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Ison Frisby (1879-1954)

Leicester man served with 10 DLI

This is the story of 70521 Private Ison Frisby, a Leicester man who served during the Great War and its aftermath with the 14th, 10th, 15th and 1st/9th Battalions, The Durham Light Infantry. It has been recreated from census data, historical information relevant to his local area, his entry on the Durham Light Infantry British War Medal and Victory Medal Roll, surviving service records of comrades with adjacent service numbers, and the relevant battalion War diaries.

1879 to 1901: Background and early life

Ison Frisby was born in the third quarter of 1879 in the growing industrial city of Leicester, to Richard G (or C) Frisby of Loughborough and Eliza Frisby. In 1880 they were living at 2 Heanor Street near the centre of the city with their six children. In 1891, aged 11, he was living with his father at 93 Clipstone Street, Leicester, in the Highfields District, in the household of his brother John A Frisby, a journeyman butcher, and John’s wife Annie. By 1901, his occupation was recorded in the census as a labourer on the Great Central Railway, and he was resident in Farnham House, Dunton Street, in the semi-industrial Woodgate area of Leicester, in the household of the widowed Lucy Scott (to whom he is described as a brother).

1902 to 1911: Married life

He married Emily Lindley, some four years younger than him, in the second quarter of 1902. The marriage was registered in Leicester. They had one child, Grace Catherine Frisby, born in 1903. By 1911 he was employed as a shoe laster at a boot manufacturers in Leicester, whilst his wife was employed as a cigar snipper. The family lived in a four-room house at 39 Willow Bridge Road, Leicester. Footwear manufacture was a major industry in Leicester at the time, by 1901 employing 17,700 males over the age of 10 (in comparison, the famous shoemaking centre of Northampton only employed 11,167 in at the time) and that number continued to increase over the decade.

1914 to 1915: Leicester industry in wartime

On the outbreak of war Ison Frisby would have been around 35. Soon after war broke out the shoemaking industry in Leicester was inundated with demand for its products (much as Northampton was), against the background of the loss of a fifth of its complement of male employees in the first six months of war owing to mobilisation. In an effort to maintain and expand production, war bonuses were offered to workers and certain categories of worker such as lasting machine operators (Ison Frisby was a shoe laster in 1911) were made Reserved Occupations. Assuming he remained in the industry, it may have been factors such as this which influenced him to remain on the home front until late 1915 to early 1917.

End 1915 to 1916: Joining the Army

Judging by the record of others with similar service numbers (in particular 70519 Herbert Henry Dennis) his military career began in one of two ways. He may have attested for deferred (“Class A”) service at Leicester under the “Derby” or Groups scheme, probably in November to December 1915, remaining in the Section “B” Army Reserve until required. Alternatively, he may have been conscripted under the Military Service Act, when conscription was extended to married men in June 1916 under the second Military Services Act. Given his age and married status, under the Derby Scheme he would have been in Group 42 (Class 42 under the Military Service Act), consisting of married men born in 1879. Mobilisation for this group was proclaimed on 13 May 1916 with effect from 13 June, although men could be called-up after this date up to and including August 1916, when the call-up of the groups was completed. If a conscript, he would have been deemed to have been enlisted from 24 June 1916, the day appointed by the Act, and then been called up at some appropriate point later. In either situation it was possible for either the man in question or his employer to appeal for a deferment, or further deferment, of service through the Leicester Borough Military Service Tribunal, which sat twice weekly in the Town Hall, and from that to the Leicester Borough Appeal Tribunal. This is possibly what happened in order to defer the start of Ison’s service until the end of 1916. Unfortunately the records of the Leicester tribunals no longer exist to validate this.

January 1917: Mobilisation

Either way, he is likely to have been called-up between 1 and 2 January 1917, reporting with a number of other Leicestershire men, immediately to the Leicester Regiment Depot, there to receive a medical examination and his regimental number (probably in the 33800 to 33900 series). He would then have been sent, with a rail travel warrant, within two to three days to join the 2nd Training Reserve Battalion at Rugeley Camp and receive a new regimental number (probably in the 5/47xx series) associated with his new battalion.

Early 1917: Training with the 2nd Training Reserve Battalion (formerly 17th (Reserve) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry)

The 2nd Training Reserve Battalion was part of the 1st Training Reserve Brigade, and had formerly been the 17th (Reserve) Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry. Raised in Barnard Castle, County Durham in October 1914, it became the 2nd Training Reserve Battalion on 1 September 1916, whilst at Rugeley Camp, Cannock Chase, in Staffordshire. The 1st Training Reserve Brigade contained, alongside two former reserve battalions from the Durham Light Infantry and two from the North Staffordshire Regiment, the former 10th (Reserve) Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment, and it is possible that this might have influenced the decision to send the new recruits from Leicestershire to this brigade for training. (The 10th Leicesters and 17th DLI had shared Deerbolt Camp, near Barnard Castle, between June and September 1915, before proceeding to Rugeley.)

March 1917: Joining the British Expeditionary Force; 14th and 10th (Service) Battalions, DLI

After a seemingly scant ten weeks’ basic training at Rugeley, Private Frisby would have been judged fit and ready to be sent overseas and became part of a draft posted to join the British Expeditionary Force. In his case this was effected, probably on or about 25 March 1917 by transfer to the 14th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, when he would have received his DLI regimental number of 70521 and, because he was entering a theatre of war, made his Will. Going by the records of others in the same draft he would have travelled via Folkestone to Boulogne before making his way to Etaples and was most probably still at the depot (35 Infantry Base Depot, undergoing training at the infamous “Bull ring”) when he was diverted from the 14th and instead posted to the 10th Battalion, 43rd Infantry Brigade, 14th (Light) Division under Lieutenant-Colonel Hubert Morant, part of General Allenby’s Third Army. He would probably have joined them in the field on or about 16 April 1917.

April and May 1917: The ‘Shiny Tenth’ and the aftermath of Arras

At this time, the 10th Battalion had recently returned from the trenches by Arras, having taken part in the assaults on the Hindenburg Line (Nice Trench and the Blue and Brown Lines near Wancourt) on the opening day of the First Battle of the Scarpe, the first day of the Arras offensive. Although successful in its attacks, the battalion suffered in excess of 100 wounded on 9 April, Easter Monday 1917, and over 120 casualties on the 10th. During its rest at Sus St Leger in the Manin district, when Private Frisby is likely to have joined it, the battalion was training and firing musketry courses at Ficheux Wood, subsequently relieving 151st Brigade in the area Ronville to Telegraph Hill, where the battalion was mainly engaged in salvage work (including recovering ammunition, grenades etc for battalion use) in the vicinity of the old German front line. The battalion was then employed, with the rest of the Brigade, as divisional reserve in Niger Trench for the failed attack by the 41st and 42nd Brigades on the Wancourt Line, part of the Second Battle of the Scarpe, which took place on 3 and 4 May. ‘C’ and ‘D’ companies went into the line on 7/8 May, and made nightly patrols, whilst ‘A’ and ‘B’ companies were in reserve and it is possible that Private Frisby (who was in ‘C’ Company as at 29 July and so may have also been there at this time) had his first experience of front line service at this point.

June 1917: Divisional Rest

After further spells in the line, the Brigade moved out via Reserve Brigade Camp, Beaurains, Beaumetz and Saulty to the Divisional Rest Area at Bus-les-Artois in the middle of June for rest, particular orders being given regarding the cleanliness and order of the trenches and shelters left and the handing over of trench stores. March turnout (including the tidiness of packs and availability of Small Box Respirators and P.H. (Phenate Hexamine) Helmets) and discipline on the march were also addressed, a letter in relation to the latter from the Brigadier-General Commanding being read out to all ranks at Parade at the commanding officer’s instruction before setting off. In rest the battalion occupied itself with cleaning, inspection, various training, saluting drill, Church Parade and entertainments by the Pom-Poms (a theatrical troupe?) and the battalion’s band, and a divisional horse show in which the battalion took two prizes. Two officers were also detailed to observe a Platoon attack at the Third Army Infantry School at Auxi-le-Chateau and early the following month the battalion took part in brigade tactical schemes, in which the battalion did well, and a field day. The final day before mobilisation parade on 9 July was a holiday including sending off a party of thirty to Delville Wood (where the battalion had been heavily engaged at the end of August 1916) and games in camp.

July 1917: Preparations for Third Ypres

Thereafter, the division moved to Gezaincourt and Doullens to join IX Corps of Second Army at St Jans Capel, near Bailleul, for more training, taking up the rest of the month, and a General Inspection by the Second Army Commander, General Plumer on 26 July. (As a matter of interest, the companies of the battalion at this time were all wearing a mixture of leather (438 sets) and webbing (311 sets) equipment, and part of the instructions for the inspection concern inter-company exchanges to secure that only ‘A’ Company wore leather equipment so as to present a uniform appearance!) As of 29 July 1917, Private Frisby was in ‘C’ Company, one of four men (one from each company) detailed to remain behind under 14 Area Commandant in the event of an advance and guard and collect stores.

August 1917: The 10th Battalion at Inverness Copse

From 9 August the battalion moved via Caestres and Abeele to Dickebusche prior to going back into the line at Inverness Copse astride the Menin Road East of Hooge, marching off from Zillebeke Bund on 21 August in order to participate in the Battle of Langemarck. After taking casualties from both gas and shell en route, the four companies were distributed as follows; two to hold the original front line after the assaulting battalions had left it (in ‘A’ Company’s case, the original front line South of the Menin Road), one company (probably ‘B’) to follow the right assaulting battalion to form a defensive flank if needed, and one company in reserve. ‘B’ Company, following the assault on the right of the line pushed on as far as the Dry Lake (Company HQ) and one platoon got as far as Harenthage Chateau, capturing the garrison of the chateau but suffered severe casualties and was forced by 10am to withdraw back to the Dry Lake. Nevertheless, the two platoons of DLI defenders were able to maintain the line for two days, beating off an enemy attack on the night of the 24th and then able to spare a platoon to more or less re-establish the centre of the line.

Whilst the action around Harenthage Chateau was taking place, two platoons of the Reserve Company were sent to Inverness Copse before 9am on the morning of 22 August in support of the left flank of the much-depleted Somerset Light Infantry and dug in just outside the wood at its Northern edge. The copse and its right flank was further reinforced throughout the day and evening by A Company, the other two platoons of the Reserve Company and a further platoon, followed that night by the rest of the company holding the original front line North of the Menin Road. The two platoons of the Reserve Company at the position outside the wood held on through the 23 and into the night of 24 August, in spite of friendly fire from a British tank on the night of the 22/23 and shelling by their own artillery. Finally, around 4.30am on the night of the 24 August, the survivors withdrew to join Captain Jerwood’s Company on their right in the face of continued shelling and the withdrawal of flanking companies following enemy attack with flamethrower, machine guns and grenades. Meanwhile, a party of men collected by Second Lieutenant Dennison re-established the line to the South of the Menin Road and, reinforced by two platoons of the 9th Battalion, the Rifle Brigade, provided flank protection to the left of Captain Jerwood’s Company (probably, from the context, ‘A’ Company) through the night and into the following day. Jerwood’s Company and the survivors of the Reserve Company continued to fight-off repeated enemy attacks with Lewis Gun fire, rifle fire and rifle grenades until, at 3.30pm on the afternoon of 24 August, the defenders of this position and those on its flanks had to withdraw to the Northwest corner of the wood (50 yards Northwest of Tank Trap) in face of heavy casualties inflicted by persistent British shellfire. This was the only part of the wood retained by nightfall on 24 Augut. By this time, the DLI members of the flanking party had been reduced in number from 30 to 6 and the Rifle Brigade from 33 to 5.

Relief by the 7th and 8th Rifle Brigade took place on the night of 24/25 August. Lessons learnt, and noted in the War Diary, included the insufficiency of the issue of 120 rounds SAA per man (“Calls for SAA were the first and most continuous made”); reference was also made to the quality of platoon commanders and the insufficient number of bearers for the wounded. The War Diary records also a remarkable exploit whereby a man of the Reserve Company posted just outside the Northern edge of the wood was captured during the 4.30am attack on 24 August was induced by two of his captors to take them over to the British lines that evening, which he did dressed in German equipment and armed with a German rifle. This man was noted in a later account by Colonel Morant as Private Warden. The captors-turned-prisoners were said to be from the 9th Bavarian regiment.

Of the 20 officers and 608 other ranks engaged, the battalion suffered 14 officer and 355 other rank casualties in the action, killed, wounded, gassed and missing. Of these, ‘C’ Company suffered the worst casualties, with 10 killed, 58 wounded, 25 gassed and 18 missing. The survivors proceeded to Zillebeke Bund and thence by ‘bus to Devonshire Camp near Ouderdom. Whilst in rest, between new drafts and the return of casualties the battalion returned to a strength of 19 officers and 583 men by 31 August. It was never to grow larger. The recently-promoted Brigade commander, Major-General Wood inspected the battalion on 31 August and said he was well satisfied with it in the recent actions. A number of men were recommended for gallantry medals for the action, notably those men who had acted as platoon leaders after their officers had been killed or wounded and the battalion signallers and runners, but Colonel Morant professed himself disappointed with the number awarded.

Autumn and winter 1917: back into the line at Passchendaele

After Inverness Copse, the battalion spent most of the month of September resting at De Seule and then Ravelsberg near Neuve Eglise, engaging in route marching, instruction and training and enjoying the baths. A return to the line on 20/21 September saw much artillery activity (4.2s, 5.9s and ‘Whizzbangs’) and trench mortar fire, working up to a full barrage on the 23 September. Much enemy aerial activity was observed throughout the period. The battalion returned to support trenches East of Messines on the 24/25 September but the shelling continued. The battalion found working and carrying parties daily until relieved on 28 September; during this period ‘C’ Company experienced 1 other rank killed and another wounded. The beginning of October was spent moving from Westoutre to La Clytte and thence to Bedford House to go into support at Sanctuary Wood, where they relieved the 4th Battalion, the Gloucester Regiment on 11 October, spending mid-October in the front line at Cameron House and then the rest of the month at Bedford House, ‘C’ Company’s carrying party suffering 5 wounded on the 22 October, and then rest at Berthen from the afternoon of 30 October. November was spent training, first at Berthen and then St Omer, moving to St Jean on 4 December. The battalion then entered the line at Passchendaele on 9 December, after the poor weather finally led to the closure of the battle. The relief was difficult, moving off being delayed, by order, until 5pm and not completed until 1.30am on the 10 December; many men fell into shellholes due to shattered duckboards and, whilst four were wounded, 11 other ranks went missing. By the time their first stint in the trenches at Passchendaele had ended, after relief by the 5th Battalion, King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, 1 officer and 34 other ranks had succumbed to Trench Foot. The battalion was back in the line by midnight on 14/15 December. After relief by the 8th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps at 10.30pm the battalion marched to Wieltje and entrained for B Camp, Vlamertinghe and then Zudausques in the Pas-de-Calais, where they spent the rest of the month resting and training, keeping the Christmas holiday on 31 December, when the whole division was out of the line. The battalion suffered 110 other rank and 5 officer casualties during its stay in the Passchendaele sector.

January 1918: training, reorganisation, in and out of the line

Having proceeded to ‘Edgehill’ near Beur-Somme on 2 January, the battalion occupied itself with further training and inspections amid the snow and freezing weather. Responding to a brigade order of 21 December, the battalion also took the opportunity, on 10 January, to reorganise its companies on a basis of four companies of four platoons each, just in time to receive a further order to reorganise on a three platoon per company basis on 15 January. Military activity was broken up by a range of competitions including cross-country runs, a brigade wiring competition (won by ‘C’ Company’s wiring team) and Army Rifle Association competitions at battalion, brigade and divisional level on 12, 16 and 18 January respectively, No.5 Platoon, ‘B’ Company winning the first two and coming second in the latter. On 22 January the battalion moved out, arriving in Mesnil-le-Petit and Mesnil-St-Nicaise on 23; the battalion war diary noted that they were moving through evacuated country with most of the villages “burnt out by the Boche”. On 26 January the battalion took over the line at Montescourt from the French 414th Regiment; this appears to have been a disappointment, the trenches being recorded as very muddy and needing fire-steps making. There was desultory enemy shelling and some aerial activity until relieved on 1 February.

February 1918: The 10th Battalion disbands

In February 1918 there was a general reorganisation of the infantry component of the British Army to make better use of the dwindling stocks of manpower. The 10th battalion itself had received no reinforcements since September the previous year, after the fighting at Inverness Copse. On 2 February, whilst in camp at Haute Tombelle, the order was received and on 4 February 1918, after nearly three years’ service on the Western Front, the 10th Battalion was disbanded. The men paraded at 6am on the 4 February and were split into six parties, ‘A’ Company going to 1st/5th DLI , ‘B’ Company to the 2nd/7th and 1st/8th DLI, ‘C’ Company to the 15th and 1st/8th DLI, and ‘D’ Company to the 1st/6th and 1st/8th DLI. 2nd DLI got the runners, best NCOs and the band. It seems likely therefore that Private Frisby’s transfer to the 15th Battalion took place at this time, being part of a draft of four officers and 116 other ranks joining the 15th battalion whilst training at Lieramont on 3 February, preparatory to going into the line East of Epehy on 7 February.

February to May 1918: active service with the 15th Battalion in the face of Operation Michael and Operation Blucher

After a quiet week in the line at Epehy, the 15th battalion spent a fortnight at Haut Allaines before going into Divisional Reserve at Lieramont from 1 March to 21, when it became embroiled in Operation Michael, the German attack on the Somme. Having suffered around 600 casualties in the ensuing days, including its commanding officer, the battalion, reinforced by a draft of 268 Other Ranks on 1 April, moved up to the Ypres sector with the 64th Brigade on attachment to 9th Division, and there took over the line at Wytschaete on 13 April, suffering over 270 casualties in the sector during the month. May saw a return South via St Omer and Olizy et Violaine to Cauroy-les-Hermonville in the Marne department, along the Chemin des Dames. Here the battalion was in and out of the line until 1am on 27 May, when it became caught up in the German Blucher Offensive (or Battle of the Aisne, 1918 to the British) where the battalion was again overwhelmed, suffering over 300 casualties in three days’ fighting.

June to November 1918: rest then back to the attack

With the exception of drafts sent to form a company of the 64th Composite Battalion to hold the line at Troissy, the battalion spent the months of June and July resting, training and receiving drafts to bring it back up to strength, finally going back into the line in the Mailly sector on 26 July, participating in brigade attacks on high ground South of Miraumont on 23 August, which the brigade held in spite of being surrounded, and the Ligny-Thilloy to Lusienhof Farm road on 26 August. It moved into Divisional Reserve the following day, having suffered a further 285 casualties over the preceding week’s fighting, spending the following day in salvage work and burying the dead. The actions of the 64th Brigade were the subject of mention in a divisional order of 28 August. 9 to 11 September saw heavy fighting around Chapel Hill and Cavalry support with a further 277 losses, and then more fighting around Villers-Guislane on 18 and 19 September, losing 77 casualties including the commanding officer. On 8 October the battalion took Angles Chateau and Vendengies-au-Bois on the 23. The war diary comments that many French civilians were still resident in the latter, which was nevertheless heavily shelled by the Germans with both High Explosive and Gas shells and noted that many casualties were caused to the civilian population through gas. The battalion’s last attack was made on Limont-Fontaine on 7 November 1918, suffering over 100 casualties but liberating the village.

November 1918 to March 1919: training with the 15th Battalion, transfer to 1st/9th and Demobilisation

In spite of the foregoing, the absence of an entry on the casualty lists would seem to imply that Private Frisby was fortunate enough to escape significant injury, in spite of this dangerous service. After the Armistice, the 15th Battalion spent the ensuing months in training and sports as it was gradually wound down. In both the 1918 and 1919 Absent Voters List for East Leicester, Ison Frisby is shown as absent from his residence at 55 Willow Street, Leicester, near the centre of the city, thus suggesting that he was not an early priority for demobilisation. In March 1919, the battalion sent three drafts of officers, other ranks and NCOs to the 1st/9th Battalion, a Pioneer Battalion with the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division, then at Cologne in Germany, as part of the Army of Occupation. It was probably at this point that Private Frisby made his final transfer, on either the 24, 28 or 30 March 1919. He would have joined the battalion in its guard and ceremonial duties, probably until October 1919, when the battalion was wound-down in its turn. After this, he returned home and was discharged to the Army ‘Z’ Reserve (a precautionary reserve of manpower in case Germany repudiated their surrender terms and went to war again).

Ison Frisby died in Leicester in the second quarter of 1954, aged 74.


1881, 1891, 1901, 1911 censuses
Durham Light Infantry British War Medal and Victory Medal Roll
1918 and 1919 Absent Voters List for East Leicester
Service records of comrades with adjacent service numbers
War diaries
Col Morant’s memoirs: (facts about shoemaking in Leicester)

Birth date: 1879

Death date: 1954

Armed force/civilian: Army

Gender: Male

Contributed by AHJ, South Wales