Sapper Frank FURNESS

Royal Engineers
98th Light Railway Operating Company
Service Number:
(Formerly: R.E. 290883)
Date of Death:
18 September 1918 - Died (Egypt)
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Reference:
E. 15.

Personal History:

Frank was born at Townhead, Tideswell, Derbyshire on 25 March 1888, the son of William (Stonemason) and Elizabeth Ann (née MacQueen) Furness. (1891 Census RG 12/2777)  By 1901 (Census RG 13/4358) the family had moved to 14 Lynmouth Road, Eccleshall, Sheffield, where William was employed as a "Stone Mason". Frank had an older brother, William Robert, born in 1881.

At the time of the 1911 Census (RG 14/21233)  Frank was living with his mother at 26 Nunsfield Road, Fairfiled, Buxton, and employed as a "Railway Porter". (Father, William, was boarding with William Shepherd in Litton, Derbyshire, working as a "Stone Mason".)

Frank married Sarah Wardle in the December quarter 1911 at the Chapel-en-le-Frith Register Office. In the June quarter 1912 they had one son, Eric. When Frank enlisted in 1916 they were living at 18 South Street, Buxton, and Frank gave his employment as "Goods Porter, LNWR".  He was 5' 6¾" (1.70 m) tall at the time of his enlistment in 1916. 

After Frank was killed Sarah received a pension of 13s 9d (69p) per week. She re-married, Frank Brown, in the December quarter 1919, and lived at 12A South Street, Buxton.

Military History:
Frank enlisted in the Royal Engineers in Buxton, on the August 1916. His railway background (see Occupation above) probably led him to service with the Royal Engineers. Railway Operating Companies were set up to run the trains, with the tracks being laid by Royal Engineers Railway Construction Companies. In total they consisted of about 200 men, with few Officers. The men called up around this time were railwaymen in civilian life who had volunteered in late 1915 under the Derby Scheme and had their call up heavily deferred due to their Reserved Occupation. In Frank's case he was mobilised on the 15th August 1917.

The 98th Light Railway Operating Company was formed and trained at Longmoor Camp,
Hampshire, and embarked for Egypt on the 17th December 1917 aboard HMS Aragon.
(The Aragon was built in 1905 for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co by Harland and Wolff.

On the 28th December he disembarked from the Aragon at Taranto, and boarded the HMT
Osmanieh. "On her arrival at Alexandria on December 30th, 1917, the ship [Aragon] was
ordered out again. She anchored outside without any protection from submarine attack,
for which she was an easy target. This piece of indiscretion on the part of the authorities
did not remain long unpunished, for the Aragon was torpedoed and sunk by a submarine
with a total loss of 610 persons, of whom 19 were crew, including Capt. Bateman."

However, the Osmanieh did not fair much better. The liner Osmanieh, commanded by
Lieutenant Commander D. R. Mason, was taken over for service as a fleet auxiliary during the First World War. She was carrying troops and medical staff to Alexandria when, at 10.30 a.m. on Monday, 31st December, 1917, she struck a mine laid by UC 34 under the command of Oberleutnant zue See Horst Obermuller at the entrance to Alexandria harbour. She sank very quickly taking with her Lieutenant Commander D.R. Mason, 2 other officers. 21 of its crew, 1 military officer, 166 other ranks and 8 nurses.

'The Times' reported the losses the following day:                                       .... and also the return of the survivors, 11 February 1918

Frank's Service papers show that he continued in service with the 98th Light
Railway Operating Company in Egypt, until being admitted to Hospital on the
27th July 1918. He re-joined his Company on the 3rd August. One month
later he was re-assigned to the "Royal Engineers Records" Company, and
given a new Regimental Number - WR/290477. He quickly took ill, however,
and 15 days later, on the 18th September 1918, he died in the 24th Stationery
Hospital,Kantara, of "Acute Bacillary Dysentery".

As the postcard photo on the right shows, conditions at the Kantara Hospital
were poor, being restricted to tents, which in September in Egypt must have
been most unpleasant for the patients.

He is buried in Kantara Cemetery, but, as the CWGC says about the location:

"Kantara developed into a major base and hospital centre and the cemetery was begun in February 1916 for burials from the various hospitals, continuing in use until late 1920. After the Armistice, the cemetery was more than doubled in size when graves were brought in from other cemeteries and desert battlefields, notably those at Rumani, Qatia, El Arish and Rafa."

Bearing in mind, however, that Frank died in a Kantara Hospital, it is most likely that he was buried in the Cemetery near to where he died.

· Sapper Francis John BOWDER, of the same Company, was killed on board the Aragon and is commemorated on The Chatby Memorial
· Sapper Arthur KITCHEN, also of the 98th Company, died at sea on the same day and is buried in the Hadra Cemetery, Alexandria.
· Sapper George WARRINGTON, 96th Light Railway Operating Company, also died in the same action.

· I am grateful to British War Graves for the photo of Frank's grave
· The Times, 31 January 1917 and 11 February 1918
· The England & Wales, Christening Index, 1530-1980

· A detailed report regarding the loss of the Osmanieh, from which the following information is extracted.
Statement of Sub. Lieut. H.S. Barnes: ‘...At about 10:20a.m. I received the pilot on board. Following him up on to the bridge I questioned the pilot as to the ship docking. The order “slow ahead” had just been given when the explosion occurred.

The Captain [Lt.-Cdr. Mason] and myself standing together were blown through the roof of the wheel house and back on to the deck. He immediately gave orders “stop engines” telling me to clear away the boats...’

Statement of Lieut. Col. P.R.C. Groves, D.S.O.: ‘When the explosion occurred I was standing looking over the rail on the promenade deck, on the port side, close to the steps leading up to the bridge. I immediately ran up these steps on to the bridge and asked the Captain [Lt.-Cdr. Mason] how much time we had. He replied “A few minutes”. I said “Is the order to be, into the water?” He said “yes”...The Captain pointed out to me that the ship was going down by the bow and also told me to get everyone forward. He was apparently thinking of the boilers exploding...Finally, when the boat was level with the water and the forward well deck was nearly full, I turned to the Captain and said “what about it now”. He said “yes, we must be off”. He then ran to the port side of the bridge whilst I went to the starboard...’

The court of enquiry stated the following in their summing up of the incident: ‘We consider the loss was occasioned by striking a mine or mines. For this no blame is attributable to the Captain or officers of the Osmanieh, and their conduct throughout, and that of the crew, with a few exceptions was marked by courage and devotion to duty.’

Link to CWGC Record
Kantara War Memorial Cemetery
HMT Osmanieh
H.M.T. Osmanieh
Spr Frank Furness' Grave
Spr. Frank Furness