21st Division 1914-18...a divisional history

Captain & Brevet Major (Temp Lt/Colonel) H E Franklyn

Whilst it is open to some debate as to whether Major-General David Campbell, was lucky or had influence in the brigade commanders he commanded, it is more reasonable to say he was astute in the staff officers he obtained. An illustration of this is not the appointment of Lt-Colonel A T Paley as GSO1, replacing Lt-Colonel Daniell (KIA 4/3/15) but the appointment of Harold Franklyn in replacing Paley on the 17th October 1917. This astuteness is then only apparent when you realise that Franklyn had actually been a Staff Captain in 1916 working under Paley. The promotion to GSO1, shows amply in Campbell's ability to keep consistency within his command.

Perhaps though what is even more relevant to Franklyn is the ability of the man himself. It is reasonable to assume that Campbell would not have promoted or kept an ineffective officer. Thus we can assume that Campbell and Paley saw something in Franklyn. So it may come as no surprise to learn that Captain H E Franklyn, staff officer 21st division in1916, would become General Sir H E Franklyn. Whilst his Second World War career would fall away, it can rest knowing that Franklyn's command gave Erwin Rommel a scare at Arras in May 1940 whilst the rest of the BEF was being pushed back in numerous directions.

Harold E Franklyn was born into a soldiers family on the 28th November 1885. His father was Lt-General Sir W E Franklyn, K.C.B. Educated at Rugby and Sandhurst he passed out of the RMC and was commissioned into the Green Howards in 1905. By 1914 he had risen to the rank of Captain.

He married Monica, daughter of General Sir H E Belfield in 1913, having one daughter and one son. The son John B E Franklyn, Captain 6th battalion Green Howards was killed in action at Arnheim on 27th September 1944.

At the outbreak of war Franklyn was assigned as an Assistant Embarkation Staff Officer (graded for purposes of pay as Staff Captains) on the 25th August 1914. Within the month he was attached to the 6th (Service) battalion Yorkshire Regiment on the 12th September. On the 23rd October he relinquished this position to take the role of Staff Captain.

On the 18th May 1915 he was appointed a GSO3 and mentioned in despatches on the 22nd June. This was followed with the position of Brigade Major on the 24th October. His service would have been good as he was again mentioned in despatches on the 1st January 1916. The award of the Military Cross followed on 3rd June. By this time he was well embedded in the operations staff of 21st division and involved heavily in the preparations for the coming Somme offensive. he was brevetted Major on the 26th June and would ably assist and be near the front line in the coming days as the division was involved in the initial days of the offensive and then more 'impressively' the assault around Bazentin Ridge on the 14th July.

The new year was welcomed with another mention in despatches on the 4th January 1917. The fourth year of war was a busy and cruel one, with involvement in Arras and 3rd Ypres and on the 27th September he was promoted GSO1 and took over the role of senior staff officer in 21st division when Colonel Paley relinquished command on the 16th October 1917. He would hold this position until the cessation of hostilities, earning another mention in despatches, 20th May 1918 and the award of the DSO on the 3rd June. His correct title at this time was Captain & Brevet Major (Temp Lt/Colonel)! He was also awarded the French Croix De Guerre during the war and mentioned six times in despatches.

After the armistice he was deputy assistant Adjutant General of the staff college at Camberley from 1925-1928. In 1930 he took over command of the 1st battalion the West Yorkshire regiment. The year 1933 saw him in the Sudan as GSO1 of the Sudan defence force, he then succeeded to the command of this force two years later.

In 1938 he returned to the UK to take command of the 5th Division which as we have seen above he took to France as part of the BEF. He was given the colonelcy of the Green Howards in 1939 and kept this honour until 1949. Also in this year his marriage to Monica was dissolved, though in 1941 he married Helen Thompson.

On the 21st May 1940 his division in combination with two Tank battalions of the Royal Tank Regiment and two battalions from the 50th division launched a counter-attack against the marauding German tank forces. The combined units were termed as 'Frankforce'. and Franklyn must have known he was only capable of inflicting a stopping blow, yet the attack was conducted with some success. Catching Rommel in the flank, attacking from there defensive positions around the town of Arras, Franklyn must have been aware that any real success was not a reality, yet he delivered the attack with vigour over ground he must have been familiar with from 1917 and it is to wonder what it must have felt, to be attacking again on the same soil.

The attack did stop the Germans, delaying for a day its advance on the channel ports. Franklyn's force continued to hold Arras and the surrounding area until the 23rd withdrawing, upon orders from Field Marshal Gort VC, successfully during the night. His obituary states that he then had a command consisting of his own 5th division with two brigades of the 4th division, three battalions of 1st division and a few other units, holding a long vulnerable sector of the line as the BEF fell back on Dunkirk.

His obituary in The Times says he won much praise for this action and whilst upon returning to the UK he was given command of the VIII Corps from July 1940, this may be considered the pinnacle of his career as in May 1941 he became General Officer Commanding British troops in Northern Ireland, surely a sidewards move. In 1943 until he retired in 1945 he was Commander in Chief Home Forces.

Franklyn had been created C.B in 1940 and was later raised to K.C.B. in 1943. He was keen golfer and Bridge player and was a member of the Army and Navy club. His wife died in 1959 and Harold Edmund Franklyn followed on the 31st march 1963.

Franklyn may not have spent much time in the trenches with the men, the typical red tab some could claim, his record speaks that even as a staff Captain of 1916 we can see he was constantly in harms way. The fact that he took over the critical position of GSO1 of 21st division, reflects greatly on not just his ability but also the regard that Major-General Campbell held him in. In many respects there can be little better to sum up the career of a soldier who spanned two world wars.