William Frank Stanford

William Frank Stanford was born on 29th May 1912 and, as recorded in the Welford Parish Magazine, was baptised on 29th June 1913.  Frank, as he was always known, was the eldest son of Fred (1892 – 1976) and Mary Winifred (1892 – 1983), née Lipscombe, who are buried in Welford Churchyard.  His mother had lost a brother, also called Fred, in the Great War; he was killed in action in October 1918 whilst serving with the Durham Light Infantry. 

Frank was brought up in a family with farming very much in its blood.  His grandfather, Stephen Elliott Stanford, farmed 100 acres or so at Harrods, Hoe Benham (the farmhouse in which Frank was born) as a tenant of the Sutton Estate, and his father Fred, also a Sutton Estate tenant, had a smallholding of about 22 acres at what most people today would call Boxford Crossroads but was then known as The Crossroads, Wickham Heath.  Fred’s main interest was horses, and on occasions he worked for the Craven Hunt.

However, agricultural work was becoming harder to find and less appealing to those of Frank’s generation, and after leaving Stockcross School in 1926 he went to work for Lewis the pork butcher in Bartholomew Street, Newbury, and then for another butcher, Perrett & Parker, in Cheap Street, as a driver.

In his spare time he was a keen sportsman, playing football and cricket for Wickham, and later football for Newbury Wednesdays.

Frank was called up for military service early in 1940.  After training, mainly at Aldershot, he joined the Royal Army Service Corps as a Driver, service number T/179599, and was posted to the Middle Eastern theatre of operations.

In April 1941 Germany began its invasion of Greece.  British and Commonwealth troops under General Maitland Wilson (‘W Force’) had arrived there just the month before but a withdrawal soon became unavoidable and the Royal Navy began an enormous evacuation operation, with some troops being taken back to Egypt and others to Crete, to strengthen the garrison there.  This operation took one week to complete and by its end the British had lost 2,000 killed and 10,000 taken prisoner.  In May Crete was also invaded, and a further evacuation was carried out; 17,000 British, Commonwealth and Greek troops were rescued but the British lost 16,500 troops killed, wounded or captured, with over 12,000 of these unaccounted for, along with a large number of warships sunk or damaged.

It appears that Frank Stanford was one of the men captured during these calamitous days, and that he was eventually transported to Austria as a Prisoner of War.

Some time later, the family received a letter from a fellow POW named Tom Burke, letting them know that Frank had died following an accident on the railway.  This is entirely possible as many Allied prisoners were being used as forced labour to aid the German war effort, but of course the exact circumstances can never be known.  The records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission show that Frank Stanford died on Tuesday 30th September 1941, age 29.

According to Tom Burke’s letter to, and subsequent stay with, the Stanford family, Frank received a full military funeral at the village church near to where they were interned.  Remarkably, Tom was able let them have a photograph of the funeral, which he had managed to take with him.

Frank is now buried in Klagenfurt War Cemetery, in the south Austrian province of Carinthia, which contains casualties previously buried in several POW cemeteries in the region.  He is also commemorated on his parents’ gravestone at Welford Churchyard.