The following two biographies were written by Carol Hunter.
The Lesters from Huyton to Irby
Edwin and Frank Lester were brothers born in Huyton, Lancashire. Their father John was baptized at St. Mary’s in Prescot on 13th March 1868 and grew up in Whiston then Huyton with his parents George Lester (watchmaker then coal yard labourer) and Elizabeth Davies, and at least nine siblings. In 1891 he was still living at home at Richardson’s Lane, Huyton and was described as a stoker, probably at the local pit, where his younger brother Robert was working as a coal miner. John married Ellen Heyes, from Aughton near Ormskirk, in 1892 at Prescot Register Office. Ellen was baptized on 19th June 1870 at St Peter and Paul in Ormskirk, and was the 2nd of 3 children born to Henry (labourer at waterworks) and Lucy Core.
Sometime after 1896 John and Ellen moved to Hoylake with their 2 young sons Edwin and Frank. In 1901 we find the family, which now includes one week old daughter Lucy Core (named after her maternal grandmother) living at 28 Rudd St in Hoylake, where John is working as a horseman and gardener. John’s mother is also listed; she is still married and has perhaps come to help her daughter in-law with the new baby, since her own mother Lucy had died the previous year. In 1911 John, who is a salesman and driver for a florist, and Ellen are living in a 5 roomed house at 37 Rudd Street with their 5 children: Edwin who was apprentice to a cabinet maker, Frank who was apprentice to a joiner, Lucy, John b1906 and Ruth b1908. Their 2 year old son George had died in 1905.
In about 1912 the family moved to Millers Hay in Irby where John worked as a market gardener. He died in 1941, but I have not been able to find a death for Ellen. Lucy married Tom Wilson in 1924 and had 3 children: Edna Lucy b1926, Marjorie b1931 and Frank Lester b1934. Lucy’s death was registered in Birkenhead in 1989. Ruth married William Hough Gray in 1928 at St. Bartholomew’s in Thurstaston; a son William Lester was born late in 1931 and Ruth died not long afterwards, perhaps after some sort of complication. I haven’t been able to ascertain what became of John junior.
There is very little information available about Edwin’s military career. We know that he was in the 1/4th Battalion, Territorial Force of the Cheshire Regiment, which was raised in Birkenhead in August 1914. His battalion landed in Gallipoli in August 1915 but was evacuated to Egypt in December 1915 due to severe casualties from combat, disease and harsh weather; the Division was reduced to just 15% of its full strength with 162 officers and 2428 men remaining. Newspaper reports tell us that Edwin died from heart failure (described as syncope on the family gravestone) after the Battle of Gaza, but there are no further details surrounding his death.
Birth: July 1893
Death: 9th July 1917, heart failure aged 23
Address(es): 28 Rudd St, Hoylake (01), 37 Rudd St, Hoylake (11)
Occupation(s): Apprentice to cabinet maker (11)
Unit: 1st/4th Bn Cheshire Regiment
Number and Rank: 200851 Serjeant
Medals: Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: GH, WK; Palestine: BEERSHEBA WAR CEMETERY O.22
Sources: CWGC, SDGW, Census: 01, 11; Online BMD records on Ancestry.co.uk and Familysearch, Online Parish registers, LE, Liverpool Daily Post
As a recipient of the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry, there is quite a lot of information available about Frank.
On 18th April 2002 his Victoria Cross was sold at auction by the London auctioneers Morton & Eden for £78,000. It was purchased on behalf of the Michael Ashcroft Trust, the holding institution for Lord Ashcroft’s VC Collection and is currently displayed on rotation at The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes exhibition, Imperial War Museum.
The London Gazette provides us with the details of his death:
“For most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice during the clearing of the village of Neuvilly, on 12th October, 1918, when, with a party of about seven men under an officer, he was the first to enter a house from the back door, and shot 2 Germans as they attempted to get out by the front door. A minute later a fall of masonry blocked the door by which the party had entered. The only exit into the street was under fire at point-blank range. The street was also swept by fire of machine guns at close range. Observing that an enemy sniper was causing heavy casualties to a party in a house across the street, Pte. Lester exclaimed, ” I’ll settle him,” and, dashing out into the street, shot the sniper at close quarters, falling mortally wounded at the same instant. This gallant man well knew it was certain death to go into the street, and the party opposite was faced with the alternative of crossing the fire-swept street or staying where it was and being shot one by one. To save their lives he sacrificed his own.”
Frank began work as an apprentice to a joiner then, when his family moved from Hoylake to Irby, he helped his father at his market garden. He was a member of the Boys’ Brigade and was organist at the Primitive Methodist Church in Irby. Frank joined the South Lancashire Regiment in March 1916 and, quickly promoted to Sergeant-Instructor. He trained troops at Prees Heath Park and Kinmel Park. In June 1917 he transferred to the 10th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers and travelled to France in December 1917. Frank was wounded and hospitalised in March 1918, although no details are available; he then returned to England in July and was stationed at Cromer in Norfolk before returning to France in September 1918.
An article that appeared in the Liverpool Echo on 16th December 1918 tells us:
“… about 6 years ago the family went to reside in the dreamy little village of Irby … early in training he showed fine promise of becoming a good soldier … he came away from a Chelsea military school with the highest honours and with certificates which qualified him for the post of Sergeant Major. He was made Sergeant Instructor but like many others was reduced to Private when he left England for the Front.
He entered the thick of the fray and after a fierce encounter was one of thirty left out of 1,100…. Corporal Lester was of a retiring disposition and when writing to his parents rarely mentioned anything pertaining to his military life.”
There is no doubt that John and Ellen would have been very proud of Frank and the recognition that he received for this bravery. It is hard to imagine how much comfort it brought them, having also lost his older brother Edwin just over a year earlier.
Birth: 18th February 1896
Death: 12th October 1918, killed in action aged 22
Address(es): 28 Rudd St, Hoylake (01), 37 Rudd St, Hoylake (11)
Occupation(s): Apprentice to joiner (11)
Unit(s): Lancashire Fusilliers 10th Bn
Number(s) and Rank: 51674 (formerly 27807) Private
Medals: VC, Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: GH, WK, H, Hoylake Holy Trinity Church Yard, Irby Library, Irby Methodist Church, France: NEUVILLY COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION B15
Sources: CWGC, SDGW, Census: 01, 11; Online BMD records on Ancestry.co.uk and Familysearch, Online Parish registers, LE, Liverpool Daily Post, http://www.victoriacross.org.uk/bblester.htm, http://liverpoolremembrance.weebly.com/local-vc-winners.html