Mandy Gane has been researching the Great War experiences of two brothers. Her starting point was the World War One set on the Manchester Archives flickr photostream. Using a wide range of additional online sources, she has been able to put together their story.
We are all familiar with the ‘Pals’ regiments, when work colleagues and neighbours enlisted together, with devastating consequences for their communities as the War progressed.
There are many examples of brothers in arms in the Documentary Photographic Archive, and diaries and letters from the archives often refer to brothers working and fighting together. Their stories will be shared through this blog in future posts.
What must it have been like to fight alongside friends and family? It must have been a strange mix of comforting security and heightened anxiety.
Frank and his younger brother Laurence were from a large family of siblings based in Birkenhead. Their father James O’Sullivan Prendiville was an egg merchant who was born in Castleisland, Kerry. Their mother Agnes (nee Austin) originated from Doncaster and her marriage to James was registered in Birkenhead in 1879.
The birth of Francis Xavier D. Prendiville (Frank) was registered in Birkenhead in 1891. Later that same year he appeared on the Census as a four month old, living with his family at 4 Vernon Place, Birkenhead.
Brother Laurence Anthony’s birth was registered in Birkenhead in 1895. The family was still living at Vernon Place at the time of the 1901 Census and a six year old Laurence was there with his parents and other siblings. Frank, on the other hand, was not included on the family’s census return: instead he appeared as a ten year old boarder at St. George’s College, a prestigious Roman Catholic school in Chertsey, Surrey.
Ten years later, the 1911 Census shows a 16 year old Laurence Prendiville (born in Birkenhead) as a student of Mount of St. Mary’s College, Spinkhill, Eckington, Chesterfield while his parents and some siblings were living in Radnor Place, Birkenhead. Frank’s whereabouts at the time of the Census have not been traced.
Both brothers served in the army during the Great War and, although their army service records appear not to have survived, other sources reveal that both were posted to the Western Front.
Frank’s army service
A document relating to Frank’s pension record has survived and it reveals that he enlisted with the British Army in Cambridge on 25th February 1915. His occupation at the time of enlistment was ‘motor driver’ though there is no further detail about the nature of his civilian employment.
The record shows that Frank joined the newly formed 262 Company of the Army Service Corps. According to ‘The Long Long Trail’ website, 262 Company was one of the ASC’s Mechanical Transport companies. It was assigned to a Divisional Ammunition Park in France, operating ammunition stores on behalf of the 17th (Northern) Division. (Later 262 Company would transfer to the 22nd and then to the 30th Divisions). Although not directly part of the front line, the ammunitions parks and ASC personnel were often targeted by enemy fire in order to disrupt supply lines to the trenches.
Frank’s pension record states that he was stationed at Cambridge for three months before transferring to Cheltenham. It contains no more information about his service in the army apart from his rank – Corporal – and his regimental number M2/051632 though the photographs provided by the donor show that he did serve in France.
A key point of interest on the pension record is the reference to a gunshot wound to the left thigh that Frank received on 6th December 1917. He was admitted to the 4th Southern General Hospital at Devonport, Plymouth on the 15th December 1917.
After spending 140 days in hospital, Frank was discharged on 3rd May 1918 with an invaliding disability to “furlough and duty” which means that he was granted a leave of absence. There is no reference to his whereabouts between his discharge and the Armistice on 11th November 1918. Frank’s Pension Board took place in February 1920. The donor of Frank’s photographs reports that Frank became a bus driver after the war.
Frank’s marriage to Ellen Carroll was registered in Chester in 1923. The birth of their son James Laurence was registered in 1924 in Birkenhead. Sadly, on 2nd November 1927, Frank died in Clatterbridge Infirmary, aged 37.
The National Probate Register shows that Frank was living in Heswall at the time of his death. His effects were left to his widow Ellen. The donor reports that Ellen worked in the Glegg Arms, Heswall, which was owned by a relative.
Laurence’s army service
Laurence’s medal card shows that he served in the Cheshire Yeomanry and in the King’s Liverpool Regiment Transport. A War Office supplement to the London Gazette dated 14th April 1917 shows that Laurence was promoted from an Officer Cadet Unit to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant (Infantry, Liverpool Regiment, Territorial Force) with effect from 28th March 1917.
Officer Cadet Units were introduced in 1916 as a way of training more men to lead and command. 2nd Lieutenants were the most junior officers and were often referred to as ‘subalterns’. Laurence’s medal card records his entry date to France as 14/5/1917.
Although Laurence’s service record does not appear to have survived, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission record tells us that he was killed in action on 31st July 1917 and that he is commemorated on the Menin Gate memorial at Ypres.
The date on which Laurence was killed is significant because it was the first day of infantry action during the Third Battle of Ypres. The infantry action had commenced following ten days of heavy artillery bombardment of the German lines and the damage caused by the shells, combined with the onset of heavy rains and the infamous Flanders mud severely restricted the mobility of infantry soldiers and tanks. After several weeks of battle, Passchendaele village eventually fell from German control on 6th November 1917.
Laurence has no known grave. His sacrifice is commemorated on Panels 4 and 6 at Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres alongside the names of more than 54,000 officers and men whose graves are not known. The memorial, designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield with sculpture by Sir William Reid-Dick, was unveiled by Lord Plumer on 24 July 1927.
The site of the Menin Gate was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through it on their way to the battlefields. Each night at 8 pm the traffic is stopped at the Menin Gate while members of the local Fire Brigade sound the Last Post in the roadway under the Memorial’s arches.
Laurence Anthony Prendiville is also remembered at St. Francis Xavier’s RC College in Everton, Liverpool Society of Chartered Accountants and Birkenhead Civic Memorial. (The latter records that Laurence was in the 7th Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment.)
The National Probate Calendar shows that Laurence’s effects were left to his mother Agnes Mary Monica Prendiville, suggesting that he was unmarried. He was just 22 years of age when he died.
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk (Medal Cards)
www.cwgc.org (Commonwealth War Graves Commission)
www.merseysiderollofhonour.co.uk (war memorials)
www.ancestry.co.uk (Census records, WW1 Pension Records, National Probate Calendar)
www.freebmd.org.uk (registered births, marriages and deaths)
www.familysearch.org.uk (births, marriages and deaths)
www.london-gazette.co.uk (War Office supplements)
www.Britishhistory.ac.uk (Roman Catholic colleges)
The Long, Long Trail (copyright Chris Baker):
1. http://www.1914-1918.net/training_officers.htm (Officer Cadet Units)
2. http://www.1914-1918.net/asc.htm (Mechanical Transport Companies and Divisional Ammunition Parks)