Source: August 1917 casualty
Francis Wrightsell was part of the battle of Hill 70 where he lost his life on 16 August 1917 at the age of 21. He was my great grandmother’s uncle.
Francis “Frank” Edward Wrightsell was born on 6 January 1896 in Blenheim, Ontario Canada. When he enlisted he is listed as having brown eyes, auburn hair, a fair complexion, weighing 136 pounds and standing between 5’5” and 5’7” tall. He was a farmer.
His parents were Elizabeth Anne Young and Francis “Frank” Jacob Wrightsell. His father was apparently a heavy drinker and was also very strict. His mother was a British Home Child who came to Canada in June of 1874 as part of a group travelling with Marie Rye when she was 9 years old. His mother worked on farms in the Blenheim area and married Frank Wrightsell on 3 August 1882 at the age of 18. Together they had 6 sons and 3 daughters. Francis was the 5th child and second son. His siblings were: Rose, Anna, George, Gertrude, Clinton, Hugh, Thomas, and Percy.
He endured many difficult losses in his young life. When he was 11 years old, his older sister Anna died from typhoid fever and when he was 19 years old he lost both his father and 14 year old brother, Thomas. His father died on 5 November 1915 at the age of 61 from injuries he sustained when he fell off a bridge and his brother died just over a month later on 23 December 1915 from a gunshot wound inflicted by a friend’s gun, unintentionally, when it discharged as a group of boys were all reaching for it. It had been a Christmas gift to one of the boys.
Three months later, on 9 March 1916, Francis enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces at the age of 20 years and 3 months. His attestation papers state he enlisted in Chatham and his regimental number was 880458. His highest rank was Private. Before enlisting, his last place of employment was in Raglan, Ontario working for Mr. Charles Clendening where he earned an average of $300/year.
Francis trained in London, Ontario as part of the 186th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. On 13 April, he was diagnosed with appendicitis and remained in hospital until 4 May. He was at Camp Borden on 15 September 1916 and after training was complete he traveled to Chatham, Ontario on 7 March 1917 to visit his family before leaving for Europe.
On 25 March 1917, Francis sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia on the S.S. Lapland to Liverpool, England, arriving on 7 April where he was transferred to the Segregation Camp in Bramshott, England for combat training. On 7 April he was transferred to the 4th Canadian Reserve Battalion and on 16 June he was transferred to the 18th Battalion. He arrived in France three days later on 19 June and arrived at the 2nd Canadian Ent. Battalion on 8 July. He was attached for duty to Canadian Corps Troops Support Col. on 11 July and joined the 18th Battalion in the field on the 31 July. The 18th Battalion was part of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade, which in turn was part of the 2nd Canadian Division.
When Francis arrived, the 18th Battalion was stationed in Bovigny. The Battalion had been postponed in taking over the Front by 2 days. On the day he arrived, the Battalion carried out general training. On 1 August, the war diary states the men were in billets in the village. There was heavy rain and so no training took place from the 1st to the 4th. On the 4th, the 18th Battalion relieved the 26th Canadian Battalion in Brigade support at Cité St. Pierre. No fighting was reported until 9 August when the 18th Battalion led a raid on enemy trenches. This raid provided much intel and inflicted many casualties to the enemy. The Battalion was relieved on the 9th and went back to Bovigny and stayed in billets. On the 11th the Battalion rested and had bathing parades. On the 12th, the Battalion had clothing parades. A church parade was held on 13th August and then the Battalion headed back to the front to relieve the 27th Battalion, completing this relief at 2:30am.
At 4:25am on 14 August the 18th Battalion, attacked the enemy lines and 26 minutes later had obtained their objective and had 65 prisoners. Special companies of the Royal Engineers fired drums of burning oil into the suburb of Cité St. Élisabeth and at other selected targets to supplement the artillery creeping barrage and build up a smoke-screen. Divisional field artillery positions executed a creeping barrage directly in advance of the assaulting troops while field howitzers shelled German positions 400 m (440 yd) in advance of the creeping barrage and heavy howitzers shelled all other known German strong-points. Artillery Forward Observation Officers moved forward with the infantry and artillery observation aircraft flew overhead and sent 240 calls for artillery fire by wireless.
Around 2:30pm the Germans made a strong bombing attack and succeeded in recapturing a portion of the newly won trench near where the 21st Battalion was stationed. A reconnaissance mission was launched immediately and at 5pm a counter attack was launched and the lost trenches were recaptured by the 18th Battalion. There were no attacks nor counter-attacks during the evening or night of the 15th, however the enemy artillery was exceptionally heavy.
Around noon on the 16th Lieut. Dougall, L.Sgt. C.E. Routley and 19 men crossed the railway and went forward along Cotton Trench where there were fired upon from Aloof Trench. They realized that Aloof trench was heavily held by the enemy. They turned westward along Cotton Trench to another section where they again encountered an enemy party from the South. Turning about again, they found that an enemy party from Aloof trench had followed them and they were practically surrounded. Lieut. Dougall then sent up his artillery signals and under cover of this fire succeeded in returning to the allied lines with only one casualty. There was no unusual activity during the remainder of the day.
Francis Wrightsell was killed at some point on the 16th as were 6 other men from the 18th Battalion. He was 21 years old. His body was not recovered and so his exact final resting place is currently unknown although the 18th Battalion was stationed on the line just south of Cité Ste. Elisabeth along the Chicory Trench. It is located just North-West of Lens and approximately 1700m from Hill 70.
His mother was notified in a letter sent on 24 August. He never married and so his mother was his next of kin and was listed on his will written 28 February 1917. His mother received his medals, decorations, plaque and scroll, as well as, his Memorial Cross (aka Silver Cross). He was not eligible for the 14/15 Star, but was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal. His name is inscribed on the Vimy Ridge Memorial near Vimy, France.
Biography by and courtesy of Nicole Ramsdale, Private Wrightsell is her 3rd Great Uncle.
Images contributed by Nicole Ramsdale.
Summary of Service for Wrightsell, Frank Edward, reg. no. 880458
|January 6. 1896||Born||Francis “Frank” Edward Wrightsell was born in Blenheim, Ontario. His parents were Elizabeth Ann (Young) and Francis “Frank” Jacob Wrightsell. Elizabeth was 22 years old when Francis was born, and he would be the brother to 5 brothers and 3 sisters.|
|1907||Sister Deceased||Older sister dies of typhoid fever.|
|November 5, 1915||Father Dies||Father dies in accident from injuries due to a fall from a bridge.|
|December 23, 1915||Brother Dies||Thomas, 14, dies of a accidental gunshot wound.|
|March 9, 1916||Enlists||Enlists with the 186th Battalion in Chatham, Ontario. He lists his occupation as farmer and his mother as his next of kin. He is of average height and weight being 5’5” and 136 pounds. He has no prior military experience and leaves his family with his mother, and 4 brothers and 2 sisters. None of the other Wrightsell men have to serve with the military during the First World War.|
|April 3, 1916||Vaccinated||Note that there is a course of at least three anti-typhoid inoculations but the record of the dates are illegible.|
|April 13, 1916||Admitted Hospital||Admitted to London Military Hospital for appendicitis and is operated on that very day.|
|May 4, 1916||Released from Hospital|
|February 23, 1917||Completes Will||There is a certified true copy in the service record showing that Private Wrightsell assigned his complete estate to his mother. The will was signed by Orderly-Room Sergeant R. Buckingham and Private W.P. Ford. Private Ford was to later serve with Private Wrightsell in the 4th Reserve Battalion in England.|
|March 25, 1917||Embarks for England||Aboard the S.S. Lapland.|
|March 1917||Assigns Pay||Assigns $20.00 per month to his mother, Elizabeth Wrightsell.|
|April 7, 1917||Arrives Liverpool||Arrives at Liverpool and is transported to Bramshott Camp and taken on strength with the 4th Reserve Battalion.|
|June 6, 1917||Struck Off Strength and Transferred||S.O.S. 4th Canadian Reserve Battalion to 18th Battalion. Begins transiting to Continent for active service. Arrives Canadian Infantry Base Depot and Taken On Strength with the 18th Battalion.|
|July 7, 1917||Arrives In the Field||Arrives for temporary assignment to the 2nd Canadian Entrenching Battalion at Hersin, France.|
|July 11, 1917||Attached for Duty||Attached to the Canadian Corp Troops Supply Column.|
|July31, 1917||Joins 18th Battalion||The Battalion is carrying out general training at Bovigny.|
|August 16, 1917||Killed in Action||Private Wrightsell is killed in action during the Battle of Hill 70.
The War Diary relates:
“About noon Lieut. Dougall, L.Sgt. C.E. Routley and 19 o.rs crossed the railway cutting at N.13.b.2.2 and went forward along COTTON TRENCH to N.13.b.5.0 where there were fired upon from ALOOF TRENCH and they could see that ALOOF trench was heavily held by the enemy. Turing about they went Westward along COTTON trench to N.13.c.70.95 where they again encountered an enemy party from the South, turning about again they found that an enemy party from ALOOF trench had followed them and they were practically surrounded.
Lieut. Dougall then sent up his artillery signals and under cover of this fire succeeded in returning to our lines with only one casualty. There was no unusual activity during the remainder of the day.”
Privates Howard, Phillips, Thom, Wilson, and Wrightsell bodies were never found or identified and are commemorated on the Vimy Memorial. Lieutenant D.R. MacDonald was killed by a grenade thrown by a member of “C” Company and he is buried at Aix-Noullete Communal Cemetery Extension at Aix-Noullete France.
It is unlikely that these men met their fate during Sergeant Routley’s patrol as the War Diary states that they returned with only one casualty, yet another reference in the War Diary states 2 men killed in action and 2 men wounded.. The War Diary is remiss in detailing the deaths of 6 men and the high proportion of them who’s bodies are missing or unrecovered indicates that they may have been in the same area when they perished.
There is an entry on August 15 that states that that “enemy artillery was exceptionally heavy on all parts of our sector.”
From the communiques and despatches in the War Diary Appendices the impression that they give is a Battalion under extreme combat stress, and in some cases the officers appear under a type of duress where the events surrounding the events during the action are so active and fluid that the men leading, and certainly the men being lead, would have trouble following events during the action.
It may never be known what specifically occurred to Private Wrightsell and his comrades.
|June 22, 1920||War Service Gratuity||War Service Gratuity to Dependants of Deceased Soldiers in the amount of $180.00 issued via cheque number G.1893903 to Mrs. Elizabeth Wrightsell, R.R. #6, Blenheim, Ontario.|