Private Thomas Frisby

Frisby Thomas (b)

Private Thomas Frisby

9709, 2nd Bn., Northumberland Fusiliers who was killed in action on 1st October 1915, age 29

Remembered with Honour

Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery  (XXI. B. 10)
Ilkeston War Memorial
Ilkeston Park Cemetery



In 1881, 22 year old Mary Ann Sharp was employed as a live-in domestic servant for the Fox family in Humberstone. Her future husband, 20 year old George Frisby was living and working with his father as an agricultural labourer in nearby Gaddesby. The couple were married in 1883 and made their home at Six Hills, a village a few miles away from George’s parents, where their first child, daughter Eliza, was born a few months later.

The family moved a number of times during the following few years and were living in Bulby, Lincolnshire when their eldest son, JOHN THOMAS FRISBY, was born. The boy was traditionally named after George’s father and usually known as Thomas. He was baptised at neighbouring Irnham on 13th December 1885.

The 1891 Census reveals that the family was living in the farming community of Barton-in-Fabis where 31 year old George was still working as an agricultural labourer. A brother for Thomas, George William, had been born in early 1888, a sister, Alice, in February 1891 and another, May, in 1893. Two years later, in 1895, the youngest child, Lily, was born.

At some time prior to 1901, the Frisby family relocated to Plumtree, Nottinghamshire, where George had found employment as a stockman on a farm. 15 year old Thomas had left home and was working for farmer John Elnor in nearby Gamston.

Thomas enlisted in the 1st Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers in November 1903, soon after the terms of service under army orders (AO) 117/02 had been reduced to 3 years with the Colours and 9 years with the Reserve.  The Regiment was known as the “Fighting Fifth” and 18 year old Thomas served in Mauritius and India. He returned to England in late 1906, having completed his 3 years’ service, and was placed on the Army Reserve. This entailed him attending training on alternate years.

Thomas married Mary Elizabeth Lane in 1907. The marriage was registered at Basford which included the sub-district of Ilkeston, making it possible that Thomas had returned to live with his parents after leaving the army – and that the newly-married couple initially made their home with their in-laws as was the usual practice at the time. Their daughter Lucy was born in Ilkeston in 1908 and her birth registered at Basford.

Frisby 3In 1911, the family were living at 79, Devonshire Cottages, Barrow Hill from where Thomas was working as a Blast Furnace Fitter for the Staveley Coal and Iron Company – and where 1 year old George and 8 month old William had been born.

Eliza had married engine fitter, Charles Skinner, in 1905 and gave birth to her first child, Alice, in Ilkeston in 1908. By the time that their second child was born, in 1910, the couple were living at 43, Devonshire Cottages, Barrow Hill.

It is probable that both Thomas and his brother-in-law Charles Skinner had responded to a recruitment campaign for the Staveley Company’s New Works which offered family homes on the recently built Devonshire Cottages and Villas.

Blast furnace man, 23 year old George William, had married Esther Shipsides in early 1911 and set up home at 13, Shaw Street, Ilkeston; the home in which he remained until his death in 1961.

George and Mary were living at 39, Springfield Gardens, Ilkeston, in 1911, and 50 year old George was working as a labourer for the Ilkeston Corporation. Still at home were their daughters 18 year old May and 16 year old Lily who were both employed as laundry maids. With the family was their 3 year old granddaughter Alice Skinner.

Thomas and Mary suffered a tragedy when their baby son, William, sadly died in 1911. Another son, John, was born to the couple the following year and baptised at the Parish Church of St John the Baptist at Staveley on 2nd May 1912.

With the declaration of war in August 1914, Thomas would have been recalled to the Depot for “kitting out and documentation” and, with other reservists, would then have gone “onto the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion for musketry, drill and P.T. to bring them up to fitness, then drafted as a re-inforcement.”  He arrived in France on 12th September 1914 and joined the 1st Battalion which had suffered heavy casualties at Mons. According to a local newspaper, “early in the campaign, he was invalided home with frostbite and rheumatism, and returned to the Front in the latter end of July”(1915).

Thomas was then posted as part of a draft of 100 men to the 2nd Battalion which had been virtually annihilated on the 24th of May 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres.

The Battle of Loos: Compared with the small-scale British efforts of spring 1915, this attack of six Divisions was a mighty offensive indeed – so much so that it was referred to at the time as ‘The Big Push’.

Amongst the units that had begun the march to hell were the 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers who had boarded buses at a village, ironically named Paradis, which had taken them to the town of Bethune, from where the men had marched the two and a half miles to the village of Sailly Labourse. Fighting had continued relentlessly throughout the 29th of September, the trenches at the Hohenzollern had by this time been pounded by artillery so much that they were barely recognisable. The Germans had attacked the eighty fifth brigade time and again with bombs, nonetheless the men had grimly held on to their positions. During the afternoon the 2nd Northumberland’s had moved nearer to the battle and had spent the night in the village of Annequin. The following day orders had been received to relieve the exhausted 85th before dawn on Friday the first of October. The portion to be taken over by the battalion had been ‘Big Willie Trench’. With the narrow trenches clogged with wounded and leaderless men the relief of 85th Brigade had not gone as planned. Before the battalion had had a chance to survey their surroundings, German bombers had crept down a position known as ‘South Face Trench.’


Reaching the junction of ‘Big Willie’ and a trench named ‘West Face’ the attacking force had divided into two. One had worked its way to the west driving the men of ‘D’ Company back along ‘West Face’. The second party of bombers had worked their way eastwards down ‘Big Willie’ and had subsequently taken a hundred yards of territory from ‘C’ Company. Despite a desperate fire-fight the bombers had been stopped and barricades had been built to contain them. With the four companies of Fusiliers effectively split in two and with no communication between the two halves Brigade Headquarters had immediately ordered a counter attack to retake the lost ground ‘at all costs’, a task easier said than done.

Throughout the day the beleaguered ‘C’and ‘D’ Companies had attempted to push the enemy out of ‘Big Willie’, the battalion’s commanding officer Major Charles Armstrong and several officers had been killed during the ferocious fighting, so too had many ‘other ranks, their bodies littering the by then smashed position. Meanwhile, the struggle for the possession of the Hohenzollern Redoubt and ‘Little Willie Trench’ had continued remorselessly throughout the second and third of October. The remnants of the exhausted Second Battalion had subsequently been withdrawn from the line and placed in reserve at their former campsite at Annequin, where the Battalion had called the customary roll that had disclosed that between the 1st and 4th of October the Battalion had suffered two hundred and fifty three casualties, which had broken down as five officers including the battalion’s commanding officer [Lieutenant Colonel C.A. Armstrong] killed, ten officers wounded. Of the ‘other ranks’, twenty-three had been killed, one hundred and fifteen were wounded, and a further one hundred were posted as missing [believed killed].

Amongst those killed were local men Thomas Frisby and Charles Marsden of the Northumberland Fusiliers. It was not until April 1916 that the local newspaper reported that “after the battle of Loos, Private Thomas Frisby (9709) Northumberland Fusiliers, was reported missing. His wife… has now been notified that he was killed on October 1st 1915. No particulars are given as to the exact manner of his death, and should this meet the eye of any of his comrades, Mrs Frisby would be glad to hear from them.” .“Had he lived another month, [he] would have been time-expired.”

Frisby 2Cabaret Rouge was a small, red-bricked, red-tiled café that gave its unusual name to this sector and to a communication trench that led troops up the front-line. The cemetery was greatly enlarged in the years after the war when as many as 7,000 graves were concentrated here from over 100 other cemeteries in the area.

For much of the twentieth century, Cabaret Rouge served as one of a small number of ‘open cemeteries’ at which the remains of fallen servicemen newly discovered in the region were buried.  The burial returns, held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, reveal that Thomas Frisby was re-buried here after his body was identified by his clothes, boots and a damaged disc.

1914 Mons trioThomas was posthumously awarded the 1914 Star and clasp as well as the British War Medal and Victory Medal.

His name does not appear on the Barrow Hill Memorial plaque but he is remembered on his parent’s grave at Ilkeston Park Cemetery and on the Ilkeston War Memorial.

It is probable that his widow had moved away from the area before the names were inscribed at Barrow Hill.

In 1917, George William Frisby, named his baby son John Thomas in memory of his brother.

 © Ann Lucas

Reference:   “Neath a Foreign Sky” Paul Allen