Private Frank Lake Fisher
2/4th Battalion Gloucester Regiment.
The Great War – 1914/18
by Dave Fisher
This has been a difficult biography to compose after so many years and would not have been possible but for some of the memories that Dad was prepared to divulge, or rather those that my brother Christopher and myself managed to pry from him.
I know I used to pester him for information and he divulged maybe just a few of the things that happened to him. My brother, being ten years younger asked him in the 1950/60s, different questions and although some of this information overlapped with mine there was enough to make a start on this biography. The main point is that those memories were the most important incidents that happened to him and although the Regimental diaries gave merely a sketchy account of events as they unfolded, it has been possible with reference to the 61st Division to which the 2/4 Battalion was attached and the positions of 2/5th and 2/6th Battalions, to place those memories in a time and place where they happened.
These diaries were recorded by the serving officer at the time, and often they were being killed at the same rate as their troops so quite often their reports of the engagements were lost with them . Therefore many of these records were often written up by a more senior officer at Divisional HQ at a later date - who - to keep up moral, often watered down the often distressing truth about many of the engagements.
It will never be possible to explain fully, the horrors that Dad encountered, but this reconstruction hopefully, will go some way to explain. In 1999, I developed an urge to discover the facts behind his WW1 experiences, which led to my composition of a poem in a previous issue of Buckets & Spades of how I felt it would have been. From there it was just a small step to move on to this larger publication and uncover the horrors - as they may have been experienced by Dad - in that period of his life.
It would appear that a number of personnel documents held in the relevant War Department archives, were destroyed during - the Blitz - enemy raids on London in WW2, so it is not possible - as yet - to find where Dad attested or on what date. However, my brother Christopher and myself are certain that Dad told us that he joined up at the beginning of the war and records for the Gloucester Regiment show that the 2;4th Battalion was formed in Bristol during September 1914, so we can surmise that Dad enlisted about this time, possibly at the local police station in Weston-s-Mare, which was the general procedure.
Fortunately Dad was quite proud of his middle name, Lake, which was taken from his Mothers' maiden name, and used it frequently, which made it easier to trace, given the great number of soldiers named Fishers that were involved in the conflict of 1914-18. There appears to be little information specifically relating to the 2/4 Battalion although the rate at which the officers and troops were dying, I doubt whether many survived to give an accurate account.
The following document shows his medal entitlement, from the burnt records that did manage to survive the blitz:
Am unsure why Dad was issued with two numbers, however, the name Lake verifies I have the correct Fisher. Another document entitled the Roll of Individuals also gave the same details, again with those two numbers.
In early January 1915, the 2/4th Battalion transferred to the Northampton area, where the men were separated into those going straight into active service, and transferred to France to join existin Battalions and those remaining who became the reserve 2/4t Battalion. Those remaining were then used to bolster the heavy losses that had already been sustained by the Battalions of the Gloucester Regiment in France, and due to this or a lack of equipment - a problem suffered by other Divisions at that time - training was seriously affected, but eventually in April 1915, the 2/4th Battalion moved to Chelmsford for further training, where they amalgamated into the 61st (2nd South Midland Division).
Copied from 2/4th Battalion Diaries.
The units were then inspected by Lord Kitchener on August 6th 1915, and transferred to Salisbury Plain in Feb 1916. Following another inspection by King George V at Bulford camp on May 5th 1916, final preparations were made prior to embarkation to France.
May 23rd 1916.
2 trains containing 35 officers and approximately 880 Other Ranks (ORs) left Tidworth for Southampton, where 29 officers and the bulk of the troops boarded the SS Marguerite whilst the remaining 6 officers and 115 troops boarded the SS Belerophon, together with all their equipment and supplies.
May 24th 1916.
After lying outside Southampton waters all night, the ships returned to dock where an officer; Lt C H Pritchard was taken off sick. Ships then continued at 1800 hrs.
May 25th 1916.
Ships arrive at Le Havre and troops march to docks rest camp No 5.
(I should imagine that by this time, the troops not used to sea travel over these two days, would welcome this rest period)
May 26th 1916.
Officers and troops board two trains, route takes them through Rouen-Abincourt-Boulogne, arriving Berguette May 27th at 7.40am. March to billets at La Pierriere.
Alighting from the train, Dad and the other troops must have been buoyed by the sight of the huge stockpile of supplies, from food, medical and munitions, that lay around the marshalling yards, ready for distribution to the troops in the front lines. The reality of their situation would have quickly diminished as they moved closer to the trenches, and the whole of the landscape gradually changed from picturesque villages and farms, to scenes of total destruction of villages like Dompierre, which then became a frequent sight, as did the many field hospitals spilling over with the dead and wounded troops.
As I have already written an article relating to Dad in Buckets & Spades, Issue 71 entitled; 1916 The Attack on Fromelles, and again in Issue 62; The Battle for Cambrai, 1917/18, I believe this to be the point at which I can pause and in another issue describe the events of Franks' incarceration as a POW in Friedrichsfeld Lager (camp).