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Francis Leslie Allen

Private G/6824 Francis Leslie Allen, 1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment


Francis Allen's grave in Belgium

Francis Allen's grave in Belgium

Leslie was born in Newbury on the 10th December 1895, the fourth son of Henry Allen and his wife Martha (née Smith).  Henry was a labourer, working at a bakery, who had been born in Ashmansworth but moved into town to find employment. He and Martha had eleven children in total, while living in cramped accommodation in the back alleys of Newbury.  In 1904 they moved to a five-roomed house (2 Taylor’s Cottages) in Northbrook Place, an alley off the east side of Northbrook Street; Henry and Martha remained there until 1931.


Their children grew up and flew the nest, slowly relieving the pressure on their bulging accommodation.  Leslie left school and was apprenticed to a cycle repairer; a busy trade in those days.


On 14 December 1914 he travelled to Reading and enlisted with the East Surrey Regiment. Perhaps this was a deliberate move, perhaps he just happened to be in Reading when he was convinced to enlist at one of the many recruitment meetings that were taking place at that time?  He was posted to the regiment’s depot and training battalion and given the number G/6824.


Over in Flanders the 1st Battalion of his new regiment were in great need of reinforcement having seen a lot of action from September on. Leslie must have impressed during training; perhaps he had had some previous experience in a cadet force, boy’s brigade or similar. He was posted to the 1st Battalion after a very short period of training, arriving in France on 27 April 1915.  Just over two weeks later he was dead, killed by shellfire.


The first news reaching the family was that he was killed in the attack on Hill 60:


Newbury Weekly News, 17 June 1915 p8 – Local War Notes
Mrs Henry Allen, of 2, Taylor’s-buildings, Northbrook-place, Newbury, who have two sons in the Army, one in the 1st East Surreys, and the other in the Royal Marine Light Infantry, received notification on Monday morning from the War Office, of the death of Private Francis Leslie Allen. Deceased, who was the fourth son, was 19 years of age, and joined the 3rd Surreys in January last, but proving a capable soldier, after only about three months’ service, was picked out with draft of others to fill the depleted ranks of the 1st Surreys at the Front. The parents had not heard from him for nearly a month, and on inquiry at the War Office hence the notice that he was killed in action in the attack on Hill 60 on the 14th of May


The following month the manner of his death was revealed:


Newbury Weekly News, 29 July 1915 p8 – Local War Notes
News has been received that Pte F L Allen, of 2, Taylor’s-cottages, Northbrook-place, Newbury, on service with the East Surrey Regiment, has been instantaneously killed by a shell.


There is a serious flaw with this information: the fighting on and around Hill 60 was over by 4 May. During the fighting around Hill 60 the 1st East Surreys and the other battalions of the 14th Brigade and  5th Division distinguished themselves to the extent that the official history of the war on the Western Front contains the following tribute:  ‘Seldom have there been finer displays of courage than the fighting of the 13th, 14th and 15th Brigades of the 5th Division’. The Division suffered major losses in the action and took no further part in offensive actions for some months.  It is even doubtful that Leslie would have been with the battalion during this action; his arrival in France was only one week earlier, by which time the 5th Division was already heavily committed in an untenable position and was about to withdraw to a better line – would raw recruits have been sent forward at such a time?


The war diaries for this period of the battalion’s service have been lost, so it is not possible to determine closely what the battalion was doing around the 14 May.  They may have been manning a section of trenches, resting in billets or supplying working parties to carry out repairs etc near the front.  Certainly there was every possibility that men were exposed to shellfire.


Francis Allen's name on Newbury War Memorial(upper middle)

Francis Allen's name on Newbury War Memorial(upper middle)

The official date of death is 14 May 1915.  Leslie was buried in grave I.B.14 in Woods Cemetery, Belgium,  a short distance south of Ieper (better known to those familiar with the Western Front under its alternative French name, Ypres)


Locally he is remembered on Panel 6  of the Newbury Town War Memorial and on both the memorial board and the memorial board and the roll of honour in St Nicolas’ Church, Newbury.

The newspaper item above mentions a brother in the Royal Marine Light Infantry; this was Cecil (Walter Cecil), two years older than Leslie. The eldest brother, Horace Henry, also served - in his case with the Royal Berkshire Regiment. The remaining brothers were too young to see active service, although Harold is likely to have received his call up papers when he turned 18 in 1918.

Thanks to Karen Newbery for her help researching this casualty.

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 Died this day:
28 November 1917
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