The Fallen of Ewhurst and Ellen's Green, Surrey  
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   William Ralph Frecheville 


Captain
Royal Engineers
Executed after Capture 09/01/1920 aged 24, Rostov-on-Don, Russia whilst serving as part of the British Force in Russia.

No Known Grave
Remembered on :
Ewhurst War Memorial,  Memorial Plaque and Book of Remembrance
Memorial Window, St Peter & St Paul's, Ewhurst
Haidar Pasha Memorial, Istanbul
Rugby School Roll of Honour

Son of Professor William and Lissie Helen Frecheville, of 25, Phillimore Gardens, Kensington, London. Three times wounded in France.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WILLIAM RALPH FRECHEVILLE was born in Redhill on 30th April 1895 (1), the only son of William and Lissie Helen. He had four sisters, Francis May (2), Helen Beatrice (3), Ruth Lydia (4) and Joyce (5) . William's father was a professor of Mine Engineering at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, South Kensington, London (6).

In 1901 the family were living at North Breache Manor (6), where they remained until 1907, when they moved to High Wykehurst, a large house that William's father had commissioned. It is interesting to note that North Breache then became the home of Arthur Raymond and Flora Jean Heath, parents of Captain Raymond Heath, who was later killed in action in the Battle of Loos.

William entered Rugby School in 1909 (7), where he became a member of the Officer Training Corps, and was to remain there until Christmas of 1913. In September of 1913 he sat the entrance examinations  for the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, and entered the Academy as a Gentleman Cadet number 61 in order of merit. Physically he was noted as being 5ft 8 inches tall and weighing 9stone 2lbs (1).


William's House at Rugby School (William back row in front of doors), and the House Rugby XV
(William back row, third from left).

  THE FIRST WORLD WAR 

He graduated from Woolwich and commenced service as a regular officer on 17th November 1914 and remained on home service until 25th April 1915, when he departed for service overseas with the British Expeditionary Force. In August William was serving with 12th Field Company, Royal Engineers, at Hooge, near Ypres in Belgium. Hooge Chateau and stables lay on the north east side of the Ypres to Menin Road. They fell into German hands following a surprise attack on 2nd June 1915 pushing the British front line onto the south west side of the road. From here the British pushed a tunnel beneath the road and under the German front line, detonating a mine and capturing the resultant crater on 19th July 1915. The Germans countered this action with the first offensive use of flamethrowers on 30th July, pushing the British back across the road with heavy casualties. On 9th August 1915, the 6th Division, with William and the 12th Field Company carried out a surprise attack and succeeded in re capturing the lost ground and the ruins of Chateau's stables. During this action William received a shrapnel bullet or piece of high explosive shell fragment through his left thigh. This wound was to be classified as severe, and he was to suffer a second, less severe injury in the form of a surface wound to his nose and upper lip eight hours later from another shell fragment (1).

William was evacuated to Caxton Hall in England, and when he had recovered from his injuries was granted convalescent leave, which he took at home in Ewhurst. Over the next two months he attended several Medical Boards in Guildford before being declared Fit for Home Duty on 26th October 1915 and departed for the Engineer Training Centre at Newark, Lincolnshire. On 25th November 1915 a Medical Board in Lincoln upgraded William's level of fitness to Fit for General Service, however, a month later, on 28th December whilst on duty at the Aldershot Training Centre, he fell from a horse and suffered a damaged ankle and a Potts fracture to his left tibula. A Medical Board a fortnight later noted William as being a member of 233 Field Company, RE, and granted him convalescent leave. He was to remain on leave until once again found fit for Home Duty on 13th March 1916 and posted him to the Engineer Training Centre at Newark. where, a month later he was again declared Fit for General Service (1).

On 26th June 1916, William departed again for overseas service with the BEF in France, and received a slight wound at Martinpuich in September. In January 1917 he was Mentioned in Dispatches and in the same year was promoted to the rank of Captain and appointed to the XIX Corps School as an instructor. He remained in action , and on 27th March 1918, whilst at Hamel with the 74th Field Company , RE, was again wounded in action (7). A subsequent medical report notes that William was:

"hit by machine gun bullets in both thighs. In each case the bullets entered about middle thigh and passed through obliquely from behind forwards and escaped"

Four days later William was evacuated to England, from Le Havre to Southampton, aboard the Carrisbrooke Castle and was taken to 27 Grosvenor Square Hospital. His wounds healed quickly, and at the end of April a Medical Board recommended convalescent treatment in hospital. William departed for Cornwall and the Rudruth Officers Hospital, Scorrier. Here, however, his condition suddenly deteriorated and William was diagnosed with acute septicaemia. His mother took a room at the Falmouth Hotel, from where on 12th July 1918 she wrote to the Secretary of the War Office to bring William's case to his attention (1).

The letter described how William was wounded, initially treated and transferred to Scorrier where, soon after his arrival he was diagnosed with  acute septicaemia. Seeing that her son was dangerously ill, and with the consent of Dr Hutchins of Redruth, the hospitals physician, she had wired Sir Kenneth Goadby in London, considered the fist authority in such cases. He then travelled down to Cornwall to attend William. Trained nurses were required both night and day, and as the hospital had only one, Mrs Frecheville had retained two. When it was considered safe, William had been transferred by military ambulance to Falmouth Military Hospital. Mrs Frecheville continued to request reimbursement for the consultant's fees (£200) and the fees of the nurses (£21-4-6). In time, the War Office would conclude that the fees for the nurses should be reimbursed, but as William's father had retained the consultant on his own volition, this amount should not be chargeable to the public (1).

William's condition continued to improve, and following a board in Falmouth on 29th July 1918 he was found unfit for General Service for another two months, but fit for Active Duty with Troops at home, classified C1, and sent on leave. This he conveyed in writing to the War Office from the Falmouth Hotel. In mid August William reported for duty at the School of Military Engineering at Chatham, Kent, where he remained until the end of the war. In November 1918, a bout of influenza caused William's admittance to hospital and subsequent dispatch on leave for 14 days, and therefore it is highly likely that he was at home in Ewhurst on the day of the Armistice (1).

  SERVICE IN RUSSIA 

In 1919 William volunteered for service in Russia, where a British Military Mission was serving with General Denikin's Army in support of the White Russian forces against the Bolshevists. He arrived in Russia in March 1919.

In January 1920, William was serving near Rostov on Don, a town near the Sea of Azov, to the north east of the Black Sea. Due to the situation in Russia at this time, news was not easily disseminated, and it was not until 3rd February that Professor Frecheville received information that, with the fall of Rostov to Bolshevist forces on the 9th January, William had gone missing in action along with another British officer, Lieutenant Henry James Couche, MC, of the Machine Gun Corps.

 


It transpired that on the day of the fall of Rostov, six British officers including William and Lt Couche, and a Russian Lieutenant called Kozma who was acting as an interpreter, were assisting the Volunteer Army to prepare positions near Rostov when they were attacked. Following a retreat, William, Couche and Kozma failed to appear, and were therefore presumed captured (1).

In March, the War Office received a copy of a Russian newspaper which reported:

" in good authority two British officers were captured on (9th January) by the Bolsheviks near Sultan Sala, 10 miles north west of Rostov and killed. Captain Frecheville was the name of one of the officers. We were told that the British officers were killed by order of the Commissary of the 136th Mounted Regiment named Paichki, who was seen wearing the British Captain's clothing."

It appears that this Russian newspaper article was based on a letter from the fiancé of Lt Kozma, who lived in Rostov. Kozma was not killed with the two British officers, but spared and kept by the Commissar as a valuable trophy. During this period all communications from the Russian authorities to the War Office indicated that they were unaware that William had been captured at Rostov(1) .

As Professor Frecheville appeared to be getting very little information with regard to William's fate, on the 19th June 1920 he chose to write a letter to The Time on the subject. This letter was copied in the Surrey Advertiser (8).

Following the letter, no further information was forthcoming and the Frecheville's were forced to come to terms with the loss of their only son and the brutal nature of his death. In April of 1921 Professor Frecheville wrote once again to the War Office and requested that they grant notification of his death rather than his status as missing so that he might settle William's affairs. This was duly granted and William's effects were forwarded via Cranleigh railway station to his parents (1).
 

In October 1922 a statement was received from Lt Kozma with regard to the deaths of William and Lt Couche. The statement read as follows:

"STATEMENT made by  Lieutenant P KOZMA, late of the Russian Volunteer Army, regarding the death of Captain FRECHEVILLE, R.E., in January 1920.

Lieutenant Kozma states that he was an officer in Denikin's Army, and was attached to the British Military Mission under General Holman as (an) interpreter. He was with Colonel Ross Hudson and Major Farmer in Tsaritsin in the latter part of 1919, and after the evacuation of that place was attached to Captain Frecheville, one of the Mission to the Don Army at Novocherkaask. Major Williamson, R.F.A., was head of the Mission, in December 1919. The Mission remained at Novocherkaask till its capture by the Bolsheviks when Major Williamson remained with the Army and sent the rest of the Mission by train to Nororossisk.

At Rostov, en route, they were met by General Holman, who ordered Captain Frecheville and others to supervise the construction of defences round Rostov. Captain Frecheville and Lieutenant Kozma were sent to Sultan Soli, 10 (kilo)meters North of Rostov, where they found a "Plastun Brigade" of Cossacks. They were told to go next morning to begin work, being sent out in horsed carriage; but that morning the Bolsheviks attacked. Frecheville remained in the trenches, expecting the Bolsheviks to be repulsed, but finding the Volunteer Army made no reply to the Bolsheviks shell fire, they returned to Sultan Soli, where they found the Cossacks in panic-stricken retreat.

They got into the carriage to drive to Rostov, but on leaving the village saw some cavalry bearing down on them. At first they thought they were Denikin's cavalry, but they turned out to be the 36th Bolshevik Cavalry Regiment of the 6th Cavalry Division. The cavalry took their money and all their clothes, except a shirt, and proceeded to drive them through the snow to Divisional Headquarters beating them with their whips as they walked. They were stopped two or three times by other parties of the same regiment, and finally one party stopped them and it was suggested that they should both be killed at once. (Lieutenant Kozma was taken to be an Englishman by the Bolsheviks). One soldier drew his sword and said, "I will begin". Kozma translated this to Frecheville who merely replied to the effect that nothing could prevent him. The man then cut three times at Frecheville's head, and at the third blow he fell.

Kozma then expected his turn to come, but the Brigade Commander came up and protested against the Englishmen being killed and ordered his clothes to be given back to Kozma and to take him to Divisional Headquarters. A man then passed by in a cart who took Kozma in it. This man proved to be the Political Commissar of the 36th Regiment, an ex-Tsarist officer, who made Kozma a clerk in the Quartermaster's department of the Regiment. He remained with the regiment for six months, then deserted in the Ukraine and after working in a factory where he amassed some money, managed to escape to Poland in August, 1922.

Being asked if he knew anything of the fate of Lieutenant Couch, M.G.C., reported missing at the same time, he recollected that an officer of that name had been sent up with himself and Frecheville to Sultan Soli; but on the fateful morning Couch remained in the village and he never heard any more of him" (1)

William Frecheville, Remembered on the
Haidar Pashir Memorial, Istanbul

Men who served with William wrote of him to Professor Frecheville:"He was one of the most popular men in the Mission. Everyone liked him, and genuine grief was felt by all when the news of his death was officially announced. Even today (five months later) I am constantly asked by Russians if the Mission has had any news of your son and Couche". Another referred to William as "a very fine example of one who was all the time in the forefront of the battle." (7)

His commander, General Holman, who lead the British Military Mission in South Russia, wrote "He was deservedly loved by the Russians, whom he strove to help, and was always most kind and sympathetic towards them. He gave his life in trying to assist them, at a very critical period in the operations." General Denikin wrote "he was a gallant Officer who worked wholeheartedly to assist the armies under my command, and he gave his life in a cause which the future will show to have been the right one."(7)

In April 1920, General Denikin and the British Military Mission withdrew from Russia to Constantinople. William's name features with Lt Couche as two of the 30 servicemen who died fighting with the British Military Mission and whose graves are unknown (9).

At home in Ewhurst, the Frecheville family commissioned A K Nicholson to design and manufacture a stain glass memorial window for William. It now features as the East window behind the alter in the church of St Peter and St Paul's in Ewhurst. It  promotes the memory of a young man who, at the age of 24 and after 6 years of conflict, gave his life helping another country in its struggle for freedom after his own country had completed its own tragic four year struggle.

In 1921 a grant of probate on William's estate favoured his father with the sum of £1049 13s 7d, noting that William's death had occurred on or after 9th Jan 1920 in Russia.
 

William's parents and sisters Ruth and Joyce lie in the Ewhurst churchyard, the inscription on their grave reads
"They are not dead, They are not asleep, They but awake from the dream of life"

Notes:
(1) from Service Record WO 339 14383 (Long Number 30614).
(2) Francis May (b1892) married and became Petersen (Surrey Advertiser 10/04/1915).
(3) Helen Beatrice (b1894) married and became Michell (Surrey Advertiser 05/05/1917).
(4) Ruth Lydia (b1904 d1989) married Peter Curtis Kibblewhite (Surrey Advertiser 04/10/1928).
(5) Joyce (b1899 d1998) did not marry.
(6) 1901 Census
(7) Rugby School Roll of Honour Book (Whitelaw)
(8) Surrey Advertiser 19/06/1920
(9) CWGC,
the Haidar Pasha Memorial, Istanbul. Chosen as Istanbul/Constantinople formed the headquarters of the British Military Mission following their withdrawal from Southern Russia. It is located on the eastern side of the Bosporus, in a Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery which is associated with a hospital cemetery containing the casualties from the Crimean War. This hospital was where Florence Nightingale had worked with the wounded of that war, and contains a large memorial in her honour.
(10) Photos of W Frecheville courtesy of Rugby School

   

Andrew Bailey, Ewhurst, Surrey
andy@ewhurstfallen.co.uk
Copyright©2005