Sub-Lieutenant Frank Arthur George Wallis(20) – Killed in Action

HM CMB 33A, 12th April 1918

H.M.S. Pasley

Synopsis of Life and Military Service

Frank was born in Tunbridge Wells on 19 October 1897. His father Frank Roberts Wallis was the village post master in Burgess Hill, Cuckfield.

Little is know about his childhood, but Frank became a Temporary Midshipman in the Royal Navy on 10 August 1915 and was assigned to HMS Pasley on 19 July 1916 – a new Admiralty class destroyer which had just been built. The Pasley joined the Thirteenth Destroyer Flotilla of the Grand Fleet. During his time with Pasley, Frank suffered with an abscess on his left knee.

On 16 September 1917, Frank was the Officer of the Watch on the Pasley, which was escorting a convoy from Norway to Lerwick. The weather was foul and they had become separated from the convoy. At around 2.30am lookouts spotted torpedoes approaching the ship. Frank immediately ordered the helm ‘hard a port’ and the engines to full ahead. Of the two torpedoes that were fired at the Pasley, the first one missed and the second hit the starboard side but did not explode.

In avoiding the torpedoes Frank spotted the wash of a ship on the Pasley’s starboard side. He ordered the helm to midships with the intention of ramming what must have been an enemy submarine. As the Captain appeared on the bridge the submarine began flashing a recognition light and the Leading Signalman on watch, R H Pattenden, shouted out “It’s one of ours”. Although avoiding action was attempted it was too late. The Pasley struck the submarine two-thirds of the way along from her coning tower to stern. The submarine immediately upended and sank by the stern. There was only one survivor: Stoker William Alfred Drake of His Majesty’s Submarine G9. 

Submarine G9

Court of Enquiry into the Loss of His Majesty’s Submarine G9

Pasley suffered extensive but not critical damage to her bows, and was able to continue her voyage to Lerwick; she was later repaired and returned to the fleet. A Court of Enquiry into the loss was held aboard HMS Indomitable on 20 September 1917. The President of the Enquiry was Captain Ernest K Loring RN of the Indomitable and Captain Bertram S Thesiger CB CMG of HMS Inflexible.

From Stoker Drake’s evidence it appeared the G9 had been ‘stalking’ the Pasley for 15 minutes before firing her torpedoes. The Court found that no blame could be attached to Pasley, concluding “that the process of reasoning which led the captain of HM Submarine G9 to mistake HMS Pasley for a U-boat is, and must remain, unexplained”.

Admiral Beatty forwarded the report to the Admiralty and concurred that no blame was attributable to the Pasley. In response the Admiralty requested that the Commander of the Pasley, Commander Charles R Ramsey be directed to inform Frank  that the action taken by him “was the right action to take under the circumstances and that its result though so deeply to be regretted is evidence that it was taken with commendable promptness and precision and that it was commendable in spite of its very regrettable consequences”.

© The National Archive.

Death

In April 1918, the Royal Navy planned an audacious attack on the harbours of Zeebrugge and Ostend to counter a German U Boat threat. Due to take place on the night of 11th/12th, the operation was postponed just after midnight because the wind, vital for the covering smokescreens, died away and then began to blow from the south. By now Frank was a Temporary Sub Lieutenant on HM Coastal Motor Boat 33A.

Frank’s boat, commanded by Lieutenant Robert Angus RNR, became detached from the main force, and ran aground on shoals near the entrance to Ostend harbour. The boat was fired on by shore batteries, abandoned and drifted ashore, where it was captured by Germans.

Photograph of coastal motor boat HMS ‘CMB 33A’ (1918) wrecked on the beach at Ostend after being hit by shore batteries on 12 April 1918

 Inexplicably, and against orders the commanding officer had confidential documents about the raid on board and failed to destroy these or his boat and the Germans were able to learn much about the planned attacks (the first of which eventually took place on 23 April).  Frank’s service record states that he drowned. Frank’s body was recovered off Dunkirk three days later. None of the five other crew of HMCMB 33A survived.

Frank is buried at Dunkirk Town Cemetery, Nord, France.

Family

Frank Wallis was born on 19 October 1897 at Tunbridge Wells.

The following information has been obtained from the 1901 and 1911 Census :-

  • Father – Frank Roberts Wallis, born 17 March 1868, died c.1955.
  • Mother – Edith Davey or Wallis, born 12 May 1871.
  • Sister – Edith Mary Wallis, born c.1899.
  • Brother – Eric A Wallis, born c.1903.
  • Brother – Owen R D Wallis, born c.1907.
  • Sister – Lily K Wallis, born c.1909.

Addresses

Records show that Frank is known to have lived at the following addresses :-

  • 1901 – Post Office, St Johns, London Road, Burgess Hill, Keymer, Cuckfield, Sussex.
  • 1911 – London Road, Burgess Hill, Keymer, Cuckfield, Sussex.

Medals

Frank Arthur George Wallis was awarded the 1914-15 Star, Victory and British War Medals.

Memorials

Frank is remembered on the St John’s Parishoners Memorial in Burgess Hill, West Sussex.

Links to Additional Information

References

Groups

Contributor:-

  • Trevor Torkington
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