Brigade, which also included the Dorsetshire Yeomanry and Royal Bucks Hussars, marched south to the hill known as Lala Baba and camped on the shore of the Bay to its west.  The following day at 3pm they took part in the general attack on the enemy positions on Scimitar Hill (Hill 70).  The Berkshires preceded the Dorsets and Bucks, each regiment advancing in line of troop columns, with machine gun cover from their right flank.  The advance was made across open scrub ground and heavy shrapnel fire was encountered, the Brigade suffering casualties of two officers and 40 other ranks.

At 4:45pm the Brigade formed up under cover of Chocolate Hill (Hill 53), just under two miles from Lala Baba, and at 5:00pm received verbal orders to attack Scimitar Hill.  Fifteen minutes later the Berkshires commenced the attack, with the Dorsets and Bucks following in support.  The Turkish trenches had been so sited that they were not visible to attackers, and all three regiments experienced heavy casualties during the assault.  At 6:15pm the Berkshires, with some reinforcements from the Bucks and Dorsets, charged the enemy positions and took their front trench.  However, the captured area formed the apex of a triangle and the deadly enfilade fire they were now being subjected to put the Brigade in an untenable position; the trench was evacuated, with all Brigade staff and 70% of the Regimental officers having become casualties.  During the evening there was a general retirement in small groups which eventually rallied on the western side of Hill 53 the following day.

Of the nine officers and 314 other ranks the Berkshire Yeomanry had put into the field, only four and 150 respectively returned from the attack.  Included in their losses was their Commanding Officer, Major E.S.Gooch.

Frank Martin was wounded in this attack and after receiving the limited medical assistance available on the Peninsula, was probably evacuated by barge to one of the Hospital Ships moored offshore.  However, he did not recover from his wounds and died at sea on 25 August 1915. 

Frank’s mother had passed away in 1913 and official notification of his death was received by his sister, with whom he shared the house at Wickham Heath.

Frank has no known grave, having probably been buried at sea, and is thus commemorated on the Helles Memorial, which stands at the southern tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula.  This obelisk serves as the Commonwealth memorial for the whole Gallipoli campaign, and place of commemoration for over 21,000 Commonwealth servicemen who died in that theatre of war and have no known grave, including those like Frank who were buried at sea in Gallipoli waters.

Frank was well known in his home area, with strong ties to several parishes, and his name appears not only on the Welford War Memorial but also the Boxford War Memorial and the Memorial Tablet in St John’s Church, Stockcross.