Thursday, 30 October 2014

Time to Reflect and Remember.

I never knew my paternal Grandfather but often wondered how things might have been different had his life not been cut short in 1928, at the age of 39, when my Father was only four years old. To my knowledge my late Grandmother never spoke about her husband to whom she was married for just under 5 years. I can only guess how devastating this loss must have been for her.

Throughout my genealogy research into my ancestors his short life has always been a bit of a mystery as practically no family records about him were passed down. 

James Francis Boxell (always known as Frank) was born in Haslemere, Surrey on 2 July 1888. In 1911 he was working as a Grocers' Assistant and in 1923 was a Traveling Salesman.

When my Father recently mentioned that he had been cleaning my Grandfathers' WW1 medals I took the opportunity to refresh my efforts into unraveling his wartime involvement.

My research established that in August 1914, as part of the general mobilisation, he signed on as a Private in 'C' Squadron of the 1/1st Sussex Yeomanry at the Chichester Barracks in Sussex under the command of Major Hon. W. H. Pearson (2nd Viscount of Cowdray) who was much later to become my Grandfathers employer. 

This was a Cavalry Squadron who were billeted in the Canterbury area for just over a year. In August 1915 the Squadron was asked to volunteer for service dismounted 'in the Mediterranean' and it duly agreed. Newspaper articles suggest that this was not a fully democratic arrangement!

After searching through hundreds of pages of the Regimental War Diaries I finally managed to piece together his probable movements from 1915 to 1918.

In late September 1915 the 1/1st Sussex Yeomanry Regiment (part of the South Eastern Mounted Brigade) left Liverpool and landed at Cape Helles, Gallipoli in early October. His Regiment spent time in the front line at Border Barricade and Fusilier Bluff fighting the far better equipped Turks in a difficult and very alien environment. My Father said he was was one of the last to be evacuated from Gallipoli in late December 1915. Although the casualties during this short campaign were fairly low the Regiments' overall strength was reduced by 50% largely due to disease caused by dysentery.

In February 1916 the Regiment was shipped to Alexandria in Egypt where the South Eastern Mounted Brigade was amalgamated into the 3rd Dismounted Brigade and their continued hopes of fighting as mounted cavalry were again dashed! Between March 1916 and February 1917 they operated in the desert as part of the Suez Canal Defences. In January 1917 as part of a further military reorganisation the 1/1st Sussex Yeomanry was finally converted to infantry and redesignated the 16th (Sussex Yeomanry) Royal Sussex Regiment. His WW1 Medal Record shows that he subsequently became a Corporal but the actual date is still unknown. 

After Suez the Regiment as part of the 230th Infantry Brigade (74th Division) were shipped via Alexandria to Der el Belah and took part in the Second Battle of Gaza including the capture of Beersheba (Oct 1917) and the Sheria Position (Nov 1917) and then marched into Palestine to complete the recapture of Jerusalem. The Battalion war diaries state that on Christmas Day 1917, with torrential rain all day, dinner was bully beef, biscuits and lots of cold water!

At the end of April 1918 his Regiment was shipped from Alexandria to Marseilles, France and it took them three days to travel north to Noyelles. Here they re-equipped and retrained for a totally different type of warfare on The Somme battlefields. Again the war diaries paint a very vivid picture of the terrible conditions and the continued gas attacks that they had to endure. With their cavalry background these Yeoman now  fighting 'dismounted' gained immense respect from other regular infantry units for their distinct brand of courage and discipline. By September 1918 the 74th (Yeomanry) Division had less than 1200 rifles in the line and were being relieved by an American Division of 20,000 who apologised for being below strength! During  October and November the Regiment entered Belgium where they were demobilised in early 1918.

At some stage during this final campaign my Grandfather was wounded, but survived and was honorably discharged in October 1920.

In August 1923 he married my Grandmother and through his previous military connection with the Sussex Yeomanry he became the Curator of the Cowdray Park Ruins at Midhurst, Sussex. His employer, The 2nd Viscount Cowdray, had the Round House (top image) converted from a water tower into living accommodation for him and his wife. This is where my Father was born.

We believe he underwent numerous operations linked to his war wounds and he died in a London hospital on 7 May 1928.   

Earlier this week Anita and I took a trip to the Tower of London to view some of the 888,246 ceramic poppies, created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, representing British fatalities during World War 1.

My Grandfather, like so many other servicemen and women, who died of their wounds after the end of  the First World War are not represented by this major art installation entitled "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" but they all paid the ultimate sacrifice.

James Francis Boxell (1888-1928) ... Remembered and never forgotten.  FAB.


  1. How very interesting. You really worked hard to uncover as much as you did!

  2. Fascinating read and yet humbling to think of the sacrifices made so that we can enjoy our freedom today.

  3. Very sweet and heartfelt post, Frank. Do you take after him in looks?

  4. Wonderful and interesting account Frank. When we have lunch in Midhurst and drive past the park it will have a meaning to me now.

  5. A fascinating account of Frank and there mus have been many wounded that also need to be remembered, A wonderful post. thanks for sharing.

  6. What a truly amazing life for a short life lived. My grandfather was murdered when my mother was only 8 tears old. So I never knew him either. I absolutely love the Tower images. I saw a few images somewhere on line earlier this week of the poppy exhibit. What a task. Carol

  7. That is a lot of poppies, and an unfathomable number of lives lost. I wish we could find a way to end war forever.

  8. beautiful tribute to your grandfather. the ceramic poppies are beautiful, its just sad there are so many

  9. This was so interesting to read about Frank. I never knew my grandfather either. He died before I was born.

  10. Beautiful post, FAB! I would love to see an end to all wars.

  11. Interesting. I've been scanning historical family photos lately for the family, too.

  12. It is interesting to get insight into your family history.It's sad that he died young and had only a few years with your grandmother.


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