Wing Commander Frank Arthur Brock - MC

Date of Birth 29 June 1884
Age at Death 33
Date of Death 23 April 1918
Service Number
Military Service Royal Naval Air Service
Merton Address Lilfren, Grand Drive, Raynes Park
Local Memorial St. Saviour’s Church, Raynes Park

Additional Information

Francis Arthur Brock was born in Norwood on 29 June 1884. He was the second of nine children born to Arthur Brock and his Devonian wife, Anne. The couple also had an older son, Allan; four younger sons - Bernard, Harrold, Christopher and Roland, in addition to three younger daughters, Gwenlham, Sylvia and Margaret.

Arthur Brock came from a long line of successful firework manufacturers. C.T.Brock Ltd had been making fireworks since 1698 and had business premises in London, South Norwood, Sutton and Hemel Hempstead. Not surprisingly Arthur was a man of means and by 1891 his family were living at 192, Selhurst Road, together with a number of household servants.

Francis, usually known as Frank, attended Dulwich College. His family heritage clearly influenced his behaviour at school, where amongst other exploits he managed to blow up the stove in his form room. By 1901 he had joined the family firm and by 1911 was listed as a joint director, together with his brother Bernard.

Just after the outbreak of war Frank married Gladys Grosvenor and they moved to a new home, Lilfren in Grand Drive, Raynes Park. The couple were to have two daughters, Anne born in 1915 and Francesca born in 1918.

Frank enlisted in the army during the first months of the war. He originally joined the Royal Artillery and was commissioned as a temporary lieutenant on 10 October 1914. However within a month he was loaned and then transferred to the Navy, becoming a temporary sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on 27 October. Clearly talented, he was promoted to lieutenant on 31 December 1914 and then became a flight lieutenant in the Royal Naval Air Service on 1 January 1915.

An Admiralty report states that Frank had “extensive knowledge of Chemistry and Physics, together with Good Invention and experimental ability. Exceptional talent for devising and perfecting new devices for use during war, very capable, hard working, zealous officer and good in command of men.” He subsequently joined the Admiralty board of invention and research, later founding the Royal Navy experimental station at Stratford. Amongst his many inventions were the the Dover Flare – used in anti-submarine warfare; the Brock Colour Filter and the Brock (Incendiary) Bullet or Anti-Zeppelin Bullet, the first bullet to successfully shoot down an enemy airship.

Frank’s invaluable contribution to the Royal Flying Corps battle against German Zeppelins resulted in his promotion to the rank of Wing Commander in April 1917. He was awarded the Military Cross for distinguished service in the field in France, 15 May 1917, followed by an O.B.E. in January 1918 for services to King and Country.

By April 1918, the British Navy was planning to prevent German naval forces from using Zeebrugge harbour as a base by scuttling 2 ships in the harbour mouth. Brock devised a chemical smokescreen intended to mask the vessels involved. This ingenious "artificial fog" was injected under pressure into the hot exhausts of small craft such as motor torpedo boats, or the hot interior surface of the funnels on destroyers. At Chatham the larger ships were fitted with tall welded contraptions for carrying solid cakes of calcium phosphide. Once dropped into containers of water, this reacted to produce toxic smoke and flames, which could be dispersed by a type of windmill.

Brock insisted on taking part in the raid and boarded a ship together with a box marked 'Highly Explosive, Do Not Open.' This actually contained bottles of vintage port which were drunk by his men.

Anxious to discover the secret of a new German sound-ranging system, Brock was not content to watch the action from an observation ship and on arrival at Zeebrugge, he begged permission to go ashore. He joined a party of men attempting to storm the Mole (a section of the harbour wall) and was killed in action. A report by an accompanying officer suggests that Brock was last seen attacking a gun emplacement with revolver and cutlass, shortly before his death.

Brock was mentioned in despatches by Vice-Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, for his distinguished service on the night of the 22–23 April 1918. His body was never recovered but his name appears on the Zeebrugge memorial, together with two other officers and a Royal Navy mechanic who died during the assault and who have no known grave. He is also commemorated at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey and at St.Saviour’s Church in Raynes Park. It is a mark of the high regard with which Frank Brock was held that his death was described as “a loss of the gravest description to both the Navy and the empire”.

Henry Major Tomlinson wrote of Wing Commander Brock: A first-rate pilot and excellent shot, Commander Brock was a typical English sportsman; and his subsequent death during the operations, for whose success he had been so largely responsible, was a loss of the gravest description to both the Navy and the empire.


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