Private Leonard Franklin, killed in action 18th September 1918, age 38
Leonard, the third of four brothers, was born in Wootton Bassett on about the 28th February 1880, probably in Beamans Lane. The birth date is calculated from his service record. In April 1902, in Swindon, he married Matilda Kate Lawrence, known as Kate. Leonard and Kate lived together in Gorse Hill for three years. In 1903 Leonard was one of three men sentenced to 28 days imprisonment with hard labour for an assualt during a brawl outside a Swindon pub. He was previously of good character, and there was some suggestion that the complainant provoked the incident. Leonard and Kate’s daughter Zona Matilda was born in Hannington, Wiltshire, in 1904. In 1905 Leonard and Kate went to London for 12 months, but they returned to Wiltshire in 1906. Soon afterwards Leonard went to Bristol to find work. He wrote to Kate two weeks later, saying he would not be bringing her to Bristol. Kate went to the Relieving Officer for assistance, and through this means was awarded 4 shillings a week maintenance, but Leonard did not pay. In November 1906 Kate applied for a separation order. Leonard, whose registered address was given at his mother’s home, 6 Charles Street, was summoned but did not appear. Kate asked to withdraw the case, but the court decided to adjourn it for three months.
By 1909 Leonard was working as a porter at the recently extended Bon Marche department store in Abertillery, Wales. His sister Ellen and her husband Selby Toombs (another of the assailants in the 1904 assault case) also moved to Wales in about 1909. In November Kate applied for an increase of maintenance to 6 shillings a week for herself and her child. She told the clerk that she had had no quarrel with her husband and she could adduce no reason for his deserting her. The order applied for was granted with costs. In the 1911 census Leonard’s daughter Zona is recorded twice, with Leonard’s mother at 6 Charles Street, Swindon, and with her mother Kate, who was living with William Burchell as his ‘housekeeper’. Kate’s three month old daughter named Mabel Maud Burchell Franklin reveals the nature of her relationship with William since at least 1910.
Leonard enlisted on 2nd March 1916, but was placed on reserve. He had formed a relationship with Ellen Ellicott in Swindon, and they had a daughter, Joy Irene, who was born at 24 Morris Street, Swindon, on May 5th 1916, and baptised Joyce Irene in Lydiard Millicent. At this time Leonard was a blacksmith. Leonard and Ellen were never married, and she married Albert Hewer, in her maiden name, in 1919.
Leonard was called up in 1918 and attested in Newport, Wales, on 29th April 1918. He stated that he was a widower, although I believe he was still married to Kate, and she was very much alive. Leonard was 5′ 5″ tall, and lived at 44 Alma Street, Abertillery. He had no previous experience in the forces. On April 30th he was posted to the 3rd Battalion South Wales Borderers (58774). On the same day, 29th April 1918, an order was made to provide maintenance of 6 pence a day to Miss Ellen Ellicott for her illegitimate child, Joy, at 39 Rodbourne Road, Swindon, until her 16th year. In June 1918 a stoppage of pay court order was applied to enforce this payment. On 22nd July 1918 he was attached to the 4th Battalion Lancs Fusiliers. Only four months into his training, on August 31st 1918 he embarked for France, and on arrival, on the 1st of September 1918, he was posted to the 5th South Wales Borderers. On 2nd September he was transferred to the Welch Regiment and on 6th September 1918 he was posted to his new Battalion, the 13th (Service) Battalion of the Welch Regiment and allocated a new service number (58281). From the 6th to the 10th September this Battalion was resting, reorganising, and training, encamped camp at map reference N30a north west of Le Transloy, with enemy planes occasionally bombing the area at night. On the 11th September the Battalion relieved the 17th Manchesters in the Ytres Equancourt trench system, with the 15th Welch to the southern end, and brigade HQ established at Four Winds Farm. The following week was spent in attack and counter attack, during which the enemy was active in both bombing and flamethrowing. The weather was wet and stormy. On the 16th the Battalion took over the front line from the 17th RWF and 10th South Wales Borderers. Relief was carried out without mishap, but during the night there was a very heavy thunderstorm which made the state of the ground very heavy. The Battalion spent the 17th September preparing to attack, but the night of the 17th/18th was again very wet and dark making assembly for the attack extremely difficult.
The war diary on 18th September records:
At 5.20am the Battalion attacked the enemy trenches in African Trench & Heather Trench as a first objective & the line of trench S.W. of Gouzeaucourt as a second objective. The morning was very dark and wet, & the assembly proved very difficult owing to C Company being late in being relieved from the part of the [?] line they were holding by the 14/Welch Regt. The darkness affected the keeping of direction considerably, but the Battalion reached its first & second objectives, and took a considerable number of prisoners. Enemy shell fire & Machine Guns caused us some casualties and after daylight enemy snipers proved troublesome. […] The news that the objectives had been reached came from wounded Officers & men, & in the absence of messages from Company Commanders.
The day continued with further struggles due to adverse weather and poor communication. An attempt was made to coordinate a further attack at 7.30pm, in order to get closer to Gouzeaucourt, but this was delayed to 9pm due to the commmunication issues. Even this attempt failed, and the battalion was unable to move. The diary concluded:
In view of the inability of the Brigade to move forward, G.O.C Brigade ordered fighting patrols to push forward towards objectives & to gain touch with 50/Brigade (17/Div) on right. These orders were sent to the Green Line at 11.40pm but were not received by Major Williams until 4.10am through inability of the messenger to find the Advanced Report Centre.
Leonard was killed in action during this wretchedly confused day, only 17 days after he had arrived in France. He is commemorated on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial, Panel 7. This Memorial bears the names of 9835 men who fell from 8 August 1918 in the Advance to Victory in Picardy and Artois, between the Somme and Loos, who have no known grave. His Army Book survived but contained no will, although the soldier’s effects record refers to a will, I have not traced it. His legatee was his mother, and tragically it seems unlikely that he was mourned by either of the mothers of his children, Zona and Joy.