RSS

Tag Archives: Civil Service Rifles

Frank Thomas Rapps: heroism, chance and a bloody nose

Chance and luck had a big impact on whether those serving in or near the front lines survived the Great War. No matter whether someone was a hero, a coward or somewhere in-between, a chance occurrence could kill or injure them, or save them by taking them away from the front line. Frank Thomas Rapps was a war hero but suffered accidents that kept him away from the front for much of the war.

Frank Thomas Rapps was born in Bromley in 1890, the son of shop manager Thomas and his wife Nellie. By 1911, he was a clerk boarding with a family in Deptford. Like his brother, Percy, he was a clerk for the National Telephone Company (from 1912 he worked for the London Telephone Service). In 1914, he was living in Mitcham, Surrey, and he joined the army at the beginning of the war. Unlike Percy, who we met in a previous blog post and who was injured playing football, Frank Rapps was injured in more obviously military activities.

Corporal F.T. Rapps, Daily Mirror 24 June 1916

Corporal F.T. Rapps, Daily Mirror 24 June 1916

He joined the 15th Battalion of the London Regiment, the Civil Service Rifles, at Somerset House on 28 August 1914 and went out to France with them in March 1915, as part of the 47th (2nd London) Division. In November he transferred to the 140th Brigade’s Machine Gun Corps unit (i.e. part of 140th Brigade, the one that the Civil Service Rifles were in). By the summer of 1916, Frank Rapps was a Corporal.

On 8 August 1916, Rapps was awarded the Military Medal. At the end of June, The Daily Mirror reported on the forthcoming award and noted that “A few months before war broke out he played football on the fields on which he has since fought the Huns.” Clearly he and his brother shared a fondness for playing football. It’s not clear when or how he earned the medal. The brigade were involved in the battle at Vimy in May 1916, so it is most likely that he earned the medal (which was only awarded for battlefield bravery) there, in a battle that a modern history of the Civil Service Rifles describes as a ‘disaster’.

A few weeks later, on 25 August 1916, the machine-gunners were near Franvillers being trained in using hand grenades. After an hour of throwing dummy grenades (i.e. the metal casings without explosives), the instructor called a halt – at precisely the moment that Private Jim Rutledge threw a dummy grenade. Corporal Rapps looked round to see who had called out and, despite shouts of alarm from Rutledge and others, did not get out of the way of the dummy grenade, which hit him in the face, breaking his nose. He was immediately treated by medics of the 4th London Field Ambulance (attached to the 47th Division) and then sent on to No 34 (West Lancashire) Casualty Clearing station at Vecquemont. He was then sent back to the UK.

After recovering from his injuries and being posted to the depot battalion at Winchester, Rapp applied to become an officer in early 1917. After officer training at Bisley, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Machine Gun Corps in July and posted to their 62nd Battalion. He arrived back in France on 14 January 1918.

In February 1918, Rapps and his men were helping to fend off German raids at Gavrille/Gavrelle in the Arras sector. A medical board report picks up his story:

“while enemy was raiding [the British] trenches, this officer scratched the bridge of his nose with barbed wire. It was dressed the same day he did not go sick. The wound did not heal and on 8th March he was sent to hospital when he states incision was needed on bridge of nose and then he was transferred to England.”

He left Calais on 24 March, just as the German Spring Offensive was pushing British forces back over the land captured at great cost in 1916 and 1917. Back in England he was treated at Worsley Hall in Manchester and was operated on by a nasal specialist for a defective septum. By May, the wounds had healed and he was able to breathe through his nose as normal. He was graded at C1 level of fitness (not fit enough for overseas service). A later medical board heard that he suffered from “attacks of epistaxes” after blowing his nose hard: he suffered from bad nosebleeds. The May medical board awarded him three weeks’ leave and he was ordered to the MGC depot at Grantham. A series of medical boards assessed that he would be fit again within three months. By the end of 1918, he was serving at the RAF’s school of armament at Uxbridge and was a temporary Lieutenant. He was discharged from the army in 1920.

After the war, Rapps moved back to Mitcham and in April 1922 he rejoined the London Telephone Service as a clerk officer. He married a Marion Broughton Wright in Camberwell in late 1926. They lived in Surrey until at least 1945. By the time of his death in 1963, Rapps was living in Hampshire; Marion had died a few years earlier, so Frank’s estate went to David Wright, a commercial artist (and presumably a relative of Marion’s)

This brave Londoner somehow managed to be put out of action twice by accidental injuries to his nose. After being rewarded for his bravery in 1916, he was injured in training and missed the Battle of the Somme – and remained at home throughout the doomed Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. Back at the front and in action in February 1918, he was accidentally injured again and missed the whole of the rest of the war. Just one example of how chance and luck could play a major part in a soldier’s service and survival in 1914-1918.

 

Sources:

  • Long, Long Trail
  • FT Rapps service record (National Archives)
  • Daily Mirror 24/6/1916
  • Jill Knight, The Civil Service Rifles in the Great War
Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on 16 October 2014 in Award-winners, Ordinary Londoners

 

Tags: , , , ,

Albert Mason: A brave, blinded war hero

In June 1917, a large crowd gathered for a ceremony in Hyde Park where the King awarded medals to hundreds of men and women.  George V paused during the ceremony for a longer chat than usual with one London veteran, Albert James Mason, who had been blinded during the Battle of the Somme the previous autumn.

The crowd that gathered in Hyde Park on 3 June 1917 saw over 300 servicemen and 12 women awarded medals for gallantry and good work during the war, along with 50 relatives of those who had died since or during their actions.

Towards the end of the ceremony, once the order of precedence had reached the Military Medal. As the Times (4/6/1917) described it:

A murmur ran through the round…, for an orderly was leading a blind man to the King’s presence. It was Corporal Albert Mason, in mufti, for he is a soldier no longer, but he won the Military Medal when in the London Regiment. He was halted in front of the King, who spoke to him for some time and reached down and grasped the wounded man’s hand.

Albert Mason being led up to meet the King and receive his MM from the King (Illustrated London News, 9/6/1917)

Albert Mason being led up to meet the King and receive his MM from the King (Illustrated London News, 9/6/1917)

The scene was a far cry from the battlefields of France, where Mason had earned his medal and suffered his wounds the year before.  He had enlisted as a 19-year-old on 1 September 1914, at the peak of the recruiting boom, joining the Civil Service Rifles.  His address was recorded as the Central London YMCA (the original YMCA) on Tottenham Court Road, but his widowed mother lived in Pietermaritzburg in South Africa; it is not clear whether he was a South African in London or his parents had moved to Natal before the war.

Mason soon took the Imperial Service oath and joined the battalion of his unit that was due to go to France, the 1/15th Battaltion of the London Regiment.  For some reason, he remained in the UK for a year while the unit was in France, only joining them on the Western Front in March 1916.

That summer, he was part of that unit during the Battle of the Somme, serving in the 47th (2nd London) Division.  It is not clear when or for what he was awarded the Military Medal.  Although it was not formally awarded until December 1916, the divisional history and his service record give the date as 9 October 1916.  Mason was promoted to Corporal on 15 September 1916, the first day of the battle of Flers-Courcelette, which saw the first use of and where the Civil Service Rifles were in the heart of the battle at High Wood.  It may be that actions on that day earned him both his promotion and his medal.  Supported by the tanks, the infantry were to attack the German lines without the benefit of a preliminary artillery bombardment, but the Civil Service Rifles found that their tanks were held up and arrived after the attack started. They and their London Division comrades were held up in no-man’s land, suffering casualties all the time, until additional bombardments cleared the German defences and the Londoners broke through to take High Wood – an objective that the British had been trying to take since July. The Battalion, and the Division, had suffered an enormous number of casualties in the attack; by the time they withdrew from the front line on 20 September the Battalion had lost 15 officers and 365 other ranks.

The landscape around High Wood (on the right) before the battle of Fler Courcelette (c)IWM

The landscape around High Wood (on the right) before the battle of Fler Courcelette (c)IWM

Overall the attack was successful, in the context of the Battle of the Somme, but it was still a horrendous experience for the men involved. Jill Knight’s excellent book The Civil Service Rifles in the Great War quotes M.J. ‘Paddy’ Guiton, an Irishman who served in the battalion (having been a clerk in the London County Council  Education department, living is Islington before the war:

I saw men torn to fragments by the near explosions of bombs and – worse than any sight – I heard the agnoised cries and shrieks of men in mortal pain…

We don’t know whether Mason earned his Military Medal at High Wood, or a few weeks later when he was blinded.  The battalion had been filled up with hundreds of new reinforcements (which may explain Mason’s promotion, as a relatively old hand in the unit) and attacked the Butte de Warlencourt. In the afternoon of 7 October, the Division attacked the Butte, under heavy enemy bombardment, while the British ‘creeping bombardment’ crept on too quickly and the infantrymen were left behind. The attack was a failure.

On 8 October, Mason was evacuated away from the unit with a gunshot wound in the right eye – probably either a bullet or a piece or shrapnel.  After medical treatment at the front, he was transferred back to the UK at the start of November, and was discharged on medical grounds and with an excellent character reference in January 1917.  Sadly, this is where his record ends so we do not know where he went or what he did after being awarded his Military Medal for bravery in the field.

Albert Mason was just one of the Londoners flung into battle in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. His unit suffered heavily in both the successful attack on High Wood and the failed attempt to take the Butte de Warlencourt. In one (or both) of those two battles, Mason performed with remarkable bravery.  Within days, though, he was blinded and his military career was over.

Sources:

Illustrated London News (6/6/1917) and Times (4/6/1917)

The Civil Service Rifles in the Great War by Jill Knight – an excellent book, which I used for the descriptions of the battalions actions in 1916.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on 11 August 2013 in Award-winners, Ordinary Londoners

 

Tags: , , , , , ,