Thursday, February 26, 2009

Private Frank Lester, 18 February 1896 - 12 October 1918

An email arrived this morning from my mother, who has been researching family history. She's just discovered that one of her father's cousins was killed a month before the Armistice in 1918, in a village called Neuvilly.

The notice in the London Gazette that announced his award of the Victoria Cross ran as follows:

"For most conspicuous gallantry and self-sacrifice during the clearing of the village of Neuvilly, near Le Cateau, on 12th October 1918. With a party of seven men under an officer, Lester was the first to enter a house by the back door, shooting two Germans as they attempted to escape by the front door. A minute later a fall of masonry blocked the door by which the party had entered. The only exit into the street was under fire at point-blank range, the street also being swept by machine-gun fire at close range.

Observing that an enemy sniper was causing heavy casualties to a party in a house across the street, Private Lester exclaimed "I'll settle him" and, dashing out into the street shot the sniper at close quarters, falling mortally wounded at the same instant. Frank Lester well knew it was certain death to go into the street and the party opposite was faced with the alternative of crossing the fire-swept street or staying where it was and being shot one by one. To save their lives, Lester sacrificed his own."
He was 22 years old.

The same day, during the same action, other members of his regiment, the 10th Bn Lancashire Fusiliers won two MCs, one DCM and three MMs.

I don't believe any reflected glory passes down to other members of a family, and in any event he wasn't in my immediate family. But any personal connection with a story like that draws it off the page. After all, when I was a boy I talked with two of this man's cousins, who had also been in the trenches. One described to me how he deloused his clothes, using a candle flame to burst louse eggs laid in the seams. Had Frank Lester survived, I might have met him as well.

So after having spent a half hour thinking about a young man, barely into adulthood, who sacrificed himself for his brother soldiers, and about those two old men who lived through such horrors, I'm going back to work.


alison said...

Excellent post Peter, thank you. Hope you are well.

Steve said...

My grandfather's brother almost made it through the war too. He was killed at the end of September 1918, a couple of weeks before your grandfather's cousin.

I don't think his family ever got over it.