They shall grow not old..


Frank Flexney c1913 sepia

Francis William (Frank) was the elder son of Frank and Leah Flexney of Bedminster, Bristol, born in 1884 and was a silverer by trade. He joined the Glos. Volunteer Corps as a teenager and shortly afterwards there was an aborted attempt to join the Somerset Light Infantry; he was discharged by purchase after two weeks; possibly a case of parental disapproval. However he enlisted in the South Wales Borderers in September 1904 and was sent almost immediately to India where served for the next six years. After two years in South Africa, he was discharged to the reserve in March 1912. The photograph shows him about this time, probably in early 1914. Recalled at the outbreak of war in August of that year, he rejoined the 1st Battalion SWB and disembarked in France on 13th August. The regiment saw a little action at Mons and during the retreat, but played a full role in the battle of the Aisne in September. His company was entrenched by some quarries on the Mont Falcon spur, near Vendresse, when a surprise German attack in the early morning mist on the 26th caught them off guard. The war diary recounts that several men fought with their bare hands, one using his dining fork. Frank died that day and is commemorated on the memorial to the missing at La Ferte sous Juarre. He is probably one of the unidentified Borderers buried in the Vendresse military cemetery, close to where he fell.


Oliver Flexney copy

Oliver Edward Noyes was the younger son of Frank and Leah Flexney and was nine years younger than his brother Frank, being born in 1893. An upholsterer by training, his family were eager to keep him from the conflict following his brother’s death and in early 1917 he was working at the Bristol Aeroplane Works at Filton, where the famous Bristol Fighter was produced. However he was conscripted in February of that year and joined the 58th Company Machine Gun Corps. Following training he was posted to Flanders and took part in the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) where he received serious injuries whilst the company were assisting the attack on the Zandvoorde ridge. He died of his wounds on November 2nd, and is buried at Outtersteene cemetery close to the site of the Australian Casualty Clearing Station where he died.



John Williams

John Williams, Fiona’s grandfather, was the eldest son of John and Ellen Williams of Anglesey. John senior was a gamekeeper and the family lived in various places in North Wales, John junior being born in Tremerchion, Flintshire on November 9th 1893. August 1914 found John in Lancashire, working as a collier and he enlisted on 7th August just three days after the declaration of war, joining the Royal Regiment of Artillery, his rank being gunner in the Royal Field Artillery. He was posted to Dundalk in Ireland, and spent the next year there, being promoted to bombardier. On transfer to the 10th Divisional Ammunition Column in July 1915 he reverted to gunner, and on October 4th that year was posted to France. On 1st July 1916 John was with the 56th Divisional Ammunition Column attached to the 756th Trench Battery as the Somme offensive began with an assault on the southern side of the Gommecourt salient. He was killed that day and buried not far from where he fell in the military cemetery at Hebuterne.

Before being posted to France John had a romantic relationship with Augusta Padfield of Blaenavon and his letters to her are still extant. On hearing of her pregnancy he managed, after some delays to obtain a few days leave and returned in order to marry her. However on the day before the proposed marriage, Augusta gave birth to their daughter and was too unwell to leave home. John was detained by the police for overstaying leave and returned to the regiment. The letters become far more poignant after this and his final one, dated 21st June 1916 is headed “Goodbye” and “Excuse my writing, time is short”.



These vignettes are to be published in later editions of the Journal of the Society of Genealogists


Published by

Stephen Bumstead

I'm retired and live in Devon, England. I have been researching my family for forty years and am also the OPC (online Parish Clerk) for Chewton Mendip in Somerset. I have helped transcribe registers for FreeReg and wills for Oxfordshire FHS.

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