Sergeant Francis Abbott
36th/33rd Battalion, AIF
Service number: 3170
Born: 29 January 1893, Penrith, NSW
Died: 31 August 1918, Peronne, France
Frank Abbott came from a large family in the Penrith area that was very well thought of locally. Frank attended local schools before taking a job with a local store. He attended the local Anglican Church and stayed involved with the Sunday School, leaving them £25 in his will. He played the violin and achieved the rank of Lieutenant in the local cadet unit. He was keen to serve his country and joined the Instructional Unit at Liverpool in October 1915, becoming a musketry trainer and Acting Staff Sergeant Major. His enlistment applications were denied until he was finally permitted him to join his brothers-in-arms in 1917. His overseas service was short – he was in the trenches through periods of intense fighting and was recommended for a gallantry award – and came to an end in the battlefields of the Somme near Peronne in August 1918.
Francis Arthur Abbott was born at Penrith NSW on 29 January 1893 to Joseph Abbott and Mary Ann Mitchell, both of whom were born in England, and who were married at St Silas’ Waterloo in February 1872. He was the second youngest of their seven surviving children and the youngest son. He was the only one of the four sons to enlist – his brother Joseph was exempted from military service in October 1916 to keep Frank’s grocery business going and to look after their elderly parents, James and Albert worked on the railways like their father. Though coming from a family of railwaymen, Frank had chosen a different life and worked as a storeman for the Nepean Cooperative Stores until setting up for himself in March 1914 as a grocer and produce merchant.
Items in the Nepean Times newspaper indicate that he was the Honorary Secretary of the Nepean Orchestra, a member of the local Freemasons and the Druids and was secretary of the St Stephen’s Bible Class.
In October 1915 he joined the 3rd Australian Infantry Regiment as a staff instructor. The Nepean Times reports in his obituary on 21 September 1918 that Frank had attempted to enlist in the Australian Imperial Forces five times but had been declined as ‘his services were required at home as an Instructor in Musketry’. His application finally succeeded on 15 February 1917, when he officially enlisted in the AIF at Liverpool aged 24 and one month with service number 3170 and the substantive rank of Sergeant.
Sergeant Abbott sailed from Sydney aboard the A24 HMAT Benalla on 10 May 1917 but was admitted to hospital aboard ship suffering from bronchitis on 3 June 1917. Upon disembarkation at Plymouth on 19 July, he was attached to the 9th Training Battalion and marched out to Tidworth and then Aldershot, where he attended Bayonet Fighting and Physical Training schools, qualifying as ‘good’.
He shipped out to France on the 18 December and was taken on strength of the 36th Battalion, stationed at the Ypres Salient in Belgium, on Christmas Day 1917. The 36th Battalion (part of the 9th Brigade, 3rd Division AIF) had just returned to the front at Houplines near Armentieres from relief at
Hollebecque Camp when Frank joined them. They suffered through sporadic artillery fire with fog and poor visibility until being relieved again by a British battalion from on New Year’s Eve 1917.
In a letter home, Frank explained that they had one meat-free day and one bread-free day per week, due to shortage of provisions.
For the month of January 1918 the 36th Battalion were treated to a period of rest at billets in the Meteren-Merris area and the Commanding Officer remarked that the men were fatigued. Baths, clean clothes and training sessions were interspersed with route marches and football games. The Battalion was excused from a timber cutting duty because they had had a ‘trying time in the trenches’. The weather was hard, with thaws and heavy rains reported and Frank Abbott came down with Trench Fever after barely a month with his Battalion. On 30 January 1918 he reported sick to the 9th Field Ambulance and was transferred through the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station to the 8th Stationary Hospital from where he was shipped back to England aboard the HS Cambria on to be admitted to Middlesex War Hospital at Clacton-on-Sea Essex. Upon discharge from Clacton-on-Sea on 22 February 1918, he was marched in to 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Dartford for three days and then on to No 3 Command Depot at Hurdcott (a Group Clearing Hospital near the village of Fovant on the Salisbury Plains, Wiltshire), thence to the Overseas Training Brigade at Longbridge Deverill (north west of Salisbury) before shipping out from Southampton to re-join “A” Company of the 36th Battalion, where it had been repositioned to Villers-Bretonneux on the Somme, on 18 April 1918. Two days later the Battalion was moved back from the Front Line to La Houssoye for a break.
The 9th Brigade had been involved in heavy fighting in the trenches during April 1918 and had suffered many casualties, including their CO Lieutenant Colonel Milne DSO and other members of Battalion Headquarters staff. The decision was made to disband the 36th Battalion and distribute the various companies to the 33rd, 34th and 35th Battalions to bring them up to strength, as reinforcements were not arriving in enough numbers to replace those lost. Frank’s “A” Company was transferred to the 33rd Battalion on 30 April 1918, where they rotated in and out of the trenches for the next few months. Frank wrote to his mother about the experience of waiting for the jump and the exhilaration of going over the top. He referred to it as being ‘in the game’.
In August 1918 the Battalion was stationed along the Somme River and participated in a number of major actions (8-9 August near Aubigny and 22 August near Bray-sur-Somme), always pushing further east. It was in the action of the 22nd that Sergeant Francis Arthur Abbott was nominated for a Distinguished Conduct Medal for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’ while his officer and platoon sergeant were wounded. No medal appears to have been awarded however, despite his heroic efforts. The Battalion moved up to Suzanne thence to Curlu in preparation for the next action at the Battle of Bouchavesnes on 31st August.
On this day the Battalion had their hardest fighting to date according the unit diary and in that action on 31 August 1918, just outside the town of Peronne, Sergeant Francis Arthur Abbott was killed. A letter from one of the men in his Company to his family told that he had been shot in the head and died instantly, and it is recorded that he was buried in the field by Rev W Burkett on 9 September though his body was never recovered. He was 25 years and seven months old.
- Honor Roll, St Stephen the Martyr Anglican Church, Penrith
- Honor Roll, Penrith Superior School
- Honor Roll, Lodge Nepean, Penrith
- Honor Roll, Memory Park, Penrith
- Australian Memorial , Villers-Bretonneux
National Archives of Australia: ABBOTT F A