John Rix married Fanny Ellis in Hempnall Church on 31st October 1883. He was 40 years old and she was 33 years old. They lived in the Manor House in Tasburgh, Norfolk.
John was a farmer. They had three sons, Frank Ellis born in the autumn of 1884, John Browne on 1st November 1885 and Thomas Swann, born on 10th January 1889.
In 1901 aged 16 years, Frank was living as a boarder with James Hewitt’s family in Gravel Road, Old Buckenham Norfolk. He was working as a pupil school teacher. His brother John was boarding in Aylsham and was an apprentice carpenter. Thomas was still living at home with his parents.
.In 1904 Frank went as a student to the St. Peter’s Men’s Teacher Training College in Peterborough and was there until 1906. His brother John (also known as Browne) emigrated to Canada in March 1905 to work as a carpenter.
Frank obtained a position as an assistant teacher in a county council school and lived in Sunbury-on-Thames in Middlesex.
In 1911 he was living in a boarding house in Rooksmead Road along with other single young people. His brother Thomas was on the farm in Tasburgh working as a farm labourer. The Canadian Census of 1911 records that John was living in a boarding house in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan and was working as a carpenter on the railway.
On 10th May 1913 Frank married Annie Gladys Horn at St Mary’s Church, Sunbury-on-Thames. She was twenty four years old and a school mistress. They lived at Wincanton, Rooksmead Road, Sunbury. This was the same house that Annie had lived in with her parents prior to her marriage. Their daughter Margaret Joan Rix was born in 1915. She preferred to be called Joan.
When he was conscripted Frank was working as a teacher at Hampton Boys’ School in Surrey. He was recorded in 1911 as being employed by the County Council. Although this school is now an independent school it was until 1975 a voluntary aided school, which meant that it received ninety percent of its funding from the Local Authority.
Frank enlisted at Hampton as a rifleman in the 12th (County of London) Battalion (The Rangers) and by 1917 was serving in France. He was killed in the Battle of Arras on Easter Monday 9th April 1917.
It had been decided the previous November that the British Forces would take part in a diversionary offensive to draw the German troops away from a French assault that was scheduled to take place in Champagne. A great amount of planning took place in the ensuing months.
In order to assemble the large number of troops needed for the battle without the Germans being aware of what was happening, engineers from the New Zealand Forces created a vast network of tunnels under and near the town of Arras. On the eve of the planned battle 24,000 troops were in these tunnels, caves and quarries. The attack was scheduled to begin at 5.30 a.m. on the morning of Easter Monday, April 9th 1917.
For four days previously the Germans had been subjected to bombardment and on Easter Sunday evening there was a steady stream of traffic taking supplies and rations to the troops in the tunnels and trenches. The battle began as planned on 9th April and in the first few hours important gains were made especially by the Canadians at Vimy Ridge.
The Rangers were scheduled to start their attack at 7.45 a.m. In the early hours they were standing knee deep in icy mud waiting to move when their sergeant-major heard that the wire in front of their objective, Pine Lane trench had not been cut. The village Neuville-Vitasse was about half a mile ahead of them and when they left their jumping off trench they crept towards it across open ground being preceded by artillery fire. Unfortunately when ‘A’ company reached Pine Lane trench the wire had indeed not been cut. German machine guns opened fire at point blank range and many men were killed in the first burst of fire. Eventually ‘B’ company arrived and managed to go through a small gap in the wire and overcome the machine gunners. A tank in the vicinity recognised that there was a problem and managed to flatten the wire enabling the Rangers to take the trench and 30 prisoners. Only one officer and about 50 men of ‘A’company were in a fit state to carry on fighting after the attack. A company usually had 277 men and officers. They and the other companies went on to take the other objectives and by 9.30 a.m. Neuville-Vitasse had been taken with a loss of 57 men and officers and many wounded.Later the dead were collected together and buried in an old trench beside the Beaurains and Neuville-Vitasse Road. A short ceremony was conducted by the chaplain and wooden crosses put to mark the graves.Frank Rix was one of the men killed by machine gun fire during this battle
However in the first two days the British Forces advanced five kilometres and took several villages. It was considered a success. When the battle ended on 16th May the British Forces had extended this to ten kilometres and had taken 20,000 prisoners. The cost to the British war effort was high and 100,000 troops were put out of action either being killed or wounded as a result of this battle.
A letter sent by Reverend K. Julian F. Bickersteth, who was chaplain to the 56th (London) Division, to Annie, Frank’s wife, states that Frank was killed instantly by a machine gun bullet. The chaplain wrote about knowing Frank well and his being a regular communicant, having been to a service on Good Friday three days before he died. He said that Frank had been buried with full military honours in the military cemetery near Beaurains with other members of the battalion who had died on the same day.
A cross had been erected to mark his burial plot so that it could be identified at a future date.
Julian Bickersteth was a well liked chaplain, who was admired for his devotion to the welfare of the troops, sharing both their hardships and their pleasures. He went on to be headmaster of schools in Australia and England and latterly chaplain to the Queen.
Frank’s daughter, Joan was two years old when he died and she never remembered her father. In February 1918, when probate was granted, the family were living at Trelisk, Rooksmead Road, Sunbury-on-Thames. His estate was worth £139.
On 5th July 1919 Annie Rix attended a memorial service at St. Pancras Church held in memory of those of the 12th Battaliion London Regiment who had been killed. In this service the hymn ‘O Valiant Hearts ‘ was sung. She included part of the first line of the third verse of this hymn on the bottom of his grave stone,’ Splendid you passed.’
In the early 1920s Annie considered emigrating to Australia or New Zealand. However after his death she had returned to teaching and in the end spent most of her career teaching in Oxfordshire. In the 1920s she was living in the School House, Brightwell Baldwin, Wallington. When Joan was in her teens, her mother remarried a school inspector but the marriage was not a success. Annie retired as head of Chalgrove School just after the end of the Second World War. It is said by family members that she never really got over Frank’s death.
Frank’s father died in 1914 and is buried in Tharston, Norfolk. Having emigrated to Canada, John Browne Rix enlisted with the 58th Canadian Infantry on 16th September 1915 and was killed in Belgium on August 19th 1916. Fanny Rix suffered the loss of her husband and two sons within the space of three years. His brother Thomas Swann Rix served with the Norfolk Regiment, it is thought in the Middle East, and survived. It is said his health was affected by his war service.
It is thought that Frank Ellis Rix is on the memorial in Saxlingham Church because of his brother Thomas. At some time after 1911 Thomas moved to live in Saxlingham. His name is on the main village memorial as being one of the men who served in the war but returned safely. It is known that in October 1923 when he married Agnes Laura England in Saxlingham Parish Church, he was a farmer at Foxhole, Saxlingham Thorpe. Agnes England was the village nurse and midwife. However, it is not clear why their other brother John Browne Rix is not also on the Church war memorial.
Fanny Rix died in Shaldon, Devon in November 1924, it is believed that she was visiting her sister’s family at the time. Thomas was granted probate and she left £22 17s 3d. At the time that Thomas put a notice in the death column of the Norfolk Chronicle, he was living in Hoveton St John, Norfolk. His wife became the district nurse in Ludham. He died in 1976 in Norfolk aged 87 years.
Frank Ellis Rix is buried in the London Cemetery, Neuville-Vitasse, five kilometres from Arras. This village was captured by the London Division on 9th April 1917.
He is also remembered on four war memorials. These are Sunbury-on-Thames war memorial, Tasburgh village memorial, Norfolk, Peterborough Training College Memorial in Peterborough Cathedral, and on the Roll of Honour of in St. Mary’s Parish Church, Saxlingham Nethergate.
Census records: 1871,1881, 1891, 1901, 1911
UK soldiers who died in the Great War 1914-18
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards 1914-1920.
Transcripts of Saxlingham Nethergate Marriage Register by Mary Muir
Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume7, (MUP) 1979. Bickersteth, Kenneth Julian Faithfull
www.ukgser.com 90 years ago (9th April 1917) Mike P. May 2004 (includes an extract from ‘Cheerful Sacrifice’ The Battle of Arras 1917, by Jonathan Nicholls.)
Historical Record of the Rangers. From 1859-Conclusion of the Great War. Edited by Captain A.V. Wheeler-Holohan and Captain G.M.G Wyatt. www.archive.org
Very many thanks to Jane Brook, granddaughter of Frank Rix, for invaluable information and for access to family papers and photographs. Her interest and support is greatly appreciated.
Photographs of Manor Farmhouse in 1939 -Joan Rix,
Photographs of Manor Farmhouse 1999, Sunbury-on Thames War memorial, Tasburgh War Memorial, Jane Brook