Private Frank Beer

Regiment: 123rd Labour Company, Labour Corps
Service No: 73274, formerly 45905 The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment)
Date & place of birth: 4th qtr. 1886 at Heyshott Green, Sussex
Date & place of death: 4 October 1917 (aged 31) near Ypres in Flanders

Frank Beer joined the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) at Byfleet, Surrey, in November 1915. He later transferred into the Labour Corps and was deployed to France in March 1917. He was killed in Flanders later that year. 

Family background

Frank Beer was born in Heyshott in the autumn of 1886. He was the youngest child of Arthur Beer (1844–1902), a general labourer, originally from Wisborough Green and his wife Rosetta née Holden (1845–1913), who was born and raised in Heyshott. They married in Heyshott on 20 June 1868. Although not all their children survived, at the time of the 1891 census the couple were living at Heyshott Green with four sons, Willie (21), Arthur (20), John Thomas (9), Frank (4) and two daughters, Emma (11) and Rhoda (6).

In 1901, the family were still living at Heyshott Green; among their neighbours were John and Alice Miles, whose son Walter is also commemorated on the Heyshott War Memorial. At this time, Arthur was a copse worker and classed himself as an employer. Three sons remained at home; Willie and Frank were both wood hoop makers and John Thomas was a labourer in a sawmill. Arthur died in early 1902 and by 1911, Rosetta was a widow, still living at Heyshott Green, but both Willie and Frank remained at home. Willie was a general labourer and Frank was a labourer for the district council.

After Rosetta’s death in 1913, Frank appears to have moved to Surrey. In 1915 he was living at Sanway Cottage, Sanway Lane in Byfleet. On Christmas Day of that year, at Battersea Parish Church, he married Florence Margaret Lawrence who was born in Battersea in 1883.

Military service

His service records show that Frank joined The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) at Byfleet on 16 November 1915, transferring to 15th Labour Company of the Labour Corps on 2 March 1917.

Although the army in France and Flanders was able to use some railways, steam engines and tracked vehicles for haulage, the immense effort of building and maintaining the huge network of roads, railways, canals, communication systems and moving stores relied on horses, mules and manpower. At the start of the war there was no body of troops specifically designed to undertake these tasks.  As a result many infantry regiments formed labour companies to meet this need, which led eventually to the formation of the Labour Corps. The Corps was manned by officers and other ranks who had been medically rated below the ‘A1’ condition needed for front line services. However they were often deployed for work within range of enemy guns for long periods.

Frank remained in England until 14 March 1917, when he was sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. He was transferred to the 123rd Labour Company on 14 May 1917.

Death and commemoration

His company moved into Flanders and on the 4 October 1917, aged 31, he died of wounds. He was buried at Bedford House Cemetery just south of Ypres in Belgium and his death is commemorated in the Heyshott Memorial Window.

The grave of Private Frank Beer  at Bedford House Cemetery, near Ypres
The grave of Private Frank Beer  at Bedford House Cemetery, near Ypres

Bedford House was the name given by the Army to the Chateau Rosendal, a country house in a small wooded park. Although it never fell into German hands, the house and the trees were gradually destroyed by shell fire. It was used by field ambulances and as the headquarters of brigades and other fighting units.

Other family members and subsequent family history

Frank’s mother, Rosetta, was the younger sister of William Holden, whose grandson, Ernest is commemorated on the Cocking war memorial.

Frank and Florence did not have children. At the time of his death Florence was living in Battersea, at 110 Surrey Lane, Bridge Road West. She never married again following Frank’s death and died in Byfleet in 1948 at the age of 64.

It seems that Florence was not in contact with any other members of Frank’s family, as in the statement of the names and addresses of all the relatives of the deceased soldier in his army service records, she is named as his widow but in the box next to parents, brothers and sisters, the word ‘none’ is recorded.

Of his siblings, Willie and Arthur do not appear to have married. Willie died in 1955 at the age of 85 and Arthur in 1903 at the age of 34.

Emma married William Tiller from Heyshott, in 1908 and had two children Rhoda (1909) and Ena (1910). She moved to Three Bridges after her marriage and died in East Grinstead in 1933.

John Thomas married Mabel Martha Boxall in Midhurst in 1905 and died in 1906. They appear to have had one son Archibald John, born in 1905.

Rhoda married Herbert Egbert Peskett from Heyshott in 1909 and died in Holborn, London in 1939 aged 54. They had a daughter Margaret born in 1912.

 

Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project