Second Lieutenant Francis Patrick O'Brien

Date of Birth 18 March 1894
Age at Death 22
Date of Death 16 August 1916
Service Number C/1875
Military Service 10th Battalion East Surrey Regiment
Merton Address 21 Parkside, Wimbledon
Local Memorial Wimbledon College

Additional Information

Francis Patrick O’Brien was born in Dover in 1894. He was the youngest son of Dennis Bray O’Brien a wealthy Irish landowner and his London Born wife, Clarissa. The O’Brien’s family seat was Ardfort House in Thurles, Tipperary. The couple had two older children, Etheldade and James, while the baby of the family was daughter, Agnes. By 1901 the O’Briens were living in a large property in Grange Road, Ramsgate, together with three servants. By 1911, they had moved to 119 Ridgway in Wimbledon Village – also named “Ardfort” after their Irish estate.

Francis, like his older brother James, was educated at Wimbledon College, where he is likely to have joined the cadet force. He had been studying to go into business but on 3 September 1914 he signed up for military service. He was 20 years old and initially served as a Private in B Company 1st Battalion, VPS Brigade, Royal Fusiliers. His medal card also refers to the 18th Battalion Royal Fusiliers - formed in Epsom, this initially comprised recruits from Public Schools and universities.

In December 1914, Francis applied for and was granted a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the 10th Battalion East Surrey Regiment. At this point in time his address was given as 8 Wyeths Road, Epsom but the rest of his family were now living at 21 Parkside, Wimbledon (also named “Ardfort” according to the O’Brien custom).

Francis was posted to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force and his unit served on the Western Front. He was killed two years later during fighting at Guillemont. A war office minute sheet dated 22 August 1916 reported him missing believed killed. A report by the officer commanding his battalion contains more details regarding the circumstances:
“On 16th August 1916 my platoon took part in an attack on the enemy’s trench. 2nd Lieutenant O’Brien was in charge at the time and as we advanced towards the enemy’s trench I was on his immediate left; but as we got nearer Lieutenant O’Brien increased his pace and got 15 yards in front of me. The next thing I remember of him was that he stood on the enemy’s parapet and almost immediately I noticed him fall on his right side as if he had been shot and then slide into the enemy trench. As he disappeared I saw a German run at him with uplifted weapon (like a pick-axe) and hit him on the head’.

By March 1917, following further enquiries, presumption of death was officially announced. Although his body was never found, Francis is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial to those missing on the battlefields of the Somme. His name also appears on a carved oak memorial panel in the ante-room to the chapel at Wimbledon College.

A stained glass window installed at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, Edgehill, Wimbledon in 1918, also serves as a memorial to Francis, his older brother James and those men “who gallantly laid down their lives in the Great War”.


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