According to himself, Corporal Frank Phillips was born in St Margaret’s parish Leicester in about 1879. His mother was Helen or “Ellen” Smith (c1843-1927) and his father was named by his mother as having been farmer called Frank Phillips, to whom she was married. However, there is no evidence for this and it looks as though Helen was unmarried when she gave birth to Frank, who was probably registered at birth as Frank Smith. Ellen Smith was unmarried in 1881 when she lived with her mother at 7 Larch Street, St Margaret’s. However she did not marry between 1881 and 1891, by which time she styled herself as Mrs Phillips, a widow. It’s likely that Frank never knew the real story surrounding his parentage.
As a young adult Frank spent time working as a packing case maker before joining the Coldstream Guards on the 18th November 1897, aged 19. He and his mother lived at 7 Harrington Street. At 6 feet 2 and three quarter inches and weighing 180lbs, Frank was rather striking with fair hair and blue eyes. He had lost the tip of the third finger on his left hand. He was appointed Lance Corporal on 16th October 1900 but deprived of this rank – presumably for some misdemeanour – on 7th January 1901. He served in South Africa from October 1899 to 3rd December 1901 and was awarded the South African War Medal, having fought at the battle of Driefontein. He was discharged – still a private soldier – on 28th August 1902, with a gratuity of 30 shillings. During Frank’s absence Helen had moved in with her widowed sister Emma and their mother Mary at 59 Chestnut Street.
Frank married Harriet Blockley (1875-1931) at All Saints Bow Street on 28th January 1905, not long before the birth of their daughter Ivy (1905-1935) on the 5th April. Harriet was almost certainly aware that she was pregnant at the time. Frank gave his occupation as cabinet maker (which was slightly self-aggrandising: ‘Carpenter’ would have been more accurate) and both gave their address as 5 Old Milton Street, probably in a room rented from Ernest Swann.
Frank and Harriet lived at 13 Melton Street from 1910. Frank worked as a wood packing case maker and Harriet worked at home as a hosiery handlinker. Frank’s mother Helen Phillips lived there too. Frank struggled with literacy, misspelling Harriet’s name as “Harriat” in the 1911 census, with rather wobbly and uncertain handwriting.
Frank rejoined military service at Leicester on 21st September 1914, this time as a soldier in the 3rd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. Shortly after arriving at Aldershot on 30th September, he transferred to the 7th Battalion, which was attached as army troops to the 15th (Scottish) Division. This new division was rather chaotic in the early days, without equipment, uniform or trained troops. No wonder Frank, an experienced soldier, reverted to Corporal. By January the division was in sufficient order (and properly dressed) for inspection by Lord Kitchener. They landed in France between 7th and 13th July 1915. However, Frank was not in their number. He was admitted to Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot, on 7th February 1915 in “a very bad state,” suffering from oedema, bed sores, retention of urine, jaundice, bleeding from the bowels and nose. This was a readmission following previous treatment. Frank died of pneumonia on 23rd April 1915. His funeral and burial took place at Welford Road Cemetery on Thursday, 29th April 1915. A notice was placed in the Leicester Mercury on 28th April 1915 which read: ”PHILLIPS – On April 24th, at Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot, Corporal F Phillips, late Coldstream Guards. Funeral, Welford Road, at 2 o’clock, Thursday.”
Frank’s effects of £5 2s 5d were sent to Harriet at 13 Melton Street on 14th July 1915 and a war gratuity of £4 in 1919. Harriet remained at 13 Melton Street with Ivy until 1930, when she moved to 22 Dunster Street. His mother Helen lived with Harriet and Ivy until she died in 1927. Harriet died in 1931, never having remarried. Ivy lived on at 22 Dunster Street but died on 27th June 1935 at the City Mental Hospital.