Second Lieutenant Frank Dean Withers MC, 8th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry
Born on 4th November 1893 in Street, Somerset. Died 1st July 1916, aged 22
Youngest son of Mr. William Patient Withers and Sarah Mary (nee Knight) Withers, Cranhill Road, Street, Somerset. William was a builder. He was a young fellow of remarkable promise. He went from Sexey’s School, Bruton, to the University College, Reading, and had passed his Intermediate Science examination. Went to France on 6th October 1915. He was killed leading his men into action.
He won his Military Cross at Armentieres on 15th/16th December 1915. The award was Gazetted on 21st January 1916.
"Temporary Second Lieutenant Frank Dean Withers, 8th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry.
For conspicuous gallantry near Armentieres on the night of 15th/16th December 1915.
He was in command of the leading party of his battalion in a successful raid on the Germans, and was the first man to jump into their trench. He shot the German sentry and behaved with such cool bravery that the remainder of his party were able to accomplish their task".
He received his Military Cross from the King at Buckingham Palace on 1st April 1916.
The following is the account by 2Lt F D Withers MC on the evenings action which won him the Military Cross,taken from Sexey's School magazine - Issue 78 - Midsummer 1916
Our attack was one of the kind classified under "minor enterprises" for the edification of the British public and that of the Fatherland.
The night happened to be moonlight but the moon went down by one o'clock so there was ample time before dawn. We were all armed with our various instruments of warfare, and to highten the grotesque effect our faces were blackened with a mixture of burnt cork and beer, and we wore our respirators on our heads like turbans.
Punctually at a given hour, we crawled over the parapet and took up our positions ready for the assault. First came men carrying enormous shears, and men in pairs with patent blinds strengthened with strips of wood. Behind these were men with long wooden bridges and ladders, followed immediately by a large crowd of men wearing waistcoats full of bombs. Of course everyone had his bayonet. The officers were variously armed, but all favoured a revolver and a knobstick, while some carried a few bombs in their trouser pockets. All was quiet except for an occasional shot, and even the star shells were infrequent. When all were ready the leaders carefully made a gap in our wire and the whole party moved across no man's land. At length the German wire was reached. it looked very formidable stuff at first sight, but as a matter of fact, it had been knocked about by our shells a day or so previously, so there was very little difficulty in finding a way through. The patent blinds were thrown over the straggling pieces of wire and loose strands were chipped off as the party moved along.
The wire was about 20 feet in width and reached nearly up to the German parapet. It was the worst obstacle encountered but it was not the only one. Immediately behind the wire was a deep ditch half full of water. The leaders waded through the water and silently crawled up the opposite slope which was the German parapet. All the time the voices could be heard in the German trench, but the Huns were far too interested in their own conversation to hear anything else. The bridges were carefully placed across the ditch and gradually more and more men came across and lay down on the parapet. This was a most anxious time as every moment the Hun might have looked over and seen us. The expectation of a bullet in the back has a weird effect. Your face sweats in great drops and while the flesh of your back seems to ripple up and down!
After what seemed ages the first British shells went over and over we went with it. The poor Hun was terribly frightened. There were three together opposite the raiders, one was shot and the other two tried to escape. One of these couldn't run fast enough and was stabbed in the back, but the other was rather too quick.
Our shells were dropping with beautiful precision in a large semicircle all round, so that the Germans were rounded up like sheep with a fence of shells on one side and a fence of bayonets and bombs on the other. The bombers rushed along the trenches throwing bombs as they went and finally holding all the roads along which enemy reserves might come. Then the interesting work started. Men in little parties raided dugouts, taking prisoners and looting. After everything of any value, military or otherwise had been taken, a few bombs were rolled along the floor to complete the damage. One dugout contained a beautiful specimen of a Hun. He had his hands up ready to receive the visitors and his cries for mercy were most amusing. It was very difficult to move him at all and attempts at conversation never produced the right results. One shouted "Gehen sie aus!" which resulted in the Hun removing his belt. A gentle reminder with the butt of a revolver and a little bayonet practise on his anatomy, eventually moved him, and he was led out like a lamb and hoisted over the parapet into the arms of our stalwart police.
The time was all too short, and in the midst of all the looting, whistles sounded to return, and everyone cleared out as quick as possible, carrying back their trophies as best they could. They were just in time. Hardly had they regained their own trenches, when the German artillery woke up and every gun for miles around which could be brought to bear poured shell after shell into our trenches. It was a wonderful sight. The sky was ablaze with light, and the path of shells seemed alight with flames, whilst slow moving bombs came arching along dropping sparks in their trails. There can be nothing more terrible than shelling at night, but very little damage is done. Often shells drop within yards without entering the trench, and the only result is a shower of earth which flies up in all directions. All the loot was collected and examined. It proved most instructive and valuable, while the prisoners all had a tale to tell, which if not always true was very interesting.
This is the kind of thing which the British Tommy delights in and his one cry is "why can't we get at the blighters?" Tommy is a really good sort!
The wreath laid by the school at the Thiepval Memorial in November 2012