Lance-Corporal Frank Alexander Fermor
Alexander Frank Fermor (known in later life as Frank) was born in 1889 at Ulcombe in the Weald of Kent. He was baptised on 10 March 1889 at the village church of All Saints together with cousins Albert Edward Fermor (my grandfather), Sidney John Fermor and May Fermor Bolton.
He was the first son of Alexander and Annie Fermor (née Honeysett) who, on the 1891 Census, were living at Fairbourne Heath Cottages, Ulcombe with Alexander (Frank) and his older sister Daisy aged four. At that time, according to the Census, Alexander’s father was a thatcher ‘neither employer nor employed’ (probably self-employed) while ten years later in 1901 he was a thatcher and gatemaker ‘working at home on his own account’ By then Alexander (Frank) had four more siblings with a further addition, Percy Edgar, born on 24 December 1901 – making a total of seven children in the family.
Sadly Frank’s father, Alexander, died two years later on 20 March 1903 aged only 45.
Two of Frank’s uncles, Henry and Hogben Fermor, living nearby, also had large families, so there were enough young Fermors to form their own cricket team. A photograph of 1908 shows Frank as one of the victorious Fermor XI who that day played well enough to beat the prestigious Rumwood XI of Langley. It then became a tradition for the Fermor XI to play against Ulcombe Cricket Club on August Bank Holidays for more than half a century – the final over being played in 1964. Like Frank’s family, most of his cricket-playing cousins were employed in rural occupations such as thatching, gatemaking and seasonal agricultural work, while others were builders and carriers. Frank was described as a gardener/domestic, aged 22, on the 1911 Census.
Another photograph, a copy of which we treasure, belonged to the late Roy Winder- son of Frank’s sister Annie Dorothy (Dolly). Taken in July 1916, it shows Lance-Corporal Frank Fermor, proudly wearing the uniform of the Royal West Kent Regiment, and his fiancée May Constance Chambers. They were married a few months later on 12 December 1916 at St Nicholas Church, Boughton Malherbe, Kent when they were both 27 years old. The day after their wedding Frank left to join his regiment – never to return.
Tragically, on 13 May 1917, only five months after their marriage, he died of wounds received at the Battle of Arras on 29 April 1917.
Major Trevor Fermor (Retd), son of Percy Edgar Fermor and Frank’s nephew, researched available records at The Fusiliers Museum of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle and discovered that after joining the Royal West Kent Regiment, Frank was transferred to the 23rd Northumberland Fusiliers, 4th Battalion Tyneside Scottish Regiment with whom he fought at the Battle of Arras.
Extracts from the War Diary written by the Commanding Officer Lt Col C P Porch, DSO on 28th and 29th April 1917 reveal harrowing details of the Battalion’s surprise night attack against German positions close to a Chemical Works and grounds of a Chateau near Fampoux. At times they were in trenches less than 60 yards from the enemy. However, once they left the trenches they came under intense German machine gun fire losing nearly all their Officers and 50% Other Ranks. Germans on one occasion were observed carrying British wounded in and were not fired on. On other occasions when they exposed themselves they were fired on and a certain number were known to have been hit.
Trevor Fermor commented – ‘it is pretty certain that Frank Fermor would have been one of those wounded and carried in by the Germans. He would then have been transported to the PoW Camp at Ohrdruf in Saxony. What a dreadful time he must have experienced during those last two weeks of his life, from the 28th April until his death in the prison hospital on 13th May 1917. Being a Lance Corporal he would have been leading his Section of several soldiers during the attack on the Chemical Works and the Chateau grounds near Fampoux.
I have visited the area but it was not possible to positively identify the actual ground fought over on that day in 1917 due to road changes and buildings that have appeared since.
The Germans built a concentration camp at Ohrdruf in 1944. I wonder if this camp was built on the site of the old PoW camp where Frank died?’
The family received an official postcard bearing an encircled head and shoulders photograph of Frank which stated simply:
‘Wounded and taken prisoner at Battle of Arras April 29th. Died in hospital at Krieggs Lazarett, Ohrdruf, Germany May 13th 1917 age 28 years. Interred (Ohrdruf Camp) Cemetery’.
Roy Winder showed us a funeral card for his Uncle Frank, bearing the following verses:
‘He bravely answered his Country’s call
He gave his life for one and all
But the far-away grave, is the bitter blow
None but aching hearts can know.
Little I thought, when I bade him goodbye,
He left me for ever, he left me to die,
Not even his last farewell look did I see,
But always his memory will cling to me.’
‘They miss him most who loved him best.
We know from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission information that although Frank was interred at Ohrdruf Camp Cemetery in East Germany, he was finally laid to rest in 1922 in Niederzwehern Cemetery, Germany (Grave Reference: IV. D. 13) ‘located 10 kilometres south of Kassel’.
It also records that:
Lance-Corporal Frank Alexander Fermor 46334, 23rd (Tyneside Scottish) Bn., Northumberland Fusiliers, died on Sunday, 13 May 1917 aged 28. Son of Mrs Annie Fermor of Fairbourne Heath, Ulcombe, Kent; husband of May Caroline Fermor of Thornden Villa, Headcorn, Kent.
Frank is remembered on a brass war memorial inside All Saints’ Church, Ulcombe where he was baptised. The stone war memorial outside the church bears his name with others who also gave their lives for their country.
We often wonder what happens to those left behind after such a tragic loss, but this story has a relatively happy ending.
After Frank’s death May Fermor met local bachelor William Town1 and later, on 6 December 1919, they were married at St Nicholas Church, Boughton Malherbe, where three years before she had been Frank’s bride.
A few months earlier, on 19 July 1919, Ulcombe Cricket Club celebrated the peace with a game against the Fermors. Poignant memories of Frank were surely revived for players and spectators alike, especially as another young Fermor cricket enthusiast, Henry John (Jack), aged 19, had drowned in the River Rhine the previous month while serving with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.
May and William had two sons of their own, but when Frank’s sister-in-law, Emily Fermor died at the young age of 32, May lovingly helped care for her two young sons, Ronald and Alec Desmond. When their father Sid remarried they still kept in touch and we know from Ron’s war diary that he wrote to Aunt May on Christmas Eve 1944 when he himself was a German Prisoner of War in Stalag Luft III. He was then aged 30, just two years older than his Uncle Frank when he had died in WW1. Parallels were probably only too apparent to Aunt May, but fortunately Ron survived.
May lived until she was 74, when sadly on 27 July 1962, she died from pneumonia as the result of breast cancer.2 She now lies at rest in the churchyard of St Nicholas Church, Boughton Malherbe overlooking the Weald of Kent where peace has now reigned for many years.
Sheila Fermor Clarkson
6 January 2014
1. Michael Town, Guild of One-Name Studies member 3485 –
2. Mr A J Munday, Guild of One-Name Studies member 584
Researching TUNE, TOON and TOWN