Slide around Cheltenham and you may encounter Boddington. Once home to an RAF station, but now a sleepy village which extends along lanes with far-reaching views. St Mary Magdalene Church at Boddington stands proudly set back adjacent to the farm. Cattle sound off as I stand and gaze at the medieval church.
Unsurprisingly, there are a couple of World War Two war graves: both from the RAF history from the past. A Flight Lieutenant and a WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force).
Inside the church are signs of more recent remembrance. A Roll of Honour with the names of five local men who failed to return from the Great War. A ceramic poppy of commemoration.
But my eyes are always caught by the ones from that moment. An attempt by a family to commemorate a loved one. No funeral. No chance to say goodbye; except this.
Frank Joseph Arkell.
He was the first name on the Roll of Honour.
Here inside the church at Boddington, his family left a brass memorial plaque to his name.
In proud and loving memory of
Frank Joseph Arkell
2/5th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment
Youngest son of the late Henry and Anne Arkell
Of Butler’s Court in this parish
Who gave his life for his country at St Quentin
France on March 22nd 1918. Aged 24 years
Faithful unto death.
For No. 240961 Private Frank Joseph Arkell has no known grave; his legacy sits on the war memorial at Pozieres. On a panel with over 14,000 unidentified men. Men who were killed in the massive German onslaught of March and April 1918 in the grand Spring Offensive. The 2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment were held up around Holnon Wood, just north-west of St Quentin. Heavy artillery, gas, machine gun fire and offensive operations meant that the Division retreated heavily.
The 2/5th Glosters were a reserve territorial regiment, created for home service until called to France in May 1916 as part of the 184th Brigade, 61st Division.
Frank Arkell went to Wycliffe College in Stroud and afterwards worked as a solicitor’s clerk; and it was this he left to enlist and fight in September 1914. Even though he was supposed to take his law exams that year.
Well over a year after Frank Arkell’s death in May 1919, the local newspaper wrote a story about a gallant Cheltenham soldier lad who died defending his chums.
Few, if any, performed his duties in a more unostentatious manner or met a soldier’s fate with greater heroism than Pte Frank Joseph Arkell, of the 2/5 Gloucestershire Regiment, who has been missing since March 21st 1918.
Attached to the machine gun section, by all accounts he was offered and turned down promotions and commissions preferring to stay in the ranks; not at all ambitious about self-promotion.
An officer, Lieutenant Mansfield who was in charge of Frank’s platoon in March 1918 described the events that led to his loss on the battlefield:
On the second day’s fighting, just after mid-day, we were almost surrounded by the enemy, and the platoon had to retire. The rear was brought by Private Arkell, carrying a Lewis gun and myself, until we found our company commander badly wounded, and stopped to get him under cover. The Germans were advancing, and as we got him down into the quarry, Private Arkell covered us with his gun. I ordered him to come down and get away, as it was impossible to stop the enemy’s advance. I went on with the signaller to follow the platoon through the woods, and though I called several times, and turned back, he did not follow them. He was an outstanding figure in the platoon. I often enjoyed talks with him on literature.
Another man, Corporal Flowers said:
Our company commander was wounded, and there were about four men attending him. Frank Arkell stayed with his gun covering the retreat, and defending the wounded officer and his party. We all admired his heroism, which was typical of him all through. Frank was recommended for a DCM, but owing to the doubt as to his whereabouts and safety could not go through. For this we were very sorry, for all who really knew him knew full well that no honour was too good or high for him. What I admired more than anything else was his quiet and unobtrusive way of doing lofty things. He commanded everybody’s admiration, yet never sought it.
Frank Arkell remains just as he was in 1918; an invisible hero. A man, apparently quiet and unassuming, who at the very end held the line to protect his friends, his comrades and company when facing unimaginable violence. So here his legacy remains at Boddington, a silent memorial to a quiet man who wanted no promotions or commissions, but spoke of books and held on, in the face of fear, until his time was done.
That no grave exists for him perhaps is the tragedy; that his final actions were lost just like the man.
Frank Joseph Arkell – son, brother, fiancé, comrade. 1894-1918.