HoC - Roll of Honour - Frank William Keen

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Frank William Keen

Frank William Keen was born in Hammersmith on 24 November 1892, the son of Albert Keen (1865 – 1939) and Ellen Keen (nee Radford) (1864 – 1925). His siblings were Nelly May Keen (1886-?), Albert Redford Keen (1890-1975), Lillian Winifred Keen (1897 – 1983, m William Alexander), Daisy Ethel Keen (1889 – 1974) and Harold Leonard Keen (1905 - ?).

The family were living at 39/41 Hampstead Road, St Pancras, at the times of the 1901 census, with Albert Keen’s occupation being given as “cheesemonger manager”. Frank, Albert and Nellie May Keen were all admitted to Cobbold Road School on 6 January 1902, with their address being given as 47 Whellock Road.

By the time of the 1911 census, the family were living at 1 Gordon Road, Chiswick, with Albert being described as a grocer, and Frank’s occupation being given as “dentist mechanic apprentice”.

Albert Keen was a regular advertiser in St Michaels Parish Magazine: “ A. Keen, High Class Grocery & Provision Stores, 1 Gordon Road, Chiswick”. 1 Gordon Road no longer exists, having been bombed in World War 2.

Frank William Keen was sergeant 728 in the 22nd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London) Regiment, and according to SDGW enlisted at Shepherd’s Bush.

According to “The Royal Fusiliers in The Great War” by H.C. O’Neill: “The 22nd (Kensington) Battalion was raised by the Mayor of Kensington, then Alderman William H. Davison. C and D Companies were directly enlisted for service in this battalion ; but A and B Companies were formed as King Edward's Horse, and joined C and D at the White City in September, 1914, to form the 22nd (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers. The battalion combined a very good type of Londoner and a very good type of colonial, and the two amalgamated very successfully. They trained at the White City, Roffey (Horsham), Clipstone Camp, and Tidworth, sailing for France on November 15th, 1915.”

This conforms with the MIC for Frank William Keen, which gives 16 November 1915 as his date of entry into the field of war.

According to the MIC and CWGC, Frank William Keen was killed in action on 28 July 1916, although the report of his death from The Chiswick Times on 11 August 1916 gives a slightly later date:

“Sergeant Keen

We regret to have to add to the list of Chiswick men killed in the great push the name of Sergeant Keen, of the Royal Fusiliers, son of Mr. and Mrs. Keen of Gordon-road, who met an instantaneous death by the bursting of a shell on August 1st. In the course of a letter to the young widow, the officer of the deceased’s company says: “By his death we have lost one of our oldest sergeants, and one whom everybody respected.”

(Despite the reference to the “young widow”, no records of a marriage of Frank William Keen have yet been found).

Delville Wood

The date of Sgt Keen’s death indicates that he was killed at Delville Wood.

From “The Royal Fusiliers in The Great War”:

“On the 20th [July 1916] the 4th Battalion [Royal Fusiliers] moved up to Delville Wood, which saw a number of Fusilier battalions in the next few days. This wood, which the soldiers aptly called " Devil's Wood," was one of the many German positions which were apparently captured many times without ceasing to be the scene of very bitter fighting. The South Africans had their outposts on the outer fringes of the wood on the night of July 15th ; but on the [1 th] a heavy German counter-attack swept away the British troops, and in the recoil only the southern end of the wood could be retained. The following day was occupied by the struggle to clear the wood once again ; and it was in the lull after the fighting had temporarily died down that the Fusiliers took over from the Essex, Suffolk and Welsh Fusiliers in the south-east of the wood.

This [27 July 1916] was the day on which Delville Wood was again overrun. Four battalions of the Royal Fusiliers had their share in this memorable exploit. …,Words fail to do justice to the situation at this moment. It was hot weather. The ground was pitted and torn by shell fire. Dead bodies lay about, and before the troops began to move up the Germans had indulged in a heavy bombardment with gas shells. Fortunately a welcome breeze made the wearing of masks unnecessary.

The position to be assaulted was as difficult as any in the Somme area. The wood was now merely a collection of bare stumps, but the trees which had crashed and the thick undergrowth provided ideal obstacles and cover. The ground seemed to be alive with machine guns, and the German barrage effectually cut off all approach to the wood. The defending troops were the Brandenburgers ; and after the first objective had been captured, numbers of them were taken prisoner.

The barrage lifted at 7.10 a.m., and the first wave, consisting of A and B Companies [of 23rd Battalion], who had formed up in front of the existing trenches when the barrage began, went forward, and with little opposition captured the Princes Street line. D and C Companies had occupied the line vacated by the first wave, and when, at 7.40 a.m., the barrage lifted again, the second wave passed through the first. The barrage had lifted again (8.10 a.m.), and the advance began on the final objective, while the second wave was struggling with a redoubt on the left front

At 11 a.m. the 1st K.R.R.C, who held the exposed flank on the right, were attacked by German bombers. At this moment also began the enemy bombardment of the whole of the wood, and, persisting until midnight, it made life very precarious. Most of the casualties suffered by the 23rd Battalion were sustained in this ceaseless fire. But their position was safe compared with that of the K.R.R.C. The 17th Battalion Royal Fusiliers lay south of the wood with the 22nd Battalion forward on their left. A and B Companies of the 22nd were sent up as carrying parties, and passed the hadquarters of the 17th with S.A.A. and tools. At 1 p.m. a message was sent to the 22nd to reinforce the K.R.R.C. At 2 p.m. A and B Companies of the 17th moved up to Delville Wood, and before the end of the day every available man of the 22nd was thrown into the struggle on the right. At 3.30 p.m. a strong counter- attack was delivered by the enemy on this flank, and the situation was only cleared up by the assistance of the 23rd's bombers and the full remaining strength of the 22nd. The wood undoubtedly justified its nickname on this day. Wherever the men stood they were under shell fire, and it seemed impossible that any troops should be left to hold what had been won.

But at the end of the day the wood was handed over intact; and the 23rd, though they had lost 12 officers (5 killed) and 276 other ranks, came out at night, jauntily enough, smoking German cigars and well pleased with themselves. Theirs had been the straighter task of over- running German positions. They had taken six machine guns and, with the K.R.R.C., 160 prisoners. The 22nd, who had had the less stimulating task of beating off the continued attacks of the enemy and of suffering their shell fire, had possibly achieved a greater thing. Largely owing to them, the flank was held up, and unless this had been accomplished the wood would have been lost almost before it was won. They lost Captain Grant, commanding the brigade machine gun company, killed, 4 other officers wounded, and 189 other ranks killed, wounded and missing. “

Memorial to Frank William Keen
Frank William Keen is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, (Pier and Face 8 C 9A and 16A)

SOURCES
“The Royal Fusiliers in The Great War” by H.C. O’Neill (https://archive.org/details/royalfusiliersin00onei)