Frances Hildred Mitchell
Worker, Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps, number 39581
Frances was born October 25th 1895 in Keighley and baptised on December 28th that year, at St. Barnabas Church, the family lived at Park Wood Top at the time. Her father was Francis Wade Mitchell, a farmer; her mother was Annie Mitchell née King who died in 1898. So the start for this brave lady was already a challenging one.
Francis remarried a lady called Jane Ann sometime before the 1901 census. Frances did have other support though. She had older siblings – Charles William and Margaret, and a younger half-brother Francis Robert. In addition the young Frances lived in a household that had the advantage of employing three servants. According to the information her father gave in the census they were all living at Hill Top Farm.
Ten years later, when Frances was about 16, the address given was at Long Lee. Her father had continued to do well and in the 1911 census he is recorded as being the employer of others in both farming and carting. Her older brother Charles drove a cart and older sister, Margaret was in farm service.
Meanwhile Frances had broken ranks with the family firm to some extent. She is listed as a worsted spinner in a worsted mill. This may well have been with the firm Isaac Ingham who were located in West Lane Mills. We can have an educated guess at this because when she applied to the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) she listed Ingham as a previous employer.
Of course three years later the dark hand of war disrupted many lives and Frances and her family would have been some of those affected. By the time Frances made effort to join QMAAC she had already spent time working in an unknown capacity producing munitions.
Frances next appears in records when she submitted her application to QMAAC. This unit of the British Forces was formed in 1917 to free up more men to fight. It was the first time women had served in the armed forces other than in nursing. It was ultimately disbanded in 1921.
It is often the case that because the war raged we get to see more of these women in life. From military records we know that Frances was a diminutive young woman standing at 5ft 3/4 inch and she was of medium build. We know she had light brown hair and blue eyes. We can also form an idea of what skills this heroine had picked up over the years. Also evident is her willingness to serve her country. She offered to do anything from general domestic duties right through to garage work and driving. In addition, she was willing and able to go anywhere in the country to help out.
Her address was 25 Gordon Street at that point and I can only be impressed by the idea that she was so eager to throw herself into service at any place away from the home town she had known all her life. We also learn of her sterling character. She provided references from both her former teacher Miss Gertrude Stansfield of St. Peter’s Vicarage and the good Dr J. Spencer of Victoria Park View when she applied to the Women's Royal Naval Service in April 1918:
One gentle mystery is that she maintained she was a year younger than she was. At first I thought it was single mistake but it was not a one off.
The physical examination she undertook gives testament to the farm life that she had experienced in her early years. She was in excellent health. The only defect recorded was: ‘a slight hammer toe (R), not troublesome’
Frances started her military journey when she enlisted in Doncaster. She was then posted to Nottingham. By May 1918 she was at Brocton Camp. This was one of two camps constructed at Cannock Chase at the beginning of World War One, the other being Rugely Camp. It was used to house the influx of troops required during the war and also managed German POWs as the war drew to a close.
What Frances’ life and daily duties were we do not know. We can be certain that she stuck to it and remained serving to the end.
This story does indeed have a tragic ending.
Frances’s father, as next of kin, received a letter dated 1st March 1919, stating:
‘Wkr. Frances Hildred Mitchell died at the hospital, ‘N’ Lincs, Brocton Camp, Staffs, on 22.2.19. The cause of death is not stated.’
The wording gives a glimpse into the times. I imagine Mr Mitchell opening that letter with his heart in his mouth, as both of his sons were serving and he must surely have assumed the bad news would be with regard to one of them. I wonder if he even knew she had been ill. There on the page would be those stark, cold words. His daughter was dead at the tender age of 23.
Obviously that letter did not even say what she had died from. A later communication sheds some light on it. Poor Frances passed away from heart failure as a result of influenza and pneumonia. This of course was at the point that Spanish flu cruelly took so many lives worldwide.
We have not found much information about her funeral, but believe it was on February 26th 1919, and her family thanked her previous employers and colleagues at Isaac Ingham's, for contributions to a china wreath. Frances would eventually be given an Imperial War Graves Commission (later Commonwealth War Graves Commission) headstone at Utley Cemetery, Keighley.
England and Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915
West Yorkshire, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910
1901 England Census
1911 England Census
National Archives WO/398/157 - (QMAAC service record)
1919 Death index
Commonwealth War Graves Commission