Frank Herbert Parker was born on 11 February 1889 in Aldershot. He was the son of a sergeant (later a Company Sergeant Major) in the Royal Engineers (RE) and he was to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Unfortunately Frank’s military records do not seem to be available, but his father’s service is recorded in reasonable detail, so we can learn a lot about Frank’s childhood from it. Frank’s father, John Parker, was born in Devon and joined the RE in 1876 as a carpenter when he was in his early twenties. According to one of its official historians, the RE customarily drew its ‘rank and file…from the class of artificers or tradesmen’. John served in two tours of duty in Southern Africa, where he earned a medal in 1879, and was later stationed at Aldershot, Curragh Camp in Ireland, Chatham, Monmouth and Beaumaris. In South Africa John took part in the Anglo-Zulu War, the first Boer War and the Bechuanaland expedition of 1884-5. He was awarded the South Africa medal with clasp, and the long service medal.
John earned regular promotions through the ranks and in 1886 he married a Canadian woman called Emily Agate, who was ten years younger than him. Their first child, Evelyn, was born at Curragh in 1887 but by the time of Frank’s birth in 1889 the family were stationed in Aldershot. They were still in Aldershot at the time of the 1891 census when Frank was two years old and his younger brother, Frederick was nine months old.
In 1893 John was promoted to Sergeant Major. This was an honoured position for an ordinary soldier to attain. In 1897, after twenty-one years in the service, he was granted permission to remain in the army. By 1901 he was based with the Royal Anglesey RE in Beaumaris, North Wales. On census night that year John was at a hotel in Wrexham, although Emily, Evelyn and Frank and Frederick were all at home at 11 Margaret Street, Beaumaris. The Parkers’ youngest daughter was born in Anglesey c.1903.
In 1904 John was discharged from his regiment at the age of fifty. The family, at that point still in Beaumaris, intended to move to Chatham, a town where John had been stationed in 1893. Frank was fifteen years old when his father retired from the army, and perhaps was starting to learn carpentry from his father. John’s army record had described him as ‘a very superior cabinet maker and carpenter’.
Having been brought up entirely in barrack towns, and lived the itinerant lifestyle of an army child, it is perhaps no surprise that Frank also enlisted with the RE, joining the regiment in Chatham. In 1911 he was stationed in Egypt with the 2nd Field Company of the RE. He was aged twenty-three, and described on the census form as a sapper, a carpenter, and unmarried. Although he probably had some carpentry skill when he entered the force, the RE took in young recruits and gave them further training.
Meanwhile, Frank’s parents were living at Crown House, Rainham Road, Gillingham, with his two sisters. In September 1914, John, now resident with Emily in Elm Cottage, Wainscott, volunteered for the army reserve. Frederick, having been allegedly turned down for military service in Chatham because he was too short, served an apprenticeship in Gillingham before emigrating to Western Australia where he became a farmer. However, on the outbreak of the First World War Frederick volunteered for the Imperial Australian Forces in Helena Valley, near Perth. Lance-corporal Frederick Parker was injured at Gallipoli in 1915 and after recuperation in a Birmingham military hospital he served in France in 1918. He undertook a motor fitting course with a company in Rochester before returning to live in Western Australia. In 1967 he applied to the Australian government for a Gallipoli medal.
Frank, meanwhile must have received rapid promotion through the ranks – probably because of the war conditions after 1914, in which the size of the RE increased rapidly – as at the time of his death he was an Acting Company Sergeant Major. On the outbreak of war the 2nd Field Company of the RE joined the 8th division of the army, returning from Egypt in October and reinforcing the British Expeditionary Force the following month.
Frank was killed on the first day of the Third Battle of the Aisne, 27 May 1918. By then he was with the 7th Field Company, part of the 50th division. A German bombardment started at 1am on the morning of the 27th, over a twenty-six mile front and to a depth of twelve miles, in what was hitherto thought to be a quiet stretch of the Western Front, but which was next to a strategically important river. According to the official corps history, several field companies of the RE suffered heavy losses even before daylight. Royal Engineers were also involved in destroying bridges over the Aisne River and canal.
Frank’s body was not recovered so his life is commemorated on the Soissons memorial. He was twenty-nine years old when he died and his regimental number was 12820. He was awarded the DCM, a medal awarded to non-commissioned ranks for ‘distinguished, gallant and good conduct in the field’. Probate was granted to John on Frank’s estate and was valued at £110 19s 7d, nearly £100 of which was the money owed him by the army. Frank’s service number was 12820.
Free BMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915 [database on-line].
1891 England Census Class: RG12; Piece: 566; Folio: 54; Page: 38; GSU roll: 6095676
1901 Wales Census Class: RG13; Piece: 5224; Folio: 70; Page: 28; Class: RG13; Piece: 5277; Folio: 32; Page: 18
1911 England Census Class: RG14; Piece: 3931; Schedule Number: 75; Class: RG14; Piece: 34994; Page: 3
British Army WWI Pension Records 1914-1920: WO364; Piece: 2832
Australia, WWI Service Records, 1914-1920: National Archives of Australia: B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920. Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, 1973-1995 [database on-line].
Baker Brown, History of the Corps of the Royal Engineers Volume IV (Chatham, The RE Institute, 1952)
Royal Engineers, History of the Corps of the Royal Engineers Volume V (Chatham, The RE Institute, 1952)