Sunday, 27 September 2015

David Frankenstein, 1899-1918

Last Thursday we laid stones on the grave of my cousin David Frankenstein, also known as Franks, who died nearly 100 years ago. I say "cousin" for short - he's actually my 5th Cousin; our common ancestors are my 4x-great-grandparents Jakob Wolkowicz and Bajla Moskowna, who were probably born around 1760. I had been tracing his branch of the family, and came across his First World War service record a couple of weeks ago. We were going to Belgium for a few days last week, and sought out the cemetery where he is buried on the way back.

David was born in Hackney, London, in 1899. His grandparents Izrael Frankensztajn and Fejga Szajna Rozenblum had come to London from Plock in Poland around 1870, either just before or just after the birth of David's father Harris. David was the eldest of 5 children born to Harris and his wife Ruth Leapman. The other children all went on to marry and raise families in London, as far as I have been able to track them, but I have not as yet managed to establish contact with any of them.

David was called up to serve in the British Army in October 1916. His service record is very difficult to decipher, but he appears to have been sent to France some time during 1917. He seems to have been wounded at some point, and sent back to the UK. He then returned to France on 26 May 1918, to be posted to the Duke of Wellington's Regiment. This regiment took part in the Battle of the Selle, in late October, and in the attack on Valenciennes, a week or so later.

It was during this attack that David lost his life, "killed in action" on 1 November, along with some 60 of his comrades. They are buried in the municipal cemetery in the village of PrĂ©seau, a few kilometres south of Valenciennes. There are a hundred or so war graves in this cemetery, and David's grave is the only one marked with the Mogen Dovid, suggesting that he is the only Jewish soldier buried there.

Ten days later the Armistice was signed, and the War ended. The tragedy was not yet over for David's mother Ruth, however, as Harris died the following March. Within 4 months she had lost her eldest son, and then her husband.