Queen’s South Africa Medal, Type II Ghost Dates, Clasps: “CAPE COLONY”, “RHODESA”, “ORANGE FREE STATE”, & “TRANSVAAL”, impressed to “LIEUT: E. A. W. FRENCH. VICTORIAN M.R.”.
King’s South Africa Medal, Clasps “SOUTH AFRICA 1901” & “SOUTH AFRICA 1902”, engraved to “LI. E. W. FFRENCH . R.F.A.”.
1914 Star, impressed to “LIEUT. E.W. FFRENCH. R.F.A.”
British War Medal, impressed to “CAPT. E.W. FFRENCH. R.A.F.”
Victory Medal, impressed to “CAPT. E.W. FFRENCH. R.A.F.”
Evelyn Alexander Wilson Ffrench was born in Ballarat, Queensland on the 21st of June 1878 and was the son of Mr. Acheson Evelyn and Marion Ffrench – he had one sister, Valentine Margaret Wilson Ffrench. At some point in his early life, Ffrench moved to Melbourne, Victoria, and worked as an ‘Overseer’ in St. Kilda, an inner-city suburb (per ‘THE ARGUS’ May 2nd 1900). Following military service in the Anglo-Boer War he was engaged to Blanche Violet Watson on the 11th of March 1903 (per Melbourne Lady’s Letter, town Journal, 11th March 1903), later marrying on the 18th December 1908 (per Burke’s Irish Family Records).
Ffrench enlisted as a Lieutenant into the ‘Fourth Victorian Contingent’, or more famously the ‘Victorian Imperial Bushmen’, which was part of the wider second or ‘Imperial’ Bushmen Force that brought together soldiers from all of the Australian colonies. The Victorian Imperial Bushmen was a corps consisting of companies ‘A’ to ‘E’, 5 mounted rifleman squadrons, with a total initial strength of approximately 629 soldiers, with Lieutenant Nicholas William Kelly as commanding officer. On the 1st of May 1900, Ffrench embarked from Melbourne aboard the ‘Victorian’ and landed at Beira, Mozambique on the 23rd. Disembarking at Beira between October 11th 1899 and May 25th 1900, both dates inclusive, was an eligibility criterion for the ‘Rhodesia’ clasp, as evidence by Ffrench’s Queen South Africa medal.
The early stages of their service saw the Victorians split up into two major forces, the soldiers of ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies were taken under the command of N.W. Kelly into the Western Transvaal whilst ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘E’ remained in Rhodesia at Marandellas, Fort Charter, Fort Victoria, Tuli, and Buluwayo under Major Clarke, and the entire regiment was reunited at Cape Colony after the 23rd of April 1901. The ‘Transvaal detachment’ (‘A’ and ‘B’ companies) moved out to Mafeking by rail and played a prominent part in the wider area during August and September, assisting in clearing the enemy out of Ottoshoop, aiding Imperial forces at Zeerust and Jacobsdal, defending a convoy and Lowe’s farm, and assisting the capture of a large convoy at Malopo Oog. In October they formed part of the 2nd Mounted Brigade of the 1st Division, under Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen, and in November saw a lively skirmish at Wonderfontein. The detachment reunited with the other companies on the 23rd of April 1901.
The Victorian Imperial Bushmen finished their service in the war on the 22nd June 1901, embarking at East London aboard the ‘Orient’ back to Melbourne, Australia; their service was noted to be exemplary by British Officers, with reports such as these below:
“The Lieut.-General cannot allow the occasion to pass without expressing to his mounted forces his heartfelt gratitude for the splendid service they have performed for their country. Their courage has been undeniable, and there has been an entire absence of any discontent; the hardships of a campaign, during which the division has trekked over 2,900 miles, having been cheerfully faced.” – Extract from Divisional Order, 16th April, 1901, by Lieut. -General Lord Methuen on the occasion of the departure ‘A’ and ‘B’ companies to Cape Colony.
“Colonel Henniker cannot permit the Victorian Imperial Regiment to leave his command without expressing to them his thanks for the way in which they encountered and overcome all difficulties during the time they have been with the Column and for their gallant conduct on all occasions. The Contingent has made a name for itself which will be second to none among the many fine bodies of men who have given their services to His Majesty from Australia.” – Extract from Column Order, 25th April, 1901, by Lieut. -Colonel Hon. A. Henniker C.B.
“Before the Orient sails, please express to the Victorian Imperial Regiment my best thanks for their services to the Empire whilst in South Africa. I lose them with the greatest regret, and shall always remember with gratitude the good work they have done in this arduous campaign. Please say good-bye to all ranks for me, and wish them good luck.” – Telegram from Lord Kitchener, Commander-in-Chief, 20th April, 1901.
Although his regiment had served throughout the Transvaal and moved onto Cape Colony, then later home to Australia, Ffrench was commissioned in the Royal Field Artillery in November of 1900, thereafter serving as Lieutenant of the R.F.A.’s 83rd Battery. His commissioning is confirmed by the Melbourne newspaper ‘the Australiasian’ Sat 24 Nov 1900 Page 37 as well as a summary of the Fourth Victorian Contingent by Lieutenant Colonel P. L. Murray. Murray states that of the returning 30 officers, Ffrench was the only officer from the Fourth that was commissioned in the Imperial Army:
“The Contingent left on 1st May, 1900, consisting of 31 officers (and 2 supernumeraries), 598 other ranks, with 778 horses and 11 wagons. One officer, 22 others were killed or died; 14 officers, 9 others were transferred; 4 officers, 25 others were struck off in South Africa; 1 officer, 1 other (the other was Private A.T. King per ‘The Australiasian’) were commissioned in the Imperial Army.” P. L. Murray
The 83rd Battery of the Royal Field Artillery long remained in the Eastern Transvaal during the second half of 1900 and would have been in close proximity to the Victorians of the ‘Transvaal Detachment’. Serving so close to one another, it would allow for easy transference from the Bushmen regiment to the R.F.A. upon Ffrench’s commission in November; thus, speculating with this logic, Ffrench was likely present with the ‘A’ and ‘B’ companies rather than those that remained away from the Transvaal. Also, Murray’s summary does not list Ffrench’s entitlement to the ‘Orange Free State’ or ‘Cape Colony’ clasps – these may have been earnt during his service with the R.F.A. as each clasps’ entitlement extended to the 31st of May 1902, and it’s known Ffrench served with the Imperial Army into 1902 by his King’s South Africa medal with both clasps.
After the Anglo-Boer war Ffrench returned to Australia in early 1903, as evidence by his engagement to Blanche Violet Watson on the 11th of March, and he worked as a pastoralist (sheep/cattle farmer) as per British army records. Not much else is known of his pre-WWI years other than that Ffrench was in service with the 83rd Battery of the Royal Field Artillery at the onset of the Great War as evidence by the awarding of his 1914 Star. At the time, the 83rd Battery, amongst the 84th and 85th, was part of the 11th (XI) Brigade and were attached to the 7th (Meerut) Division of the Indian Army, based in India.
Upon news of German aggression into France and Belgium, the XI Brigade was immediately moved to France via Suez, landing at Marseilles in September of 1914. Ffrench was promoted to Temporary Captain effective on the 16th of August 1914 (records state London Gazette 13/9/1914), likely out of need for more officers going into the war. The XI Brigade first saw action at the Battle of La Bassée in October, bolstering the Franco-British forces in allotments of infantry brigades and employed the 60-pounders and howitzers in reserve for counter-battery fire. Following this, the brigade was attached to the 3rd (Lahore) division on the 22nd of November and accompanied the Indian reinforcements at Battle of Givenchy in December of 1914.
Following a bitter 1914-15 European Winter, in which many of the native Indian soldiers of the Division suffered badly, the Lahore Division took part in many conflicts of 1915 on the Western Front; such as Neuve Chapelle, St. Julien, Aubers, Festubert, and Loos – it is unconfirmed which Ffrench was present for. On the 31st of October 1915, orders were issued for the 3rd Lahore and 7th Meerut Divisions to embark from Marseille to Mesopotamia to assist Sir John Nixon’s advance on Baghdad – Ffrench would remain in France, however, as the three Royal Field Artillery batteries (83-85) were needed on the Western Front. Subsequently, the XI were under the command of the 3rd Canadian Division, a newly formed Division under the command of Major-General Malcolm Mercer.
The first major conflict for the 3rd Canadian was the Battle of Mont Sorrel 2nd – 13th June, although they suffered heavy casualties at the onset from massive German heavy artillery bombardment on the Canadian position, including the death of Major-General Mercer. Later, the 3rd would serve throughout the Battle of the Somme in a lesser role due to a loss in military strength. The XI Brigade would then be attached to the 4th Canadian Division in October 1916 until August of the next year, and Ffrench would likely see action in the many of the major conflicts of 1917. Importantly, during the ‘Affairs South of the Souchez River’ that lasted from 3rd – 25th of June, Ffrench was wounded in action on the 9th of June and admitted to hospital.
Following a quick recovery, Ffrench underwent a major change in his military career; on the 21st of June 1917 Ffrench moved from the 83rd Battery, XI Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery into the Royal Flying Corps of the British Expeditionary Forces, joining the 42nd Training Squadron and then later the 56th Training Squadron. After undergoing training at Hounslow then London Colney respectively, Ffrench joined Squadron 66 of the R.F.C. on the 20th of October 1917. The 66th Squadron was formed at Filton, England on the 30th June 1916 and received its first Sopwith Pup on the 3rd February 1917; the squadron were then deployed to Vert Galand in the Somme, France on 12th March 1917. In October, the period at which Ffrench joined the 66th, the Squadron were re-equipped with new Sopwith Camels over the Pups and moved to Italy in November 1917, remaining there until March 1918. During his service in Italy, Ffrench was once more admitted to hospital on the 12th of February 1918, likely a result of wounding in action, and evacuated to back to France on the 28th of February. A medical report on the 19th of March deemed Ffrench unfit for general service and was assigned home service or light duty for 1 ½ months – little specific information is known of his actions (other than appointments/promotions) during this time away from the action.
Upon the formation of the Royal Air Force on the 1st of April 1918, the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service were regrouped into a single aerial warfare force, becoming the largest air force in the world at the time. Ffrench was promoted to “Lieutenant (Honorary captain)” of the Royal Air Force; curiously, an ‘honorary captain’ was a rank held in the Indian army and Ffrench was no long with the Royal Field Artillery (that was attached to the Indian division) – regardless, he would not retain this rank for long. Records state that on the 17th of June he was appointed Temporary Captain, while so employed, and then “relinquished the rank of captain” later on the 3rd of August 1918.
At the beginning of the ‘Hundred Days Offensive’ that marked the beginning of Allied victory in the Great War, Ffrench would once more be wounded in action (or possibly sick?) on the 21st of August and was admitted to the 25th British General Hospital at Hardelot-Plage, France. After this point, Ffrench was reassigned to the 42nd Training Squadron on the 20th September 1918 and move to the “SE area” of the 42nd Training Depot Station.
With the 42nd TDS, Ffrench continued to pilot Sopwith Camels in some manner, likely in a training capacity as the Great War was to end shortly after with the Armistice on the 11th November 1918. At the time, the Royal Air Force had acquired new Sopwith 7F.1 Snipes which were ready for Squadron use several weeks before the war’s conclusion, and following the Armistice formed part of the British Army of Occupation and replaced the Sopwith Camels of the home defence squadrons based in the United Kingdom. Tragically, when piloting in the latter capacity, Evelyn Alexander Wilson Ffrench tragically died on the 23rd of December 1918; reports state that Ffrench, when piloting a Sopwith Snipe, aircraft E8179, appeared to have lost control and nose-dived into the ground.
Evelyn’s body was recovered and he was cremated – his ashes remain at Golders Green Crematorium, Middlesex.
A tragic end to an extensive military career. He was an Australian Lieutenant who served in the Anglo-Boer war and was the only officer in his regiment to be commissioned into the British Imperial Army; he was amongst the few to be in service at the onset of WWI, serving with the Field Artillery then the Royal Air Force, and survived the entire Great War; only to then tragically die after the Armistice.
Group portrait of officers of the 4th Victorian Imperial Regiment Contingent. Identified left to right, back row: Lieutenant (Lt) Charles James Kingsley Boyd; Lt Charles Joseph Conway Mason; Lt Alex George Gilpin or Thomas John Gilpin; Lt Francis William Moseley; unidentified; unidentified Lt; Lt Herbert Healy Pounds; Dr P H Lang; Lt Herbert Arthur Austin Embling; Lt Frederick George Code; Lt Evelyn Alexander Wilson Ffrench.