No.497 – Sergeant Frank Seccombe – 11th Battalion AIF
Frank William Seccombe was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1882 to Mr and Mrs William Seccombe. He was educated in South Australia but after leaving school he took up work as a piano tuner. He soon travelled to Western Australia where he continued this trade though he also worked for a time in the timber mills of the South West. Frank served in the Boer War in South Africa and also had six years of service with the 11th Australian Infantry Regiment of the Citizens Military Forces.
In 1914 he married Sarah Rose Doyle in Fremantle and they would take up residence in Grey Street South Fremantle. Their married life was cut short by the Great War as Frank was one of the early enlistees, presenting himself at the Fremantle Drill Hall on the 14th August 1914. He was accepted as fit for service with the medical examiner finding him to be 5 feet 9 & ¾ inches tall; weight of 140lbs; chest measurement of 38 & ½ inches; ruddy complexion; brown eyes and brown hair. His religious denomination was Church of England.
Upon his successful enlistment Frank was sent to Blackboy Hill Camp and was initially assigned to the original "D” Company of the 11th Battalion. Due to his previous military service he was given the rank of Sergeant and he soon took control of No.7 Platoon of "D” Company. The 11th Battalion trained at Blackboy Hill Camp while they waited for their embarkation orders to arrive. These orders finally came through in late October and on 31 October 1914 they boarded the HMAT Ascanius in Fremantle Harbour and set sail with the HMAT Medic, meeting the rest of the first convoy, which had left from Albany, in the Indian Ocean. After, joining the convoy, they arrived in Egypt towards the end of the month and after being disembarked 11th Battalion set up camp at Mena near Cairo.
While here, their 8 company system was changed into 4 Companies with the result that Frank’s "D” Company combined with "C” Company to form new "B” Company. The next few months would be spent in hard training. On 2 March 1915 the 11th Battalion, as part of the 3rd Brigade departed Alexandria Egypt aboard the HMT Suffolk and headed for Lemnos Island. They were based here for preparation of a landing on the Turkish Coast. Of the three infantry brigades, the 3rd was judged the most experienced in training and capability and was therefore chosen to make the initial landing. While at Lemnos they practiced disembarking from their ships into the whalers as well as training on the island and going for route marches. In April they were joined by other Australian, New Zealand, British and French troops. Frank trained his platoon where possible on the ship and when they were taken ashore. Edward Inman of Frank’s platoon wrote of one sojourn to Lemnos from the ships; "Windy today, sea very choppy. 21 of us went ashore in a boat in charge of Sgt Secc. Talk about fun, I did enjoy it, the sea was rough and the boat half full of water. Sgt spouting orders & no one obeying & him threatening to put us all under arrest…Went for a route march through the villages for about 4 ½ miles.”
On 25 April 1915 the landing took place, with the 11th Battalion going ashore in the area from Plugges Plateau to out along North Beach. The men made their way inland as best they could through the rugged country. Turkish resistance increased throughout the day particularly along the vital heights of the 2nd Ridge. Edward Inman noted that Sgt Seccombe was killed in action soon after landing on the beach;
"By the time we got to the top of the hill, the Turks were leaving for their lives at the point of a bayonet. It was still a bit dark so we could do little firing. Sgt Seccombe was shot dead just after landing. No more Turks were handy so we formed up & set out again.”
It appears that Sgt Frank Seccombe was killed shortly after landing at Anzac. However the date of death for Frank according to official sources is May 2nd 1915. This however is wrong as on May 2nd the 11th Battalion mustered on the beach for their roll call and were not involved in any major action, yet Frank and thirty four other 11th Battalion men are listed as killed on this day. It appears that while compiling the battalion roll the date of death for these thirty five men was erroneously marked as May 2nd 1915.
It seems that Frank was buried on the first day somewhere near the beach but his grave was later lost and he was therefore commemorated on the Lone Pine Memorial. His wife Sarah, now living in Cantonment St Fremantle, would receive Frank’s personal effects that were taken off his body before his burial. From 13 August 1915 she would receive a pension of 70 pounds per annum. In 1921 she was remarried to Mr Andrew Tomb.
After news came through of Frank’s death, the Sunday Times wrote an obituary of a well known and popular figure. "The late Frank Seccombe, killed on the field of honour at the Dardanelles will be remembered by numerous amusement seekers in Perth. Was born in South Australia, and from an early age was a musical enthusiast, being in after years the possessor of a magnificent bass voice…will be remembered by patrons of the Shaftesbury, Melrose, the open air Pierrots at South Beach, and the majority of the big country towns. Seccombe was of magnificent physique, and was as hefty with his fists in a rough up as he was proficient on the harmonious ivories. More than once down in the jarrah country, when a mill hand or sleeper cutter had allowed his tonicked tongue to outrun common decency, it was Seccombe who warned him to desist, and it was the same Seccombe who, when the lout repeated the obnoxious epithet or expression, put him to sleep for half an hour with one of the piston punches he kept handy for such occasions. Apart from such affairs, F.S. was a breezy, good natured Bohemian, and was splendid company at a private festivity or smoke social. The present war gave him not his first baptism of fire. Frank acquitted himself well in the Boer War, having sustained a slight injury to one of his eyes through a small splinter from a shrapnel shell. He leaves a widow in Fremantle, his step-daughter, Miss May Doyle, being one of the most popular young shop assistants in Boan Brothers.”
Many thanks to Andrew Pittaway for sharing this story; the portrait of Seccombe was found in the Sunday Times.