FRANCIS EDWARD CASE
Frank Case was the son of Edward Case (1866-1953) and his first wife, Mary. Edward was from Nantwich. By 1901 he was living in Deva Road West Kirby, with his second wife Charlotte (née Horbury, born in about 1867 in Seacombe). Frank now had two half brothers, John Horbury and Hubert, the sons of Charlotte. By 1911, they were all living in their five-roomed house on North Road in West Kirby. Frank was employed as a clerk. Edward Case was a well known local figure. He was a district councillor and chairman of the West Cheshire Association Football League. Despite his humble Cheshire origins (his father was a shoemaker and he an insurance agent), he is still remembered by older West Kirby residents as being referred to as “Sir Edward”. His second son, John Horbury is remembered as being active in local youth groups. He was friendly with the author’s family and gave wedding presents of identical fish knives and forks to both his parents and an auntie and uncle in the later 1950’s.
Frank was a bright, strong and athletic lad. He was 5’ 10½” tall and weighed 12st 12lbs. He was Hon. Treasurer of the West Kirby Bowling Club and played centre half in football; he was also holder of the Dr. King Challenge Cup at West Kirby Swimming Club. Frank also acted as secretary to the West Kirby Church Lads’ Brigade and was a good musician – he played the Last Post at St. Andrew’s Church upon the death of King Edward VII in 1910. He was “educated in West Kirby” and by 1914 was betrothed to Miss Dora Hicks of North Road.
By the time war was declared, Frank had been in the Liverpool Scottish as a territorial soldier for four years. He signed on for full time service in Liverpool on 5th September 1914. He then trained in Edinburgh and arrived in France on 1st November 1914. He eventually served for a total of a year and 339 days. Probably due to his father’s status and involvement in local society, Frank’s military career received an unusually high amount of coverage in the two main local newspapers – he featured in at least six articles between 1915 and 1916. Large sections of several of his letters were also published. They were so well written and contain such poignant detail, that they appear in full below.
According to the Birkenhead News, in January 1915, Frank wrote to his father and was “so confident of a speedy and successful termination of hostilities” that he asked him to buy him a couple of tickets for a forthcoming football match at Crystal Palace. During June 1915, it reported that he was “safe and sound”. In August of that year, he went home on leave. The Deeside Advertiser stated that he looked “the very picture of health”. In March 1916, the same paper reported on another period of leave and was bold enough to assert that “His varied experiences on the Western Front have rather improved his physical development”. Frank’s father colluded with the local press in conveying the uplifting image of the energetic, positive and dutiful young soldier – the “sturdy Scot”, who was undaunted by the shocks and challenges of war and a role model for any wavering young men who had not yet joined up.
Frank saw some serious action, which he described with tact, holding back some of the more difficult details about the inevitable and undoubted mental trauma he must have endured. He was present when Captain Arthur Twentyman from Birkenhead was killed on 29th November 1914 near Kemmel in the Ypres Salient, not long after his unit had arrived at the front line. Frank helped to recover his body and assisted in the burial service. He took part in the famous charge by the Liverpool Scots at Hooge near Ypres on 16th June 1915, which accounted for at least five of the other men on the Grange Hill Memorial and he witnessed the destruction of Hill 60. He described how the hill was undermined by miners from the “homeland” who complained about their striking colleagues in South Wales. He also described the state of Ypres itself.
Frank was deeply affected by the deaths of two of his favourite officers – Major Andrew Stewart Anderson (whom Frank said had been shot and bayoneted, but whose official record describes him as “missing presumed killed in action” and who had signed Frank’s attestation papers in 1914) and Captain John Graham of Hoylake, both of whom died in the charge of 16th June 1915. Again, his words were used as recruiting propaganda by the Deeside Advertiser when he opined that if other young men could see what was being done in Belgium by the Germans, there would be no “slackers”. He predicted that “if the Germans ever got to England, the treatment of women and children would be even worse than it has been in Belgium and France”. His most haunting words appeared in the Deeside Advertiser 18th August 1916: after a brief description of how he and his comrades dispatched enemy soldiers who were hiding in their dugouts – “a bomb thrown down upon them quietens the whole lot” – he said, “I could provide you with further details about the things I have seen, but it would make you ‘creep’ for a week. Of course we get used to the experience of modern warfare.”
Frank also testified to the remarkable phenomenon on the Western Front which helped to preserve the morale and cohesion of Britain’s citizen soldiers – the way they managed mentally to maintain a sense of home wherever they were, often by meeting and talking about old friends. Frank made a point of listing the other local lads he had seen – Fred Hynes, Sid Bird, Joe Totty, Tom and Frank Davies, Ted Evans (brother of Miss Evans at Hill’s), Frank Doyle (who used to live at the Public Hall) and Jack Davies from Grange. “It makes one forget the war for a few minutes and does one good to have a local chat” said Frank.
Poor Frank met a tragic end: it appears that he was working for the transport section on 9th August 1916. He was in charge of an empty horse-drawn limber and had some kind of accident. It is not known whether this was the result of enemy action, but he received serious leg injuries and was quickly conveyed by motor ambulance to number 21 Casualty Clearing Station, which was staffed by a Lancashire Unit (2-1st W. Lancs., 2nd Ambulance). Remarkably, one of the medics therein was one Fred Fowles – a teacher at the Hoylake Higher Elementary School (he is remembered by some of the author’s older relations as being the head teacher of the Hoylake Parade School during the 1940’s), who knew Frank.
Frank was admitted at 4.30 am and died at 10. Fred Fowles’s letter is one of the most touching by anybody from the area to have survived. He said: “Fortunately, I was on night duty, and was soon at his side. It seemed to comfort him considerably to find someone he knew near at hand. Personally, I am very glad I was there to be of service to the brave lad in his hour of need. Conscious as he was all the time, he stuck it like a true Briton, and all present, including the officers, marvelled at his wonderful pluck and fortitude throughout. He was greatly concerned about the fate of his horses, which he must fairly have loved. On leaving the dressing station his last words were, ‘Just write and tell my Dad I’m not a bit downhearted.’” Poor Fred himself was shattered and signed off with more tragic words: “I cannot write more at present. I’ve no heart to do so after twelve hours’ strenuous duty amongst sights that are too awful for words.” A nursing sister also wrote to Frank’s father with further details of his death.
Five months later the first batch of Frank’s possessions was sent home to his beloved dad – a packet of letters and photos, a plain identity disc, a scribbling tablet, two pipes (one broken), a thermometer in a case, a metal ring, a tobacco pouch, a tinder lighter, a lanyard, a jack-knife and a cotton bag. On 5th February 1917 some more items were posted – two razors, a comb and a brush in a leather case, a letter and a cloth case. Frank’s memorial scroll was posted on 1st April 1920.
Old “Sir” Edward Case and his wife must have found some solace in the knowledge that at least they had two more sons and that dear Frank had served bravely and cheerfully. Doubtless, Edward “moved on” and tried to live his life as fully as possible, continuing to be a councillor, football administrator and pillar of the community, but it is surely unlikely that he and the rest of the family ever recovered from their profound and shocking bereavement.
Birth: c.1891 in West Kirby
Death: 9th August 1916, died of wounds aged 25
Addresses: 5 Deva Road, West Kirby (01) 3, North Road, West Kirby (11)
Occupation: Clerk (11)
Unit: 1st/10th Bn. The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) “Liverpool Scottish”
Number and Rank: 3524 Private
Medals: 14/15 Star, Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: GH, W.K., France: Somme, La Neuville British Cemetery, Corbie 1. F. 8.
Sources: BR, CWGC, SDGW, MC, SR, BN, DA, GB, Census: 01, 11
Appendix: Transcriptions of Letters by and About Frank Case
Written at 6.30 a.m. on 9/8/16 by Staff Sergeant Fred Fowles, “erstwhile assistant master at the Hoylake Higher Elementary Schools”: Dear Mr Case, By now, you will very probably have heard that your son Frank was wounded in both legs ( below the knee in each case) whilst returning from the line with his empty limber wagon early this morning. It was 4-30 a.m when he was brought into our advanced dressing station (2-1st W. Lancs. 2nd Ambulance) for treatment. The accident happened on the main road within 300 yards of our dugout, and most fortunately one of our motor ambulances was just passing at the time. It stopped and brought him here straight away. Within half an hour of the accident both of the injured limbs had been dressed , and we had him conveyed by special motor ambulance to a clearing station down the line. Our section officer, Captain Hitchin, of Bury, who superintended the dressing of the limbs, assures me that Frank stands a splendid chance of recovery, thanks to his fine physique and the timely aid it was possible to render. On coming into the dressing station Frank inquired which field ambulance was stationed here, and on being told it was the 2-1st West Lancs. he immediately asked for me. Fortunately, I was on night duty, and was soon at his side It seemed to comfort him considerably to find someone he knew near at hand. Personally, I am very glad I was there to be of service to the brave lad in his hour of need. Conscious as he was all the time, he stuck it like a true Briton, and all present, including the officers, marvelled at his wonderful pluck and fortitude throughout. He was greatly concerned about the fate of his horses, which he must fairly have loved. On leaving the dressing station his last words were, “Just write and tell my Dad I’m not a bit downhearted.” ‘Tis a painful task for me to write these sad tidings, but to you the blow must be much more painful. I tender you and Mrs. Case my sincere sympathy at this time, and trust you will soon have your boy safe at home. He has played his part in the great struggle nobly and well. I cannot write more at present. I’ve no heart to do so after twelve hours’ strenuous duty amongst sights that are too awful for words. If, however, I can be of any possible assistance to you in any way whatever, please don’t hesitate to write, and I’ll do all I can.
Appended sympathetic letter from a hospital sister: Dear Mr Case, Your son, Pte. Case, King’s (Liverpool) Regiment, was admitted into this hospital to-day suffering from wounds of both legs. He was very ill and gradually got worse, and I regret to say he passed away at ten o’clock this morning. He did not speak of anyone or leave any message.Frank’s Last Letter, dated 4/8/16: Dear Mother, It seems more like twenty years to-day than only two since the war started, but a lot has happened in that space of time. Last night we gave the Germans a terrific “strafing” just to remind them that the war is still on, and to let them know there were still ’some’ of us left. Of course they returned a few shots, but we beat them by a few thousands, and can do it every time. There is not much going on here otherwise, but we know all about what is happening near here. The last paper I saw was dated 28th July. We are miles from civilization – out on the hills – the nearest inhabited place being some six miles distant, and even at that place there is nothing to see or buy. We have to take the horses four miles for water, so you can guess it is ‘some’ place. It has been fearfully hot, and of course there is no shelter here. I could almost pass as a member of the Bengal Lancers, my skin being so sunburnt. Private Case makes a rather humorous reference to the manner in which his last parcel arrived, and says:- We all enjoyed the lemon cheese; but I am sorry to have to report the eggs for impudence. Really they did have a lot to say, and the tomatoes apparently had row and got battered. The apples were all right, and everything else went down all right… I have met dozens of local chaps since we came here, amongst them being Fred Hynes and Sid Bird, and I was glad to see Joe Totty again. The last time I saw him was Christmas Day. I saw Tom and Frank Davies, Ted Evans (brother of Miss Evans at Hill’s), and Frank Doyle, who used to live at the Public Hall. It makes one forget the war for a few minutes and does one good to have a local chat. Mrs. Davies will be glad to know that Frank has got back to his own battalion. I saw him come across this evening. I also saw Jack Davies from Grange. I thought there was a possibility of seeing Len Emerson, but found out he was not in this lot of Grenadier Guards. Altogether I have seen more local chaps this week than all the time I have been out. There is another terrific bombardment going on. The flashes from the guns are so vivid and frequent that the place is as light as day at times. Last week we were on the move each day at 5 a.m., so I did not have much chance of writing. That meant rising at 3 a.m.; we slept outside and were jolly glad of the fine weather, and hope it continues, for this place is desolate enough without having rain. We are right by the German first line which we captured, and it is a never-to-be-forgotten sight. It is impossible to walk on a level piece of ground. One has to walk on the rims of shell holes, which are both numerous and close together. There are souvenirs galore, and dead Germans, too. Their dugouts were homes for them, with banks and air pipes. They are death-traps in a raid, for a bomb thrown down upon them quietens the whole lot. In some of these places they used to make hand bombs. I could provide you with further details about the things I have seen, but it would make you ‘creep’ for a week. Of course we get used to the experience of modern warfare.