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War Memorials

In Memory of
Private 19260
11th Battalion Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regiment)
Who died from wounds on Monday, 23th November 1918
Age 22

Buried Plot LI Row A Grave 2
Etaples Military Cemetery, Etaples, Pas de Calais, France

Commemorated in Perpetuity
by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Remembered with Honour
Etaples Military Cemetery

Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France1

Frank Oldham was born in Beeston, Notts in 1896 2, the youngest of seven children of George (b. 1859, Beeston) and Mary Oldham (b, 1862, Beeston née Cox). In 1901 the family was living at 66 Upper Regent Street, Beeston, Notts with Thomas William working as a railway plate layer3. By 1911, the family had moved to 18 The City, Beeston with George continuing to work as a plate layer4. By then, Frank, age 15, was working as a shop boy.

Although Frank's Army Service Record has not survived, it appears that he was part of the initial rush to enlist in August 19145. Although there is evidence that he first joined the Royal Army Service Corps6 it appears that he was transferred to 11th (Service) Battalion Sherwood Foresters at or soon after the time that the battalion was formed at Derby on 17th September 1914, part of Kitchener's New Army, made up of men who had volunteered in the early days of the war. It became part of the 70th Infantry Brigade in 23rd Division. Stationed originally at Aldershot, it moved to various places in the south of England before leaving originally from Folkestone, arriving at Boulogne on 27 August 1915. Although Private Oldham was not part of that original contingent, he followed shortly after, on 11 October 1915. By this time, the battalion had already been in action on the Western Front where the two sides had literally dug-in for a stagnant trench war of attack and counter-attack7.

By the last days of June 1916, 11th Battalion was part of the preparations for what was to be the great Somme offensive against the German held Leipzig Salient which, it was hoped, would break through the impasse. During this time, the German lines were pounded by artillery fire which was so intense at times that it was thought that the enemy defences would be so destroyed as to make the intended major attack possible. Bad weather delayed the attack intended for 28th June and the Battalion, consisting of 27 Officers and 710 other ranks, was held in trenches in front of Authuile Wood awaiting orders to attack. Its role was to be in support of 8th Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment which was to lead the attack. At 7.30am on 1st July, the first wave attacked followed by 11th Battalion Sherwood Foresters. They had been told to expect little resistance and the wire destroyed. Instead, they were caught in withering fire - both enfilade and from the flanks - from enemy machine guns and much of the wire was still in place, largely untouched by the bombardment. No Mans Land was particularly wide at this part of the front and casualties were formidable, particularly with 11th Sherwoods, which also encountered many dead and dying from the leading waves. It was estimated at the time that at least 500 of the 600 men who went over the top were casualties - largely confirmed by a count of those who remained at the end of the day, only 6 officers and 202 men.

During 1917, the Battalion took part in the operations around the German retreat to its new defensive position, the Hindenburg Line, between March and April. Then, from the last day of July, it was in action in various actions within the Third Battle of Ypres - known as Passchendaele. This would have been a terrible experience with huge casualties - nearly s third of a million British and Allied soldiers and not far short of that German men, were killed or injured - and torrential rain which created a quagmire which became treacherous and impassable - particularly for the tanks which had been planned as a major component of the attacks. Then, in November 1917, the battalion was deployed to Italy to strengthen Italian resistance which had suffered recent disastrous setbacks.

On 19 Sept 1918 the battalion arrived back in France, now as part of 23rd Division, at a time when the Allies were well into what became known as the Hundred Days Offensive, a period of continual pressure against the enemy which was eventually to end the First World War. However, there was still much fierce fighting to be done against a weakened but still aggressive enemy. The battalion was involved throughout the whole of the remainder of this period. In early October it took its part in the Battle of Beaurevoir when that village and the overlooking heights were captured with a resulting break in the enemy's heavily defended Hindenburg Line. Then. in the Battle of Cambrai, the battalion was part of offensive by British, Canadian and New Zealand forces in which the Canadians were able to take Cambrai days ahead of expectations. The enemy was now nearing exhaustion but established new positions to the east of the Selle River. Allied forces, including tanks and infantry, which included 11th Battalion, attacked across existing and temporary bridges on the 20th and were able to reach its objectives despite heavy enemy resistance and bad weather conditions.

It seems likely that Private Oldham was one of those wounded during that battle. He had served for over four years and been involved in fierce fighting, faced atrocious weather and endured terrible conditions but was now seriously wounded, just days before the Armistice and the eventual return to the normal life that he deserved. After receiving basic emergency treatment in a nearby Regimental Aid Post he would have been passed back to an Advance Dressing Station, then to a Casualty Clearing Station which would organise transfer to a military hospital to give him the chance of a recovery8. So it was that Private Oldham arrived at one of the large group of hospitals then operational at Etaples which, by that time, could deal with 22,000 wounded or sick. Sadly, despite everyone's best efforts, Private Oldham died from his wounds on 23rd November, less that two weeks after the Armistice.

He was buried in the nearby Etaples Military Cemetery. This cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Grave Commission cemetery in France, containing 10,771 Commonwealth burials of the Great War. It also contains 119 burials from the Second World War and 662 Non-Commonwealth burials, mainly German.

Private Oldham was posthumously awarded the British and Victory Medals and the 1915 Star9. His Army financial effects of 33 10s 2d, which included his War Gratuity of 23 10s, were paid to his mother, as his sole legatee, on 2 April 191910.

Frank's brother, Company Sergeant Major John Oldham, had died of wounds on 25 March 1918, while serving with the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry. Their parents lived out their lives in Beeston with George dying in 1939, aged 80, followed by Mary in 1949, aged 86.

1The photograph of Etaples Military Cemetery is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
2His birth was registered in Basford Registration District (of which Beeston was part) in Q1/1896 (Ref 7b 212)
3Beeston, Notts : 1901 Census, Piece 3153 Folio 118-9
4Beeston, Notts : 1911 Census, Piece 20432 RD429 SD3 ED7 Schedule 110
Frank's siblings were George (b. 1880), Mary Elizabeth (b. 1882), John (1884-1918), William Ezra (b. 1886-1945), Florence (b. c1889) and Ethel May (b. 1895).
5As Frank's Army Service Record has not survived, his enlistment month has been calculated based on the amount of his War Gratuity
6This early attachment (Service Number 1883) is mentioned in Frank's entry in 'Soldiers Died in the Great War'. It is not known when Private Oldham was transferred to 11th Battalion Sherwood Foresters but we have assumed that it was before the time he was posted to France on 11 October 1915, a date that is recorded on his Medal Card.
7The outline of 11th Battalion's movements throughout the war are based on a summary on the Forces War Records website (www.forces-war-records.co.uk/units/319/sherwood-foresters-nottinghamshire-and-derbyshire-regiment).
8There is a more complete description of the procedures for the movement of wounded from the front at www.ramc-ww1.com/chain_of_evacuation.php
9Detail of his medal awards are from his entry in the Medal Roll and from his Medal Card - available on ancestry.com.
10Details of the payments are from the "Army Register of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929" - available on ancestry.com.

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