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Lt Frank Turner, South African Field Artillery


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Southern German East Africa

Remembered Today is:

Lieutenant Frank Turner, South African Field Artillery

The Cross of Sacrifice Volume III lists Frank as being killed in action on 18 October 1917. His first recorded burial place is Mtama Cemetery which lay on the Lukuledi River in the south of German East Africa.
The Official History “South Africa & The Great War” states that the only South African artillery unit with van Deventer’s forces in GEA at that time was the 3rd Battery, South African Field Artillery.

Between 15 & 18 October 1917 the most intense battle of the East African Campaign was fought around Mahiwa & Nyangao, on the Lukuledi River just west of Mtama.
To quote from James Ambrose Brown’s “They Fought for King & Kaiser”:
The four-day battle was one that could not be won by outflanking. It had to be a head-on clash of men meeting one another with the bayonet in the ferocious storming of trenches & by guns firing on zero fuses as battle-crazed men flung themselves across the jungle no man’s land.

The remnants of 25th Royal Fusiliers were in the battle, less than 130 men strong, as were the remnants of 2nd Loyal North Lancashires, now re-badged as 259 Machine Gun Company, Machine Gun Corps.

The Nigerian troops led the British advances. To quote from Martin Farndale’s “The Forgotten Fronts & The Home Bases 1914 – 1918”:
Later that day, 16 October, two German guns shelled the circular position of the Nigerians with devastating effect. The companies suffered heavily; “a direct hit found its human target, the trees were dripping blood for two days afterwards from limbs & trunks of men who had been blown up into the branches, while the whole area was littered with broken & wounded men trying to crawl back to the dressing station.” Suddenly the firing stopped & the German infantry swarmed forward in attack. The gallant defenders rallied & opened so heavy a fire that the attackers could not close.

Farndale lists the British artillery units in action during the battle as:
134th Howitzer Battery (two 5.4-inch howitzers)
One section 27th Indian Mountain Battery (two 2.75-inch guns)
1st Kashmir Mountain Battery (Imperial Service) (four 2.75-inch guns)
The Nigerian Mountain Battery (four 2.95-inch guns)

Frank Turner’s role in the battle is not known, but it is quite likely that he was employed as a Forward Observation Officer in the British infantry trenches. In that case he is likely to have been killed, with his bayonet fixed, during one of the fierce attacks & counter-attacks that surged across the battlefield for four days.

British infantry casualties were approximately one third of the men engaged. The Schutzetruppe also lost heavily & the battle was a draw. The British needed time to re-group & reinforce. Lettow achieved a clean break & withdrew a slimmed-down Schutztruppe across the Rovuma River into Portuguese East Africa where he fought on for another year.
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Just to add that Lieutenant Frank Turner of the South African Field Artillery was "Mentioned" in Lieutenant-General Sir J. L. van Deventer's Despatches covering the period in which his death occured and was for "distinguished services during the operations from 30th May to December, 1917."

South African Field Artillery.

Turner, Lt. F. (killed).

Burford, 329188 Gnr. J. P. (R.G.A.).

Dunham, 685 Gnr. D. F. (R.G.A.)

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The 134th (Cornwall) Heavy Battery , contrary to Farndales list, were at this time armed with one 5.4 inch howitzer, the other three weapons being in Morogoro. As replacements they had two 5 inch howitzers loaned from the 11th. (Hull) Heavy Battery who were also in action but omitted by Farndale in his list.

The exact position of the 3rd SAFA in the firing line is not known.


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  • 3 months later...

Frank Turner was commanding a detached section of 3 Battery, South African Field Artillery at Nyangao.

I have found a description of his last couple of days in: "The South African Field Artillery: German East Africa and Palestine 1915 – 1919".

By F.B. Adler, A.E Lorch and H.H. Curson. Publisher: J.L. van Schaik Ltd, Pretoria, 1958.


The next glimpse of the Section comes from notes compiled by Major W. B. Williams of the Cornwall Battery, and dated 18th October. One of his notes deals with the action at Nyangao on the 17th and 18th October and throws light on Lieutenant Turner's last day. He lost his life in the engagement.

"On the evening of the 16th October, the enemy was reported by Colonel H. C. Tytler to be holding a position about 3,000 yards west of Nyangao. General O'Grady, the General Officer Commanding 'Colfor', as the force operating in that area was called, placed the section of the 3rd S.A. Field Artillery at the disposal of Colonel Tytler for the next day.

At 05.00 hours on the morning of the 17th October, Lieutenant Turner went forward to Colfor Headquarters to act as F.O.O. for his section. About 07.00 hours the section was asked to open fire in order to assist our infantry advance. Fire was opened with H.E. sweeping and searching along the ridge at Nakiki, which was held by the enemy. Intermittent fire with shrapnel and H.E. was kept up during the whole day, with varying ranges from 3,000 to 3,500 yards. Cease fire was given at dusk.

On the morning of the 18th October, the section still remained at the disposal of Colfor, and the Officer Commanding the section again went forward to act as F.O.O. Fire was opened at 06.00 hours with time shrapnel, and a slow rate of fire was kept up, until 09.30 hours. At this time our infantry had taken part of the ridge held by the enemy and Lieutenant Turner found it very difficult to observe his fire at the lengthened range, owing to the forest and nature of the country. He asked Captain H. B. Williams, the Senior Artillery Officer, for permission to go forward to the advanced line. This permission was given and he went forward, taking with him two telephonists and one telephone, leaving a telephone at the Senior Artillery Officer's position, so as to enable the latter to direct the fire of the section until he himself was in a position to do so.

Within ten minutes of Turner going forward, the enemy counter-attacked and our infantry were obliged to retire, one of Turner's signallers being wounded in the arm. In trying to get this wounded man back both Turner and the other signaller were wounded. At this time Turner instructed one of the Battery natives, who accompanied his party, to take in the two rifles and field telephone to the position he had previously occupied. The native was wounded in the leg whilst coming in, but brought all the equipment safely into the old position. Stretcher and search parties were sent out in an endeavour to bring in the F.O.O. and his signaller, but found it impossible to reach them, the enemy meanwhile having occupied this ground. The section ceased fire at about 11.00 hours, the Senior Artillery Officer finding it impossible to carry on the section of S.A.F.A. and his own Battery as well.

Not long after the position was overrun by the enemy, Turner was killed and the infantry were forced to retire. At the time Turner was killed Lieutenant Dawson was away with the Ford cars getting ammunition. On his return he assumed command of the section".1

Soon afterwards Captain Gordon-Gray returned from South Africa and took over.

1) Major Williams's notes were provided by Major John Gordon-Gray,

U.D.F., son of Major Gordon-Gray, O.C.. of 3rd Battery, S.A.F.A. in German East Africa, 1915-16.

This account is interesting because it shows the advances that had been made in Forward Observation techniques since early 1916, the difficulties of Forward Observation in thick bush, and it displays the integration of Africans into white units by late 1917.

Frank Turner was a brave man and as an officer he was loyal to his soldiers, up to the point of death.


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  • 5 months later...

Frank Turner's grave in Dar Es Salaam
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