THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

11 November 2018

From library to battlefield – Rifleman Frederick Boxall

At the staff entrance of the British Library in London, there is a memorial plaque with 142 names. This is the roll of honour for the British librarians who lost their lives while serving in the First World War.

BLMemorial
In 2014, Untold Lives told the story of the first of the librarians named on the memorial to die:  Quartermaster Sergeant Herbert Gladstone Booth.  The last man on the memorial to die prior to the Armistice of 11 November 1918 was Frederick James Boxall, formerly an assistant at Sion College Library in London.  305423 Rifleman Frederick James Boxall of the 1/5th (City of London) Battalion, London Regiment, the 1st Battalion, London Rifle Brigade, died of wounds in France on 7 November 1918, aged nineteen.

Frederick James Boxall was born at Battersea on 25 February 1899, the son of James Boxall and Edith Kate Boxall (née Bishop).  At the time of the 1901 Census, the family was living at 13 Brassey Square, Battersea and James was working as a carpenter.  Frederick’s  younger brother Herbert was born on 21 July 1901.  The family moved to Croydon.  School records show that Frederick studied from 1904 at Ecclesbourne Road Infants School, transferring to Winterbourne Boys School in 1906.  Frederick Boxall left school in December 1913 to become a junior assistant at Croydon Library. Two years later, he was appointed assistant at Sion College Library.

Frederick Boxall was called up in 1916.  He attested at Croydon on 9 December 1916, when he was seventeen years old.  He served with the 1st Battalion, London Rifle Brigade, a Territorial Force unit that was in late 1918 part of 169th Infantry Brigade in the 56th (1/1st London) Division. On 5 November 1918, the 56th Division was advancing towards the Honnelle River, close to the Franco-Belgian border between Valenciennes and Mons.  At 5.30 am, the 169th Brigade attacked and captured the village of Angreau.  Attempts to advance any further were prevented by heavy machine-gun fire.  The 169th and 168th Brigades attempted to continue the advance the following morning.  The 1st London Rifle Brigade were successful in capturing their first objective, but strong German counter attacks eventually pushed them back to their original lines. The battalion war diary (TNA: WO 95/2962/6) noted that the weather conditions were not good: ‘rain fell all day and the River Honnelle had to be waded across’.  The operation failed because the village of Angre was still held by the Germans, and units on the battalion’s right had also failed to make progress. 

A notice of Rifleman Boxall’s death was published in Library World, December 1918:
'We regret to announce the death of FREDERICK JAMES BOXALL, assistant in Sion College Library, who was mortally wounded while succouring a wounded comrade on 6th November, and died next day.  Boxall, who was nineteen years old, served as a junior in the Croydon Libraries from December, 1913, to December, 1915, when he was appointed at Sion College. A gentle-mannered, earnest and promising young man, his early but heroic death is much deplored'.

  Canadian casualty clearing station 1918Ward scene of a Canadian Casualty Clearing Station in Valenciennes. November 1918 Canadian Official World War 1 Photographs 1920 l.r.233.b.57.v4

Rifleman Boxall is buried in Cambrai East Military Cemetery in France. His name appears on the West Croydon Congregational Church war memorial, now in East Croydon United Reformed Church.

Michael Day
Digital Preservation Manager