Frank was born on the 18th February 1896 at West View, Huyton, Liverpool. He was one of six children born to John and Ellen Lester. By the time Frank was five in 1901 the family had moved to 28 Rudd Street Hoylake, his father John as working as a Gardner. Ten years later when the 1911 census was taken John had changed jobs and was working as Salesman\Driver, Frank aged 15 was working as an apprentice joiner, Edwin his elder brother of two years was also an apprentice cabinet maker, his younger siblings were Lucy age 10, John age 5 and Ruth age 2, another brother George, had died aged 2 on the 24th September 1905. In his early years Frank attended Hoylake National School, he was a member of the Hoylake Boys Brigade and played the organ at the Methodist Tin Chapel.
In March 1916 Frank enlisted into South Lancashire Fusiliers, he was soon promoted to Sergeant Instructor and trained troops at Press Heath and Kinmel Park. In June 1917, he transferred to Lancashire Fusiliers reverting to the rank of private, he went to France in December 1917. In March 1918 Frank was wounded and after spending a few months recovering back in England he returned to the front in September. On the 12th October 1918, the battalion moved into the line at Neuvilly.
War Diary reads:
12 Oct 01:15am. Battalion left (INCHY) to take up positions S of Neuvilly preparatory to an attack at 05:00 hours.
04:00 battalion in support
A Coy. Had orders to follow close behind the Duke of Wellingtons which was attacking on the south of the village and when the leading battalion was over the river A Coy. Was ordered to clear the village north of the river working from S.E to N.W.
B Coy. Following the Manchester Regt were to clear the village from the N.W to S.E. Both companies on completion were to occupy a position N of the railway behind the Manchester’s and act as support in the event of a counter attack. The two remaining Coys. C on the right – D on the left to occupy positions and could be called upon by A & B Coy respectively if requiring assistance to clear the village.
B, C & D companies were in position by 04:00hrs the two-latter digging in. A coy. following the Duke of Wellingtons Regt were late but eventually got to their position just before 05:00hrs. Enemy were shelling the valley with gas and C Coy was ordered before zero hour to move up on close support of A Coy. Zero hour for attacking and clearing the village was 06:00hrs. M.G. and artillery barrage being kept on the village until that hour.
05:00 Artillery barrage opened A & B Coy. followed the Duke of Wellingtons and the Manchester Regt respectively, C Coy. following A Coy. The Duke of Wellingtons did not get their rear platoons over the river before the enemy barrage came down, A & C Coys did not get across.
05:50 The enemy were still holding positions on the south side of the river with M.Gs and sniper posts although this side was supposed to be clear. C Coy began clearing out these nests and killed several of the enemy. The house to house fighting was difficult but those of the enemy not killed escaped over the bridge. The O.C. A Coy. was wounded and 2nd Lt Davidson M.C. was sent from battalion H.Q to command the coy.
08:00 The Duke of Wellingtons Regt advance troops were on the line of the road south of the railway, but the rear troops were still south of the river, consequently A & C Coys were unable to cross. M.G fire was intense from the railway to the southern edge of the village and was particularly focused on the bridge by which the forward battalion had crossed. A & C Coys dug in on the road and prepared to get across when they could.
B Coy got over the river behind the Manchester’s and at 06:00hrs started to clear the village from the N.W there was considerable opposition from a factory S.E of the cemetery. This company took 30 odd prisoners by the time it reached a line north south through the church and had killed many of the enemy.
08:30 The situation was as follows D Coy was attached to the Manchester Regt which was on its final objective on the ridge north of the railway and was ordered to take up a position in Quarry Road and two platoons on the high ground, one of these platoons mopped up the cemetery into which some of the enemy had returned from the railway. B Coy had mopped up 2/3rd of the village. A & C Coys held up after trying to get into the village by the bridge opposite the church. Heavy M.G fire from the railway on the southern outskirts of the village.
33 wounded had by this time passed through RAP (Regimental Aid Post) which was situated at the battalion H.Q.
09:00 B Coy had cleared most of the village but was held up by M.G fire from the tunnel, this coy moved to its allotted position. There had been very stiff fighting in the village and nearly 50 prisoners had been taken.
Later D Coy received orders from O.C Manchester Regt to cross the railway and work N.E direction to clear the factory. This Coy at the time had made good the line of the railway with two platoons behind the Manchester Regt.
12:00 3 officers and 45 other ranks had passed through R.A.P
12:50 A & C Coys were sent orders to mop up the village entering from north to south working in conjunction with B Coy. B Coy met a large party of the enemy at the entrance of the village which it scattered with gun fire. The enemy had dribbled back into the village from the railway through the tunnel previously mentioned.
15:00 The enemy delivered a strong counter attack on the Manchester Regt and drove them off the village. The attack was preceded by a heavy artillery barrage. The companies were in the following positions, B Coy beginning to pass through the village, A & C Coys over the river on the north of the village and ready to follow B Coy. D Coy 2 platoons advancing on the factory and two near the quarry. The counter attack was stopped and many casualties caused in the enemy ranks from artillery fire and M.G. Four of the latter came in to action at the battalion H.Q. and four more on the ridge, driving out the attacking troops.
The enemy succeeded in regaining the village and railway but were prevented from crossing the river by the four companies A, B, C and D in the quarry and river bank.
17:00 orders received from the Manchester Regt. To hold the bank and quarry north of the river. Lancs Fusiliers to hold all the line of the river on the south, denying all crossings of the river to the enemy. C & A companies were sent to clear the village south of the river again, in order to be certain that none of the enemy had got across and were concealed in the houses. None of the enemy were encountered but strong M.G fire was met from the northern bank. Posts were established at suitable points guarding the river.
24:00 During the night the line was taken over by Sherwood Forrester’s, the battalion was ordered to withdraw to billets at Inchy, the last battalion getting back about 06:45 on the 13th
The battalion went into the line with 20 Officers and 558 men and came out with 16 officers and 364 men.
During this action Frank was killed in action for which he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the citation read:
The London Gazette No: 31067 13th December 1918
“For most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice during the clearing of the village of Neuvilly, on 12th October 1918, when, with a party of about seven men under an officer, he was the first to enter a house from the back door, and shot two Germans as they attempted to get out by the front door. A minute later a fall of masonry blocked the door by which the party had entered. The only exit into the street was under fire at point-blank range. The street was also swept by fire of machine guns at close range. Observing that an enemy sniper was causing heavy casualties to a party in a house across the street, Pte. Lester exclaimed, "I'll settle him," and, dashing out into the street, shot the sniper at close quarters, falling mortally wounded at the same instant. This gallant man well knew it was certain death to go into the street, and the party opposite was faced with the alternative of crossing the fire-swept street or staying where it was and being shot one by one. To save their lives he sacrificed his own.”
In 2002 Frank's VC was sold for £78,000. It was purchased on behalf of the Michael Ashcroft Trust, the holding institution for Lord Ashcrofts VC collection.
Frank's elder brother Edwin serving with the 4th Cheshire's died of syncope on the 9th July 1917 and is buried at Beersheba War Cemetery, Israel/Palestine
Cheshire County Memorial Project would like to thank Mark Green, Victoria Cross online for the picture of Frank.