Francis Allan ‘Frank’ Bain was born at Motu Rimu, on the southern outskirts of Invercargill, New Zealand, on 1 February 1896. A brushmaker before he enlisted with the 39th Battalion, AIF on 5 February 1916, his enlistment details are recorded as age: 20 years; height: 5 ft 7½ inches; weight: 123 lbs; chest: 30–34 inches; complexion: dark; eyes: brown; hair: black; religion: Presbyterian; and next-of-kin: Alexander and Ellen Bain (née Barrett), 396 Napier Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne. Frank was Alexander and Ellen’s sixth child.
Frank had served three years with the Citizen Military Forces before joining up, and received additional military training at Ballarat. He embarked from Melbourne on HMAT 11: Ascanius on 27 May 1916.
Sailing via Cape Town, the Ascanius berthed at Devonport, near Plymouth, on 18 July 1916. The 39th Battalion then travelled by train to Salisbury Plain where they completed courses in musketry and entrenching. Four months later, on 23 November 1916, the Battalion embarked from Southampton for the French port of Le Havre, then by train to Bailleul, and on 27 November by motor lorry to billets at Merris, where they received training in close quarter fighting with the bayonet and the use of gas respirators.
On 2 December 1916, the Battalion marched out to billets near Armentières. On 8 December half of the company relieved the 37th Battalion in the front line, thereafter rotating in and out of the line through a long and bitterly cold winter — described at the time as the coldest winter in living memory.
On 3 March the 39th Battalion withdrew from the line to Erquinghem and La Creche for training with Lewis guns, and further instruction in musketry, bomb throwing, grenades, and new formations in attack — in preparation for the Battle of Messines, scheduled for early June 1917.
On 4 April the Battalion marched to billets near Armentières and relieved the 33rd Battalion in the Epinette Sector of the line on 8 April 1917. They held the line there until the night of 16 April, when, from 8.00pm onwards, they were in turn relieved by the 37th Battalion. Back in billets, the Battalion received further training in wiring, semaphore signalling, bayonet fighting, musketry and Lewis guns.
On 28 April the 39th relieved the 43rd Battalion in the Ploegsteert sector.
From the middle of April right up until zero hour on 7 June, aerial and artillery activity on both sides was intense. It was evident that an impending attack was suspected by the enemy, and trenches, roads, tracks, concentration areas and transport lines were frequently subjected to gas and shell fire and aerial bombardment. The enemy also made many attempts to attack and raid points along the line. It was during one of these raids, at daybreak on the morning of 30 April 1917, that Frank was severely wounded.
Transcribed from the 39th Battalion unit war diaries, Australian War Memorial:
PLOEGSTEERT 30 April 1917, 4.00am
“Intense enemy barrage to cover a raid directed against St. Ives sector. Enemy party estimated up to 80 strong driven off by Lewis gun and rifle fire without penetrating beyond front line. Two enemy dead left in the front line gave normal (5th Bavarian) identifications. Three heavy demolition charges left behind in addition to rifles, bombs, etc. Enemy evidently attempting to destroy mine saps. Our casualties: 1 officer and 13 other ranks killed, and 2 officers 47 other ranks wounded — all by enemy shell fire.” (39th Infantry Battalion War Diary)
Private Frederick Hill trained with Frank at Ballarat. They shipped out together on the Ascanius. Hill, since promoted to sergeant, provided this report to the Australian Red Cross Society at Etaples on 1 January 1918:
“Bain was in my Coy and Platoon. I knew him very well. He came from Fitzroy near Melbourne. Fritz was raiding us in our street at St. Ives, Ploegsteert Road, at daybreak on 30 April. Bain was standing to in a bay of the front line. I was about 200 yards away. After the attack I was going along the trench and came to where Bain had been standing. I saw him half buried in dirt and stones and stuff. We got him out. He was conscious, but he had been badly hit, one leg was gone, the other leg and one arm were badly damaged. He seemed numbed and was quite cheerful — talking as if there was nothing wrong. I don’t think he was in any pain. S/Bs [stretcher bearers] carried him out. I went with other S/Bs helping them and when we got to Charing X D/S [Charing Cross Dressing Station] I saw Bain again, being dressed. I did not see him again, but another man, S.G. Allars (also wounded) was taken with Bain from Charing X D/S to the Second C.C.S. [Casualty Clearing Station] at Steenwerke. Allars told me afterwards that Bain had died there and that he was quite conscious up to within a few minutes of his death.” — Sergeant F.G. Hill, Service no. 910. (Report by Sergeant F.G Hill, Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau)
Francis Allan Bain died of his wounds on 30 April 1917, and was buried at Trois Arbres Cemetery, Steenwercke, (Plot I: Row J: Grave no. 2) not far from the Second Australian Casualty Clearing Station. He was 21 years old.
This information was provided by Michael Ward. AWMM