Frank John Rich Dickens  (1882-1913)

In March 1899, after completion of training at No.2 Depot of the Southern Division RA, Frank was posted as Trumpeter to the 16th Company RGA which had arrivd at Malta from Egypt. He was in Malta at the outbreak of war and moved with 16 Co. to South Africa, arriving there on 23 December 1899. The 16th was a Garrison Artillery Company equipped with heavy 'position' guns, capable of firing from static positions at long range. It became one of the technical units in General Buller's 'Natal Army', which, in 1900, fought and finally defeated the Beor forces in Natal.

On 12 February 1900, General Buller crossed the Tugela River, for the fifth time, after suffering devastating defeats at Colenso and Spion Kop in previous months. It was to be his fourth attempt to relieve the besieged garrison of troops in Ladysmith. This time, things went well. He took a series of hills on which the Boers were encamped using a combination of artillery fire to clear the way, followed immediately by committed infantry engagements. This was a foretaste of the 'creeping barrage'  - a tactic which became standard in the 1914-18 war. He possessed a huge superiority in guns and manpower. He had 50 heavy guns and field guns at his disposal at the Tugela, comapred with the Boers 8. These included 'two new 5-inch RGA guns, rushed out from England' and manned by 16th Co. RGA under Major Callwell. They operated at 8 000 yards and played their part in driving the entrenched Boers from the hills near Ladysmith.

The Garrison was relieved on 28 February after a siege lasting 118 days. During the Relief of Ladysmith, 16th Co. fired a total of 1526 rounds. Frank received the 'Relief of Ladysmith' clasp to the Queen's SA medal (although it seems rather unlikely that the young trumpeter was allowed to fire the guns). Also awarded to him for this campaign was the 'Tugela Heights' clasp. In June 1900, Buller successfully captured the Boer stronghold at Laings Nek, the so-called 'Gibraltar' of Natal. Frank received the corresponding clasp. Opposite Laings Nek, two 5-in guns, each weighing 5 tons were hauled up a hill about 700 feet high, one hauled by 64 oxen and one by 400 infantry! Later that year, Buller's and Roberts' troops merged, both officers returned to England before the end of the year and Kitchener became Commander-in-Chief in their place. Frank remained with 16th Co RGA until February 1901 and was awarded a further campaign clasp, 'Orange Free State'. On his discharge from the army on medical grounds in 1910, Frank maintained to the Board that his tuberculosis, diagnosed then, was 'due to exposure in the Field and destruction of clothing during the Harrismith (Orange Free State) drive.'

On 3 February 1901, Frank was posted as a trumpeter to 65th Battery RFA, the battery to which elder brother Charles belonged. They stayed together to the end of the war.

In January-March 1902, 65th Battery was part of Dunlop's column operating in the NE Free State in the last drives against de Wet. Frank received the two further clasps, 'Cape Colony' and 'Transvaal' which Charles also received. The brothers returned to Woolwich with 65th Battery in October 1902. Frank stayed with that battery, of which Charles was Battery Sergeant Major, until posted to 35th Battery RFA on 13 July 1904. During this time, he was twice promoted to acting Bombardier, only to revert back to Driver for misconduct. This pattern of promotion and demotion continued with the 35th Battery. Anecdote has it that he was a 'wild' fellow but a brilliant banjoist.

Frank married Beatrice Pyecroft in Sheffield (twice!) once in a civil ceremony in 1907 and then at a church service a year later (at which his younger brother Ernest was a witness). He was discharged from 35th Battery RFA as medically unfit for further service in 1910 at Clonmel, Ireland. His final rank was Acting Bombardier; again! He was awarded a pension of 8 pennies per diem for twelve months (provisional).

His medical record in the army had been poor - in 1898 he had scarlet fever, followed by enteric fever in SA in 1900 and finally in 1910 'Tubercle of Lung' was diagnosed. The TB, picked up during his army service in South Africa, was the stated cause of death when he died in 1913, aged 30. According to his Discharge papers, his conduct and character while with the Colours was 'very good'. He had also grown to 5ft 4.1/2 inches.

Me that 'ave gone where I've gone
Me that 'ave seen what I've seen
'Ow can I ever take on
With awful old England again.
An' 'ouses both sides of the street
And 'edges two sides of the lane
And the parson an' gentry between
An' touchin' my 'at when we meet...
Me that 'ave been what I've been.

 Me that 'ave watched 'arf a world
'eave up all shiny with dew
Kopje on kop to the sun
An' as soon as the mist let 'em through
Our 'elios winkin' like fun
Three sides of a ninety-mile square
Over valleys as big as a shire
'Are ye there? Are ye there? Are ye there?'
An' then the blind drum of our fire...
An' I'm rollin' 'is lawns for the Squire, me!

                                                             Chant-Pagan by Rudyard Kipling

 Ernest George Dickens (1884-1954)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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