OXFORDSHIRE BLUE PLAQUES SCHEME

Frank H. KIRBY VC (1871–1956)

Royal Engineers and RAF

Wavertree, 18 Lower High Street, Thame

Frank Howard Kirby was born in Thame to William Henry Kirby, ironmonger, and his wife Ada (née Fuller) at 18 Lower High Street in 1871.

18 Lower High Street

By 1881 the family had moved to Camberwell in London and Frank was one of the first to attend Alleyn’s School, Dulwich (1882–1884). By 1887 the family had returned to Thame where Frank worked for his father’s business at 3 High Street as an ironmonger’s traveller.

His military career began when he joined the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars as a yeoman in 1889. He then enlisted as a sapper in the Royal Engineers at St George’s Barracks, London, soon transferring to the Mounted Detachment of the regiment at Aldershot. Promoted to Corporal in November 1899, he served in the South African Campaign (Boer War) 1899–1901. Mentioned in despatches several times, he was awarded the DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal) for his part in blowing up the Bloemfontein Railway. Then during a raid north of Kronstadt, his valorous action earned him the Victoria Cross. The Citation reads:

On the morning of 2nd June 1900, a party sent to try to cut the Delagoa Bay Railway was retiring, hotly pressed by very superior numbers. During one of the successive retirements of the rear guard a man, whose horse had been shot, was seen running after his comrades. He was a long way behind the rest of his troop and was under a brisk fire. From among the retiring troop Corporal Kirby turned and rode back to the man’s assistance. Although by the time he reached him they were under a heavy fire at close range, Corporal Kirby managed to get the dismounted man up behind him and to take him clear off over the next rise held by our rear guard. This is the third occasion on which Corporal Kirby has displayed gallantry in the face of the enemy.

He was presented with the Victoria Cross by the future King George V at a ceremony in Cape Town on 19 August 1901. His VC medal is now in the Ashcroft Collection at the Imperial War Museum.

Kirby returned to Aldershot as Company Sergeant Major, 60th Company R.E. He then transferred to the School of Military Engineering, Brompton Barracks, Chatham in 1902, serving as instructor in various roles until 1911. Meanwhile in 1909 he had married Kate Jolly and they went on to have two sons and two daughters.

In 1912 he joined the newly formed Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers at Farnborough and then the Royal Flying Corps, helping to form the Central Flying School, Upavon. In WWI he served in France from March 1916 and commanded No.3 Army Aircraft Park, Royal Flying Corps, at Trevent. Posted home to England in 1917, he was made Commanding Officer at the No.1 Stores Depot at Greenwich and later Inspector of Stores Depots for the Air Ministry. He was promoted to the rank of Major for services in connection with the war in January 1918. When the Royal Flying Corps became the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918, he was made Lieutenant Colonel and Quartermaster General at South Eastern Area Headquarters. The RAF adopted its own rank titles in 1919 and he became Wing Commander Kirby. His final posting, in February 1926, was to command the RAF Stores Depot at Ickenham. Appointed CBE in that year, he retired in December with the rank of Group Captain. He died in Sidcup in 1956.

Sources:

  • Military records, censuses, street directories, and other archives

The ceremony was held at Wavertree, 18 Lower High Street, Thame, on 10 September 2021. Attendees were welcomed by the Mayor of Thame and a brief tribute was given by Thame councillor Mike Dyer, organiser of the event. The plaque was unveiled by Timothy Howard Kirby, grandson. Later at the reception in the Museum, another grandson, Howard Pearl, spoke on behalf of the family. Among those attending were twelve Kirby family members, officers of the Royal Engineers and RAF and local government, and county representatives. An impressive exhibition of Kirby records and memorabilia had been mounted at the Museum.

Picture awaited

Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

Group Captain
FRANK H KIRBY

vc cbe dcm
1871–1956
Awarded the Victoria Cross for valour
while serving as a Corporal in the
Royal Engineers
Born here and spent his
youth in Thame

Thame Town Council

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