Frank Thorne

Frank Thorne was born at Hoe Benham on 27 September 1898, the son of Albert and Fanny, née Davis.

The Thornes were a large and well-established local family, having been settled in Welford parish since at least the 1770s.  Frank’s father Albert was employed as an agricultural and bricklayer’s labourer. 

From the 1911 census, it appears the family were living in the area of Hoe Benham known of old as ‘Shacketty Corner’, on the back road from the village towards Wickham Heath.  Frank, age 12, is recorded as ‘left school, disengaged’.  Although the official school leaving age at this period was 12, many pupils in fact left from the age of 10 onwards, normally with a Labour Certificate which showed any potential employer that they had received a basic education.  The family at this time numbered eight - Albert and Fanny and their five sons and one daughter - all living in four rooms.

Other members of the Thorne family included Frank’s brother Fred, who later became Head Gardener on the estate at Marsh Benham, and Nellie, who was school mistress of Stockcross School for many years.

Frank enlisted for military service in Newbury in late August/early September 1916 and initially joined the Training Reserve to receive his basic infantry training.  He was part of a Company-sized draft which was then posted from Wilton Camp to the 4th (Reserve) Devonshire Regiment in October 1917, with Frank being allocated Regimental number 67395.

On 19th October, Frank’s battalion embarked for Egypt on HMT Aronda, arriving at Alexandria on 4 November.  The men from Frank’s draft then joined the 1st/5th (Prince of Wales’) Battalion, Devonshire Regiment, in the field two to three weeks later. 

The 1st/5th Battalion was a Territorial unit which had been posted to Egypt and India as part of the 43rd (Wessex) Division to relieve regular units required for front-line service elsewhere.  However, in due course they themselves proceeded to active service on the Western Front in 1918, as part of 62nd Division.

Sailing from Egypt on 26 May aboard HMT Malwa, they had a crowded and uncomfortable voyage to Marseilles, which they reached on 1 June.  Five days later they detrained at Mondicourt, near Arras in northern France, and began a series of short tours in the trenches to learn the techniques of warfare as then practiced on the Western Front.  It was not long before they were involved in their first action, on the wooded slopes of the Ardre Valley – part of what we now call the Second Battle of the Marne.

Further actions followed and from 11th September the Battalion were in the vicinity of the village of Havrincourt, south-west of Cambrai.  Here they faced the formidable defences of the Hindenburg Main Line, which ran right through the village.

On 12th September the Battle of Havrincourt opened, with three Divisions, including the 62nd, attempting to pierce the outer defences of the Hindenburg Line and capture the strongly fortified Havrincourt itself.

The preliminary assault proved successful and the Main Line was occupied.  During the evening, the Germans counter-attacked, using a formation of low-flying aeroplanes to harry the men of the 62nd Division as they adapted the conquered positions to their own defence.

The following day an assault in force was launched against the new British line, which succeeded in breaking into these positions through the use of flame-throwing parties supported by machine gun fire, and Havrincourt was entered.  However, despite their numerical superiority the Germans were unable to hold their position, and after a sustained period of hard fighting they were eventually driven out.

The 1st/5th stayed in the Havrincourt area until 16th September, when they were withdrawn to Beugnâtre, near Bapaume.  Their losses in the action had been heavy – two officers and 27 men killed, five officers and 109 men wounded.

Frank Thorne was killed in action on Sunday 15th September 1918, aged 19.  He is buried in Louverval Military Cemetery, in the small village of that name about 5km north-west of Havrincourt. 

Following notification of Frank’s death, the Imperial War Graves Commission (as it was then called) would have written to his next of kin, requesting confirmation of his personal details for the preparation of his headstone, and asking whether they wished to add “a short personal inscription or text of your own choice”.  Frank’s family decided to add the following touching inscription to his headstone:

Not lost but gone before
Till we meet again dear son.

Frank’s death was not the only loss his family had to bear during the Great War.  His cousin Harry Thorne, a Private with the Army Service Corps, died in May 1917 when the transport ship, Transylvania, was torpedoed off Cape Vado, Italy, en route to Salonika; and his sister Charlotte’s husband, George Parton, was killed in action in France in October 1916 whilst serving with the 22nd Battalion of the London Regiment.  The couple had married in early 1914 and a daughter, Elsie, had been born in early 1916.