Just one among the millions of men who were conscripted into the British Army in the latter years of the Great War was Frank Leslie Berry, a clerk who ended up making maps on the Western Front and being gassed in the final weeks of the war.
Frank Leslie Berry was born in February 1899. By the start of 1917, he was working as a junior clerk in the Ministry of Munitions in Whitehall and living at 49 Ledbury Road, North Kensington with his father Thomas. As a young, single man, he was called up into the army as soon as he turned 18 – joining up at the start of March 1917.
Berry was recruited into the Royal Engineers and trained to be a field linesman in their signals section. A year later, he arrived in France (in March 1918) and was posted to the 5th Field Survey Company. These were the organisations – well described (as ever) on the Long, long trail website – that produced the maps that the army used in trench warfare.
Following the German Spring Offensive that was launched in the weeks after Berry arrived in France, the Allies gradually turned the tables and began to push back the German Armies on the Western Front.
On 17 October 1918, his unit were heavily shelled with gas shells. Berry described how he only gradually became a casualty: “Heavy bombardment of Gas Shells, did not feel effect for quite 12 hours, cannot give any reason unless [gas] mask was defective”
When he began to feel these effects, he reported to 53 Casualty Clearing Station (which probably locates his unit to Roisel, Northern France). From there he was sent to No 1 Australian General Hospital, then based at the Racecourse in Rouen.
Sent back to the UK, he was sent to the Huddersfield War Hospital and the Denby Dale Auxiliary Hospital, also in Huddersfield. He was deemed to have recovered in January, but suffered a relapse in February. On 19 February he was demobilised and returned home.