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987 Sgt Frank Diver DCM
1st Bn Lancashire Fusiliers

16th Jan 1906 to 10th Sept 1918

Frank Diver Natural born survivor It's a fact of life.

Some medal groups are different from the rest. They stand out. They have some indefinable quality sparking a response from your collecting instinct. Frank Diver's group belongs to this elite category.

His medals appeared in a Wellington Auctions catalogue in 2007. The catalogue description had a compelling phrase. The group came "with a significant quantity of original documentation." The original documents would prove invaluable, since no soldier's papers or pension records have survived in the National Archives.
The group comprises a D.C.M. [G.V.], 1914/15 Star Trio, Defence Medal, Special Constabulary Long Service Medal [Coinage profile] and Belgian Croix-de-Guerre. The D.C.M. is named to "987 Sergeant F. Diver 1st Lan. Fus." The trio are all named to "987 Corporal F. Diver Lan. Fus." While the Special Constabulary Medal has "Frank H. Diver."

The catalogue notes stated that Sergeant Diver took part in the Lancashire Landings at Gallipoli in 1915 and the First Day of the Somme on 1st July 1916, before being wounded at Cambrai in 1917. This would mean he also survived the Passchendaele offensive prior to Cambrai. His documentation proved this assumption. Because Frank Diver spent his entire army career with the 1st Battalion and remarkably with the same Company.

I first came across his name when reading a popular history of the Regiment written in the early sixties. What made the writer pick out Diver's name for inclusion in the 1st World War chapter? After all he had a host of similar gallantry stories to choose from. The answer is as follows.
On the 10th October 1917 in the middle of the battle of Poelcappelle, a remarkable incident occurred. Lieutenant Le Mesurier of "C" Company, 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, led four men back to Elverdinghe camp. The rest of the Battalion had left the front line the previous day, having battled shell-fire, German counter-attacks and the Flanders mud. Half the Regiment were casualties. Le Mesurier was the only surviving Officer left in "C" Company. He established himself in "Senegal Farm" an enemy Pill-Box, then beat off repeated German attacks all the long bloody day. When the Battalion had retired, Le Mesurier and his command may have been given up for lost. So when news of their survival came through, the entire camp turned out to greet them with thunderous cheers.

The 29th Division Commander Major-General Sir B. de Lisle said, "Whatever honour Lieutenant Le Mesurier may gain in life, none can equal the spontaneous approbation of their comrades in the ranks so freely offered to himself and his four men." Sergeant Frank Diver was one of these four men. He was awarded a richly deserved Distinguished Conduct Medal and Belgian Croix-de -Guerre for his gallantry. Yet for all that, he must have treasured the memory of that morning, as one of the proudest moments in his life.
Frank Diver was born in November 1888 in the village of Landbeach, north of Cambridge. Curiously he was baptised Frank Harold, while the civil registration has him as Frank Earl. His Father was an agricultural labourer and Sexton to All Saint's Church Landbeach.
Frank was the youngest child of six. The 1891 Census shows the Diver's living at 75 High Street, Landbeach.

In 1895 when Frank was seven, his Mother died. Three years later his Father married again to a widow with three children. By 1901 Frank had five younger siblings. He combined two jobs. That of Farm Servant and News Deliverer. We know this because he managed to get himself recorded on the Census twice! Once at his Father's House and then at his Grandmother's! The twelve year old Frank must have thought it a grand joke!

It is not difficult to guess the reason why he enlisted into the Army in January 1906. He was eighteen and must have felt like a spare part at home. It is likely he was lodging with his married elder sister, since he names her as one of his next of kin. His Soldier's Small Book fortunately survives to provide these essential details. We learn that he was 5' 3" tall and enlisted at Cambridge for the Lancashire Fusiliers on the 16th January 1906. I have often wondered why a Cambridgeshire farm lad choose a north-western Regiment, in preference to his local one. I can only surmise one of his boyhood mentors must have been an old soldier of the 20th Foot.

So it was that young Diver with his country accent experienced the first of many cultural shocks. He arrived at the Regimental Depot at Bury, Lancashire and encountered the broad Lancashire dialect of the natives. Bury with its mills and cobbled streets must have seemed a world away from the Landbeach fields and hedgerows.
After basic training he started to see the world. His Soldier's Small Book tells us that he was posted to "C" Company of the 1st Battalion. He was to spend all his army service with "C" Company. His Company Commander was the redoubtable Captain R. R. Willis, who would win the Victoria Cross at the Gallipoli Landings on 25th April 1915.
Willis' initials appear every year in the above-mentioned book proving Diver's membership of "C" Company. Diver's post war "Particulars of Service" form survives. Reading between the lines this informs us he was an intelligent young man, both eager and willing to better himself. He earned his 3rd Class and 2nd Class Education Certificates in 1906 and 1910 respectively. He became proficient in Stretcher Bearing, Swimming and Ambulance Training. He also passed a class of Instruction in Elementary Pushtu!

The pre-war Lancashire Fusiliers Annuals give copious information on every Battalion's sporting prowess. After a careful study I can say that Diver did not distinguish himself on the field of sport! I can only find one mention of his name. It is however a significant one.
The 1911 Annual details the results of a rifle competition held at Meerut in November of that year. "A number of keen shots" [from the 1st Battalion] "attended the meeting at their own expense." Private Diver's name appears as a prize-winner. This shooting ability would prove useful in the years to come.
The 1st Battalion produced a photograph Album in 1911, when they were stationed at Multan, India. Frank Diver's "C" Company is of course featured. What a pity we cannot identify him.
In April 1914 at Hyderabad, India, Corporal Diver was discharged after nine years' service to the Army Reserve. Major Wade of the 1st Battalion wrote him a glowing character reference. This still survives
Frank was not destined to get used to civilian life for long, since the Great War erupted in August 1914. As a Reservist he was immediately recalled to the Colours. He was appointed Lance Sergeant on 5th December 1914.

The 1st Battalion was recalled from India, They caused a sensation when landing at Avonmouth on the 2nd January 1915, because they were dressed in Red. They would be part of the soon to be famous 29th Division. Frank quickly renewed his old friendships. Captain Willis still commanded "C" Company. On the 12th March 1915 they were inspected by H.M. King George V at Wolston near Rugby. On the 25th April 1915 they would be assaulting the heavily defended "W" beach of Gallipoli.

Much has been written about the famous landing of the 1st Battalion. The demands of space mean that only the briefest account can be made.

The Commander-in-Chief Sir Ian Hamilton in his official despatch wrote: - "So strong were the defences, that the Turks may well have considered them impregnable. It is my firm conviction that no finer feat of arms has ever been achieved by the British soldier than the storming of these trenches from open boats on the morning of the
25th April."
Captain Raymond Willis gives a graphic account.
"Not a sign of life was to be seen on the Peninsula. It might have been a deserted land we were nearing in our little boats. Then rapid fire, machine guns and accurate sniping opened from the cliffs above. The casualties included our crew and many men. We were exposed and helpless in our slow moving boats. Target practice for the Turks. Within a few minutes only half of the thirty men in my boat were left alive. We were 100 yards from the shore and I gave the order "Overboard." We scrambled out into four foot of water. No return fire was possible, for the enemy was in trenches well above our heads."
The Fusiliers trudged onto the beach which had barbed wire, plus a concealed trip wire and land mines. Machine-guns enfiladed the beach mowing men down in batches, as they waited for the wire to be cut. Willis silenced a sniper who had inflicted heavy damage. He pithily states. "I closed his career with the first shot. Yet the heap of empty cartridges around him testified to the damage he had done.
" From henceforth "W" Beach would be known as "Lancashire Landing." The Battalion would be awarded six Victoria Crosses for their astounding collective gallantry. Prompting the celebrated Regimental slogan of later years - "Six V.C.'s before breakfast." One of the V.C. winners was Captain Willis of "C" Company.

A famous illustration was later produced entitled "The Lancashire Landing." A graphic picture showing Willis at the sea shore waving his walking stick and encouraging his men.
Imperishable glory is always bought at a heavy price. The Regiment suffered grievously. By the end of the day the Battalion strength had been reduced to 11 Officers and 399 Other Ranks. A magnificent pre-war Battalion would never be the same again.
This is not a history of the 1st Battalion in Gallipoli, but of one man. Diver survived the resulting campaign. He would be wounded later in the war, but not on the Gallipoli Peninsula. He survived the First, Second and Third Battles of Krithia. Plus the costly action at Gully Ravine on the 28th June 1915. By the 29th June the Commander of what remained of the 1st Battalion was a Lieutenant.

By October 1915 so -called "open warfare" had degenerated into stalemate. Life in the trenches with the interminable flies, lice and dreary rations, generated an epidemic of septic sores and dysentery. On the 15th November a violent storm hit the Peninsula. Several men of the 1st Battalion were drowned in the unremitting deluge. November also brought a snow blizzard. Men died from exhaustion and exposure.

On the 2nd January 1916 the 1st Battalion finally left Gallipoli. It was said the best planned operation in the entire campaign, was not the landings on Gallipoli, but the evacuation.
After some weeks in Egypt the 1st Battalion sailed for France in March 1916. Frank Diver's next encounter with total destruction would rank as even worse than landing under fire at Gallipoli.
On the 1st July 1916 the Battle of the Somme began. Thirteen Divisions of the British Army and five French Divisions attacked the well-dug in German front line.
The events of the 1st July are by now famous, including the part played by the 1st Battalion. If Diver had stretched his luck at Gallipoli he would stretch it again almost to breaking point at the Somme.

The Battalion attacked in extended order at 7-30a.m. after a huge mine had been exploded ten minutes earlier. Diver's Company was in the rear of the attack. Each man carried engineer stores, two day's rations, Mills Bombs as well as 120 rounds of ammunition. They were filmed at 6a.m. by Geoffrey Malins, the Official War Office cinematographer. Part of his material was used in the film "The Battle of the Somme", which was a nationwide hit back home. One of the famous stills shows "Lancashire Fusiliers in a trench, fixing bayonets on 1st July 1916." C.S.M. Nelson has been identified. This gentleman belonged to "C" Company. The C.S.M. as well as the Company Commander were immediately hit as they stood up to give the order to advance.

A selection of poignant extracts from the Regimental History and the autobiography of Fusilier George Ashurst, sum up the day, far better than any words of mine.

"C Company was caught by Machine-Gun fire as it left the front line."
"The remnants of "C" Company had to be reorganised for a further advance." It is estimated that about sixty men from "C" Company reached the temporary haven of a sunken road before the German front-line.
"Men lay dying from terrible wounds. Others sat at the bottom of the trench shaking and shouting, not wounded but unable to bear the noise, the smell and the horrible sights."
"The whole of the [sunken] road was strewn with dead and dying men…. talking deliriously, calling for help and asking for water."

The Battalion Colonel ordered a section of Stokes Mortar Crews in the road to open rapid fire against the German lines. A forlorn hope of seventy-five men attempted to advance under this covering fire. It was a brave bloody failure.
"Hundreds of dead lay about and wounded men were trying to crawl back to safety." German shells "dropped amongst these poor fellows, blowing dead men into the air and putting others out of their agony.
" By 11-45a.m. only one Officer and 75 men were available for an attack. At 6pm the sunken road was finally evacuated.

Once again the 1st Battalion had suffered grievously. 7 Officers and 156 men had been killed. 14 Officers and 298 men had been wounded. This from strength of 22 Officers and 675 men.
Once again the 1st Battalion had been to all intents and purposes destroyed. It beggars belief that Frank Diver survived the horrific events of this terrible day.
Yet somehow he did.
The Battle of the Somme was not of course just about the tragic events of the 1st July. The remorseless battle ground on until mid-November 1916.

The third year of the "War to end all wars" would find the 1st Battalion engaged in the Passchendaele offensive. By now it was a shadow of its pre-war self.
On the 9th October 1917 the 1st and the 2nd Battalions Lancashire Fusiliers for the first time in their History fought side by side. The Official History styles it as the battle for Poelcappelle. As far as Sergeant Diver's "C" Company was concerned they were in the Second wave. The Regimental History states "much rain had fallen during the night and the ground was very wet." The nightmarish landscape over which men would fight, die and drown must have been terrifying.

As "C" Company advanced they were decimated by enemy counter-attacks. All the Officers were hit with the exception of Second-Lieutenant Le Mesurier. He settled himself and his men in a German Pillbox,
which must have seemed a haven. Then immediately he had to protect his flank. The Regimental narrative says. "In this regard he was ably assisted by Sergeant Diver, who had also succeeded to the command of his platoon, when the subaltern had become a casualty. He had been badly shaken by the explosion of a shell, but had nevertheless continued to lead his men forward."
It must have taken some nerve to leave the concrete pillbox and venture out into that hellish landscape of shell-holes and liquid mud. Yet he did so taking his men and establishing a firm line on the exposed flank. This was not a moment too soon. For the Germans launched a massive counter-attack, which reportedly was Battalion strength. The Regimental History states this "half-hearted effort withered away under the rifle fire of the now firmly established line." An astonishing sentence. Think about it. A platoon of resolute men overcame what the Regimental History says was "eight consecutive lines" of attack! Attacking across the Passchendaele mud was just as hazardous for the Germans as it was for the British. Again the advantage was with the defenders. It is also worth noting a significant line from Diver's gallantry citation. A citation obviously drafted by the gallant and generous Le Mesurier.

"It was mainly owing to his [Diver's] courage and determination, that the position was made secure."

The Battalion was withdrawn later that night. As has been outlined earlier, Le Mesurier and his flanking party could not leave for some time after. Diver had survived a hellish night crouching in shell-holes and trenches full of water. Then came a slow deadly trudge back to friendly lines. Put a foot wrong and you could drown in moments. They were now reduced to five in number. Somehow he had cheated death yet again.

However luck is finite. It has its limits. The strain inevitably tells. Sergeant Diver's Soldier's Small Book records that on the 25th October 1917 he was tried by Field General Court Martial. It must have been extremely serious. Since the Battalion Commander's powers of jurisdiction were not deemed sufficient. Diver's exemplary service record and two gallantry awards would have counted hugely in his favour. After all he was one of a rapidly diminishing band of pre-war Regulars still serving in the Battalion. To have punished him would have dented Battalion morale. In the event he escaped with a slap on the wrist. He was demoted to Corporal.

A month later he was wounded at Cambrai. It was serious enough to send him home. Or at least back to the Regimental Depot at Bury. He was finally discharged on the 10th September 1918. His eventful life in the Army was over.

He could not then know that of all people Sir Horace Darwin would play a leading role in his life for the years to come. You have not heard of Sir Horace? Neither had I. Yet we have all heard of his Father, the renowned Charles Darwin. Naturalist and Author of "The Theory of Natural Selection."
Included with the Diver papers is a handsome Illuminated Testimonial dated 25th August 1949. It is headed the Cambridge Instrument Co. Ltd. The testimonial was presented by the Board of Directors to Frank H. Diver, in recognition of loyal service for the past twenty-five years.

A picture of Sir Horace the founder of the Company is featured at the head of the scroll.

Yet I digress, for an even more important influence entered Frank's life in 1919. He married Amy Jane Beeton of Lynn House, Waterbeach on the 18th June 1919. Amy Jane was a war widow. An excellent photograph of Amy Jane and her 1st Husband [Richard Beeton] can be found on the net. Go to
Frank's son Leslie Harold was born on 22nd April 1922 at Lynn House, Waterbeach. By then the occupation of his Father was listed as Scientific Instrument Maker. I have already suggested that Frank was intelligent and willing to better himself. It seems to me that his new profession amply fulfilled his instinctual urge to be creative.

Horace Darwin founded the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company in 1881. He was a renowned Engineer and played an important role in the development of Aeronautics. He was knighted in 1918. Darwin gathered several brilliant men around him. Including Robert Stewart Whipple, whose signature is on Diver's Testimonial. Whipple donated a unique collection of antique scientific instruments in 1944, to found the Whipple Museum of the History of Science.

Frank's new job necessitated the family move to Cambridge. I have located them at 41 Windsor Road in the 1942 Telephone Directory. Also on the net, one can find a photograph of a "typical house on Windsor Road Cambridge." Unfortunately this is number 45, built circa 1938. Yet it illustrates their rising standard of living.

In the Second World War Frank became a Special Constable.
His medal and box of issue have survived. We learn his Specials number was 122. Also we have a communication from the Cambridgeshire Constabulary Chief Constable's Office dated 13 April 1946. It informs Diver, now living at Cambridge Road, Waterbeach, that his claim for the Defence Medal has been approved. The ribbon was enclosed. The Medal would be forwarded later.

Frank died on the 31st December 1960 age 72 years, at Yapton, West Sussex. His son Harold was present at the death. Frank's occupation was listed as a Retired Instrument Maker. I fancy he was equally proud of that as he was of his exceptional army career. One more subject needs to be covered. Along with the medals and documents came a small black and white photograph.

It shows a group of eight men and purports to be Special Constables away at training camp, during the 2nd World War. Included in the group is Frank Diver. The photograph is reproduced with this article.

Enquiries via Wellington Medals to the vendor of the Diver group have unfortunately come to nothing. Can any reader in the Cambridge and especially Waterbeach area identify Frank? Are there families with the surname of Diver living in Waterbeach? Please contact me via the Editor of Medal News. Hopefully we can then put a face to a name.

Credits to:-
Kenneth Marsh.
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