As so often in this research, teasing
out the story has proved more
complicated than at first thought.
There are two French brothers on the
Blackham Roll of Honour – Herbert
and Ernest – but they had two other
brothers in the conflict, one of whom
used Blackham to ensure he saw
We include all four here.
Herbert and Hannah Jane French and
their large family moved around
quite a lot. In 1881 they are at
Hawkhurst where most of their
children were born; ten years later at
Jessops in Ashurst and by 1901at
Lidget’s Farm near Stone Cross. And
as they got older, their children
moved around too.
Ernest Victor was born in
Hawkhurst 1886. By 1911 he
worked as a carter, living at
Crippenden Cottage, Edenbridge
with his wife Alice (nee Atherall)
and baby daughter Doris.
We don't know when he enlisted, or
into which regiment. He first went to
France with the 2nd Battalion Royal
Fusiliers, a London Regiment which
drew men from Home Counties units
to replace losses.
He died in 1957.
Walter James was born in Jessopps
Cottage, Ashurst, in 1890, Walter
was a stoker in the Royal Navy from
1908 to 1921.
Herbert William was also born in
Hawkhurst in 1888, just before the
family moved to Ashurst. In 1911 he
was boarding at the home of
Elizabeth Sales and working as a
self-employed shoe repairer.
Also living there was his future wife,
Herbert died in 1958 and in 1965.
Frank Reuben was the youngest
brother, born Penshurst 1894. In
1911 he was boarding with John and
Annie Weekes at School House Hill,
Withyham and working as a farm
Frank wasn’t built like a warrior. His
record shows he was 5'3” tall with a
34inch chest. Nevertheless, on 8
September 1914 he enlisted into the
Royal West Kent regiment at
Tunbridge Wells. He was posted to
the 3rd battalion, the reserves, as
Patience was not his virtue and he
was keen to get to the front. When
the 6th and 7th battalions left for
France 30th May 1915 he'd had
enough. On 4 June he deserted.
At this time the Royal Naval
Division was training its excess
reservists as infantry and were busily
recruiting. On 8 June Frank enlisted
with the RND. To shake off his
pursuers he altered some personal
details on the enlistment form.
He dropped his middle name and
changed his date of birth. He gave his
address as Stepnetts Cottage,
Blackham, probably using brother
Herbert’s address. He was accepted as
The Army caught up with him in
October and requested his return.
Alas, said the Navy, he had just left
He may have seen some action in the
dying days of that ill-fated campaign,
after which, in February 1916, he
faced questions about his desertion.
He explained that nine months
training with the RWK got him
nowhere, four months with the RND
and he was in Gallipoli. The RND
accepted him permanently.
The action was now in France and the
division arrived at Marseilles 22 May
1916. After a period of training for
the different conditions the division's
first major action was on the 13
Called the Battle of the Ancre, it was
the last big attack of the Somme
campaign before winter brought this
whole tragic event to a halt.
Casualties were heavy. Frank was
wounded on the first day of the battle
and was evacuated to a Casualty
He died of his wounds on the 16
November and is buried at the
military cemetery at Puchevillers.
The French brothers
Four young men caught up in conflict
Thanks to Frank Wiltshire for another professional piece of detective work