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Stoner, Frank Walker

Frank Walker Stoner was born in the March quarter of 1922, his birth registered in Hawarden (Flintshire (Mold)HAW/29A/15), the son of John Llewellyn & Vashti Ellen Stoner (nee Walker), who had married in the June Quarter of 1916 at Northampton (Northampton Vol. 3b Page 192).

His parents are seen on the 1939 Register living at Denton House, Shotton Lane, Shotton.   John Llewelyn Stoner’s date of birth is given as the 31st August 1894 and he was a Process Worker, his wife Vashi Ellen was born on the 27th December 1893 and like all married women who were not in work was described by this National Register as doing “Unpaid Domestic Duties.”    His sister Joan Helen Stoner’s date of birth is the 7th February 1920.   There were 2 other gentlemen in the Household, a John Robert & Sam Reynolds, possibly Lodgers.

I believe that Frank’s sister Joan Helen Stoner married at St. Ethelwold’s Church, Shotton:-

Page 70 No. 139   16th November 1940 George Hallmark Merchant, 23, Bachelor, Private in the Army, Liverpool Arms, Flint. George Hallmark Merchant, Licensed Victualler & Joan Helen STONER, 20 Spinster, Denton House, Shotton, John STONER, Silk Worker.   (After Banns) – Witnesses:- John CAMERON & Margaret MERCHANT.

I have been contacted by Frank’s second cousin, Steve Wilcockson, his grandfather was William (Bill) Stoner and Steve was able to cast a lot of light on Frank’s early life and family, told to him by his mother Edna Wilcockson (nee Stoner) and her younger sister Betty Cotton (nee Stoner) the daughters of William, John (Jack) Stoner’s brother, and  also to help tell the story of his death, as clearly as he can in retrospect.

The brothers’, Bill and Jack, were close, their parents Albert & Ada Stoner had a corner shop, and they lived “Over the shop” on or close to the famed Scotland Road.    Bill and Jack remembered the city of Liverpool and the docks in the early 1900s, and Bill used to tell Steve how they would come across on the Ferry to Birkenhead (where Steve grew up) to visit the Musical Hall and Variety in the famous Argyle Theatre.  Steve still has his grandfather’s silver topped, black swagger cane for a smart young man out on the town. Grandfather used to describe New Brighton in its heyday as a seaside retreat from the city.

As far as was possible for a young child, Steve knew Jack and Vashtai – as “Uncle Jack and Auntie Vash”.   He was ten years old in 1961 when Jack died of throat cancer, he recalls it quite vividly. Later, Auntie Vash was sometimes there when Steve’s family visited his grandparents – her brother-in-law and sister-in-law.

Frank attended St. Ethelwold’s Church School, in Shotton, and he is remembered on their “Roll of Honour,” (see below).   He was the youngest of three children, his two elder sisters were Dorothea b. 1918, in Kings Norton Birmingham), Joan b. 1920, registered in Hawarden.

Steve recalls:-

“Frank as a youth was remembered by my mum and her sister (his first cousins) as a friendly, unassuming, considerate boy who enjoyed playing football. I was told he never had a girlfriend. He attended St Ethelwold’s Church Primary School, Queensferry, and is remembered on their roll of honour which hung for many years in the school.*

*Note by Mavis Williams – It was found behind some cupboards in the new St. Ethelwold’s School in Aston, Quennsferry a few years ago and was rescued by one of its’ Governors, Gary Cooper.   I don’t know it’s location at this point.

His loss when he was killed at Anzio in 1944 was a big shock to his family, especially as he was blown up with few of his remains recognisable. I believe that his ID “dog-tags” were sent home to his parents. They were of course little consolation. For some years I have been searching for an out-of-print book of Connahs Quay, Shotton and Queensferry old photographs from the late 19th to mid-20th Century. My parents had a copy. I am sure it was there that I was shown a photo of Frank with his football team. Don’t know whatever became of Mum and Dad’s book.

Frank’s war service began by joining up – locally I think – with the Territorial Army. However, as mobilisation increased post-Dunkirk, his territorial regiment was absorbed as a battalion of the City of London Regiment and he was deployed – initially in S.E. England, preparing for a possible German invasion. In 1943, the 9th Battalion of which Frank was a part of the London Regiment was deployed in Tunisia, towards the end of the African Campaign. About 200 casualties were suffered by the Regiment in the closing chapters of that conflict. When hostilities there subsided, they were kept on to be trained in sea landings, in readiness for an assault on Italy.

In September, the battalion landed at the Italian beaches of Salerno, forced inland, and engaged in several battles around the Garigliano River, trying to push through the German “Gustav Line” – an armed front that blocked the road to Rome. This included the Monte Cassino theatre, which became a stalemate. Any account of the build up to Anzio will provide more detail. Anzio was planned as a way of outflanking the Germans behind their defensive lines and pressing on to Rome.

Anyway, back at the River Garigliano, it seems that tiredness was taking its toll on the men. The regiment was withdrawn to Naples, which was now in Allied hands. In January 1944 it was placed under American command (US VI Corps). It moved northwards to reinforce the struggling landing forces at Anzio. Frank’s journey from Naples to the Anzio beachhead was by landing ship – there was a fairly constant ferrying of materials and men in support of the offensive . They arrived at Anzio, with the battle already a couple of weeks old, on February 12th. Initial German resistance had been weak, but reinforcements on the German side were now threatening the success of the mission and Frank’s battalion was straight into the thick of it.

At 06.30 on February 16th, the Germans  launched a particularly fierce counter-offensive, during which Frank lost his life (according to his comrades) in a direct hit by a mortar or other ballistics attack. At least he didn’t suffer. The battalion lost 450 men in a couple of days – nearly half its strength.

The most brutal fighting of the Battle of Anzio is reported two days later, on the 18th February, when one of the fallen was Lt. Eric Fletcher Waters. His infant son back home was Roger Waters, later of Pink Floyd, whose song “When the Tigers Broke Free” describes the Battle of Anzio and laments the loss of his father.

Perhaps it was a mercy that Frank never had a girl back home.”

I have no Attestation Papers for Frank Walker Stoner, but there is a Casualty List, Page 4 of the Expeditionary Forces (North Africa) –  where Frank is listed, having been Killed in Action on the 16th February 1944.

Sadly I have no further  information to what happened to Frank Stoner, but this may shed some light on the events of that day:-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Fusiliers

The 8th and 9th Battalions, the two Territorial Army (TA) units, were part of the 1st London Infantry Brigade, attached to 1st London Infantry Division. These later became the 167th (London) Infantry Brigade and 56th (London) Infantry Division. Both battalions saw service in the final stages of the Tunisia Campaign, where each suffered over 100 casualties in their first battle. In September 1943, both battalions were heavily involved in the landings at Salerno, as part of the Allied invasion of Italy, later crossing the Volturno Line, before, in December, being held up at the Winter Line.[58] Both battalions then fought in the Battle of Monte Cassino and were sent to the Anzio beachhead in February 1944.[59]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Anzio

Battle of Anzio

The Winter Line and the battle for Rome

The Battle of Anzio[3] was a battle of the Italian Campaign of World War II that took place from January 22, 1944 (beginning with the Allied amphibious landing known as Operation Shingle) to June 5, 1944 (ending with the capture of Rome). The operation was opposed by German forces in the area of Anzio and Nettuno.[4] The operation was initially commanded by Major General John P. Lucas, of the U.S. Army, commanding U.S. VI Corps with the intention being to outflank German forces at the Winter Line and enable an attack on Rome.

The success of an amphibious landing at that location, in a basin consisting substantially of reclaimed marshland and surrounded by mountains, depended on the element of surprise and the swiftness with which the invaders could build up strength and move inland relative to the reaction time and strength of the defenders. Any delay could result in the occupation of the mountains by the defenders and the consequent entrapment of the invaders. Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark, commander of the U.S. Fifth Army, understood that risk, but Clark did not pass on his appreciation of the situation to his subordinate, Lucas, who preferred to take time to entrench against an expected counterattack. The initial landing achieved complete surprise with no opposition and a jeep patrol even made it as far as the outskirts of Rome. However, Lucas, who had little confidence in the operation as planned, failed to capitalize on the element of surprise and delayed his advance until he judged his position was sufficiently consolidated and he had sufficient strength.

While Lucas consolidated, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, the German commander in the Italian theatre, moved every unit he could spare into a defensive ring around the beachhead. His artillery units had a clear view of every Allied position. The Germans also stopped the drainage pumps and flooded the reclaimed marsh with salt water, planning to entrap the Allies and destroy them by epidemic. For weeks a rain of shells fell on the beach, the marsh, the harbour, and on anything else observable from the hills, with little distinction between forward and rear positions.

After a month of heavy but inconclusive fighting, Lucas was relieved and sent home. His replacement was Major General Lucian K. Truscott, who had previously commanded the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division. The Allies broke out in May. But, instead of striking inland to cut lines of communication of the German Tenth Army’s units fighting at Monte Cassino, Truscott, on Clark’s orders, reluctantly turned his forces north-west towards Rome, which was captured on June 4, 1944. As a result, the forces of the German Tenth Army fighting at Cassino were able to withdraw and rejoin the rest of Kesselring’s forces north of Rome, regroup, and make a fighting withdrawal to his next major prepared defensive position on the Gothic Line.

Steve also points out some other sources to read :-

American on line material about US VI Corps (within which Frank’s Battalion was absorbed for the Anzio Beachhead landing) is more detailed than British accounts I have found, and quite plentiful. An online search for “VI Corps Anzio” should bring up a chunk of historical data. Just wade through it until you get to Feb 16 1944! 

German Counter Offensive February 16th 1944

https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-A-Anzio/USA-A-Anzio-4.html

And

February 16 1944 German Counter – From National WW2 Museum 2018

https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/last-ride-anzio-german-counterattacks-february-1944

Frank Walker Stoner was well loved as his family put his name forward to be remembered.   He is also remembered on the Hawarden War Memorial for WW2.

My thanks to Steve & Heather Wilcockson, who were invaluable in making sure Frank’s story could be told.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Learn more about the other soldiers on the Connahs Quay and Shotton War Memorial

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