Captain Anthony Mutrie Frank
Unit : "A" Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion
Army No. : 99817
Awards : Military Cross, Silver Star, Mentioned in Despatches
In 1931, Tony Frank obtained a scholarship and entered Stonyhurst College, the famous Jesuit public school at Hurst Green, Preston. He was a notable sportsman; Captain of athletics and the 1st XV rugby team, half colours in the 1st XI cricket team, and was also prominent in shooting, boxing and squash. He excelled academically too, securing a further scholarship to read classics at St. Catherine's College, Cambridge, whom he also represented in rugby with the 1st and 2nd XV. The Second World War interrupted his studies, however, and it was not until after the conflict that he returned to Cambridge to complete his education, graduating with honours.
Quick to enlist, Frank was posted to the Lancashire Fusiliers as a 2nd Lieutenant, but later joined the Airborne Forces, where, during Operation Fustian, the attempt to capture Primosole Bridge, in Sicily, on the 13th July 1943, he commanded a platoon of "A" Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion. He wrote the following report on his actions there:
The stick landed on the Drop Zone in the area 915663 some 20 minutes before scheduled time. I was only able to collect five of my stick after waiting approximately 30 minutes by the container holding spare arms. We came under machine gun fire from the farm buildings at 920659 so I decided to move off with what men I had and try and neutralise them. I reached the bridge 918662 with three men, the remaining two having been sent out to the right and not having been seen since. We got within 30 yards of our machine gun position and silenced it with Bren and Sten gun fire. We were then held up by further machine gun fire on our left, meanwhile more Germans came out of the farm buildings and an exchange of grenades and automatic fire took place at the end of which the enemy withdrew back into the farm houses. During the engagement my No.2 on the Bren was wounded in the leg. I then saw some figures moving towards the farm up the track which formed the Battalion Command Post. I took them to be our own people escorted by two Germans. We let them cross the bridge and then shot up the guard, killing one and severely wounding the other. The four men I collected were unarmed and therefore of little value. About [?]0 Germans on the Drop Zones, attracted by the firing, came down the track. We opened up on them as they came to the North side of the canal bank, to which they made a brisk reply taking up positions on the bank. We engaged them with grenades and automatic fire for about 10 minutes. By this time (about 2345 hours) I was running short of ammunition and had only two Bren magazines left, so I decided to withdraw eastward along the canal to the Battalion Forming Up Place at 936664. I could see no sign of anyone on the Battalion Command Post. I moved about three quarters of a mile down the canal and lay up in a bomb crater to try and determine what was happening. I saw several sticks dropped to the east of the Command Post track and tried unsuccessfully to contact them. I then decided to move on again to the Battalion Forming Up Place. As I came to the bridge at 936668 about six vehicles with what appeared to be 20 mm Machine Cannons mounted on them approached down the main road from the north and turned along the track at 931659 towards the farm buildings, so I lay up for about half an hour to see if any more activity took place. Finding none I crossed the bridge and moved to the Forming Up Place where I contacted a platoon commander from my own Company and one from "B" with about 22 men between them. By now it must have been between 0200 and 0230 hrs in the morning. [Account Ends]
Forming an ad-hoc platoon from this group, with one officer in command of each section, Lieutenant Frank assumed command and decided to attack the "Johnny I" feature without further ado. At approximately 03:15, they began to make their ascent, with one section proceeding up the northern face of "Johnny I", a second around the eastern, while Frank himself led his group up the middle. The party moving around the northern face took a number of Italians prisoner who were hiding in caves, but otherwise met no other opposition. The other two were fired on by machine guns about half way up the hill, but soon overcame these with grenades and took 40 Italian prisoners in the caves. Moving on to the summit, they drew more fire but similarly brushed this aside and took another 80 prisoners. Frank's small force was now in control of "Johnny I" and 130 prisoners. At 04:00, Major Lonsdale arrived with the remainder of "A" Company and proceeded to consolidate the defences.
For this daring action, Lieutenant Frank was awarded the Military Cross:
For conspicuous gallantry and leadership in action. In the early hours of the morning of the 14th of July 1943 this officer was in command of a platoon of the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment which was dropped on the Catania Plain in Sicily to secure the high ground South of the River Simeto. He led his party through superior German forces, inflicting many casualties on them, and reached his objective which was held by greatly superior enemy numbers. After joining other small parties of the Battalion he personally led an assault on the enemy positions which was completely successful and resulted in the capture of two hundred prisoners together with all their arms and equipment. His own force during this action never consisted of more than thirty five men. Throughout the remainder of the operations, during which he was wounded, he displayed great qualities of leadership, initiative and gallantry.
At Arnhem, 17th September 1944, Frank had been promoted to Captain and was Second-in-Command of "A" Company; the vanguard of the 1st Airborne Division's advance on Arnhem Bridge. Passing through Oosterbeek on the first afternoon, he noted: "... the incredible number of orange flowers or handkerchiefs that suddenly appeared like magic. The Dutch were very much in family groups, in staid clothing, out on this fine Sunday afternoon. The second memory was of the problem of trying to stop them slowing our men down by pressing cakes, milk, etc., on them. It was an atmosphere of great jubilation at the start of the move, mainly in the country area near Heveadorp and in Oosterbeek, but it petered out when the first hold-up and sporadic firing started. There weren't so many Dutch out then, but a few stout ones stayed and watched the fun."
Tony Frank reached the Bridge with "A" Company during the evening, and was given command of it when Major Tatham-Warter took over command of the Battalion, replacing Lieutenant-Colonel Frost who took charge of the Brigade. During the heavy fighting on Tuesday 19th September, three German Mk III tanks positioned themselves amongst the British positions in areas where they could not be engaged by anti-tank guns. From here they heavily shelled No.3 Platoon in their pivotal house, just to the east of the bridge and effectively maintaining any connection between the British forces either side of it. Captain Frank ordered Lieutenant McDermont to evacuate his platoon while he and another soldier attempted to deal with the tanks with a PIAT. From a distance of 40 yards, he engaged one tank and hit it in the rear, putting it out of action. The other two promptly withdrew.
"Digby Tatham-Warter came walking calmly across from Battalion HQ with his brolly, quite unconcerned about any danger. He was very angry with me for letting McDermont's platoon come back and ordered me to retake the house. I got McDermont's platoon together - fifteen to twenty men only - and they set off from underneath the bridge, all very tired, just shrugging their shoulders and going back, but in no defeatist mood or anything like that. They went back and pushed the Germans out; there was probably about the same number of Huns. McDermont was shot as he went along the hall - in the lower stomach, I think; he was conscious, but there was a lot of blood. I jabbed him with morphine, and he was taken away. Then we were attacked from the direction of the banked ramp. We manned the windows and answered back, polishing off at least four of them. One came crashing forward very bravely until we stopped him." Lieutenant McDermont died on Friday 22nd September.
Wounded in the ankle by shelling on Wednesday 20th September, Captain Frank was taken prisoner on the following day when British resistance finally collapsed, and then sent to the St. Elizabeth Hospital for treatment. With him was Major Tatham-Warter, who was similarly slightly wounded, and made it plain that he had no intention of being a prisoner for longer than was necessary. That night the two of them got out of bed, put on their clothes, climbed down from a first floor window, crawled through the hospital gardens and finally reached the railway line a mile to the west of the hospital where, quite exhausted, they halted until dawn. As it grew light they noticed a farmhouse some distance away and, eager to obtain some food, they watched it for some time before Tatham-Warter decided to knock on the door. The lady who owned the property took them in, fed them a meal of eggs and cheese which they eagerly devoured, and put them to rest in the loft of a barn. Having slept until the afternoon, they were roused by Menno de Nooy of the Ede Resistance, who took them into his care.
They were taken to a farm in the small Warnsborn forest, where they lived in a secret compartment in a shed, though in the evenings they emerged to play cards with the farmer and cut home-grown tobacco for cigarettes. It soon became clear that several hundred airborne personnel were in hiding around the Ede area and the Resistance were having trouble in concealing and administrating such numbers. Tatham-Warter, having established contact with Brigadier Lathbury, Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie and Major Hibbert to name but a few, effectively took charge and began to organise the evaders into a sort of coup-de-main force to spearhead any attempt by the 2nd British Army to cross the Rhine. When it became clear that there would be no such attempt, efforts were made to arrange for the withdrawal of this force to the Allied lines. Operation Pegasus took place on the 22nd October, and saw the completely successful evacuation of 138 men, amongst whom was Tony Frank. For the part he played in administering this force, he was Mentioned in Despatches:
Captain Frank was wounded and captured at Arnhem on 21st September 1944. He was taken to a hospital in Arnhem and at 2200 hours the same day, he and another wounded officer climbed out of a window and crawled through the hospital gardens to a wood. They immediately came into the hands of friends and on 6th October members of the Resistance Movement guided Captain Frank to Ede, where he assisted in organising the supply of arms to evaders and escapers in the area. On 22nd October he participated in the large-scale evacuation across the Waal to reach British lines.
For his conduct during the entire Operation, he was awarded the US Silver Star:
Captain Frank was Second-in-Command of the Company of 2nd Parachute Battalion which captured the vital Arnhem bridge on the evening of 17th September. He assumed command of the Company on the evening of the following day. The next morning, three enemy Tanks got into position close to a house held by one of his forward Platoons and shelled it at very close range. The Platoon was forced to evacuate the house temporarily thus causing a very serious gap in the defence. Realising the danger of the situation, Captain Frank at once organised a party of two P.I.A.Ts. which he himself led under heavy fire, to a position on the flank from which he could engage the Tanks. Meanwhile, two more Tanks appeared. Altogether, three Tanks were hit and all of them withdrew. The situation was restored and the platoon enabled to re-occupy the house. Later in the day, Captain Frank was wounded in the foot. At midday on the following day, when the situation was becoming critical, Captain Frank again took over command of the remnants of his Company and that evening, despite his wound, led a successful counter attack against a house held by the enemy. During the time this officer had commanded the Company, it had been attacked repeatedly by Tanks and infantry in overwhelming strength, and it was largely due to Captain Frank's leadership and personal example that these attacks were successfully driven off. This officer ultimately escaped from a German hospital and played a leading part in the planning and execution of a most brilliant operation in which 130 armed men, after lying up for four weeks, passed through the German lines and crossed the Rhine. Throughout this period, Captain Frank moved about amongst the Germans with complete disregard of his own safety and showed the greatest daring, leadership and efficiency.
Having retired from the Army as a Major, Tony Frank joined the Colonial Service and spent time in Ghana and Somalia before returning to Britain during the 1960's. It was in Ghana that he married his wife, Clare, with whom he had five sons; each following in their father's footsteps at Stonyhurst College. Thereafter he was director of the Spastics Society until his retirement in 1982. Tony Frank died peacefully on the 30th September 2008.
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