Frank’s childhood and early life remains a mystery. Even his widow, in reply to a letter from the regiment requesting family details after his death, was unable to provide even basic information. It would seem that Frank had arrived in Biddulph from Crewe in search of work, met Florrie Birch, married her and settled in the town. Attempts to find him in census returns of 1891, 1901 and 1911 have drawn a blank. From service records it appears that Frank Ernest Fox was born in Coppenhall, Crewe, in 1890. He enlisted for 6 years in the 3rd battalion Cheshire Regiment Special Reserves at Chester on June 10th 1910. In December 1911 at St. Lawrence, Biddulph, he married Florrie Birch. He gave his age as 21 and his occupation as a forgeman. His father was not named in the marriage register. They lived at 36, Stringer Street and later at 48 and 15, The Square.
In her letter to his regiment, Florrie wrote:
“I am sorry to say that I cannot fill the form in as I do not know any of my husband’s relations, only that his mother is dead – he told me that himself. I suppose you will think it very strange but he was a Crew fellow and he came to Biddulph to work and he stayed in the same street as me. I do not know any of his people at all only that he has one brother at Crew his name is Joe Fox. I do not know him. I cannot say any more. I will remain yours. Florrie Fox. No. 48 Square, Biddulph.”
The 3rd battalion Cheshire Regiment Special Reserve was a home based training unit and provided draft for other battalions of the regiment. The regimental depot was at Chester where Frank enlisted. During the Great War the 3rd battalion, for the purpose of Mersey Defence, moved to war stations at Birkenhead and Leasowe Castle, Wallasey on the Wirral.
Frank Fox served in this battalion until July 6th 1915; however his service records tell us that in September 1914 he deserted from Leasowe Castle until apprehended by the civil police at Biddulph in March 1915. For his sins Frank served 56 days in detention and was fined 45/- shillings, taken from his pay for “neglect loss” of his uniform.
It appears that in July 1915 Private Fox transferred battalion when he was posted into the 1st Cheshire Regiment. This was a battalion that had been serving on the Western Front since August 16th 1914. Maybe this change came about due to the 1st Cheshire’s being decimated in the battles at Mons, Marne, Aisne and Ypres - actions that reduced the battalion from 900 to 200 men still fit to fight. By July 1915 not many of the valiant original 1914 “Old Contemptibles” in the battalion remained.
Frank was already a trained soldier; he may even have been an instructor coming from a training battalion. As part of a draft replacement, Frank embarked at Southampton on July 6th 1915 to cross the channel and join his new battalion in Belgium on July 10th. Attached to 5th Division he found the 1st Cheshires south of Popering near Abeele in the Ypres salient. The battalion kept three companies of men in the front line and one at rest in the Zillebeke area. At one point the battalion spent 42 continuous days in the front line trenches, suffering the abysmal conditions with heavy losses.
Soon the division moved to the Somme area and on December 6th and 7th 1915, near to Mametz and Maricourt, they carried out a number of successful raids on the enemy positions. July 1st 1916 saw the opening of the Battle of the Somme; the 1st Cheshires were in action at Delville Wood and High Wood from mid-July. Frank Fox would certainly have had to endure unbelievable shell and machine gun fire in this action against an enemy well entrenched. In one attack the battalion met with cross fire from enemy machine guns, with many casualties. On the night of the 28th Frank and his mates were in reserve at Mametz, when ordered forward crossing Caterpillar Valley and towards Longueval and again came under terrific fire. It is believed that it was here, on July 28th 1916, that Frank Fox lost his life.
Private Frank Ernest Fox has no known grave being commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme. He is also remembered on the Biddulph memorials.
Florence remarried Arthur Whitehurst aged 55, in 1920, at St Lawrence. Arthur had lived at 16, Stringer Street.
Thanks to Arthur Whitehurst, grandson of the above Arthur Whitehurst.
Mike Turnock & Elaine Heathcote.