Commemorating the Great War: Frank Tomkinson of Tunstall

In 1989 a small group of adult students attended a monthly Saturday class on the First World War, organised by Keele’s department of adult education, and taught by a visiting academic, Dr (later Professor) Richard Holmes who would drive to Keele from Sandhurst. Two of the students, the late Anne and Frank Senior from Leek undertook research into the short life of Frank’s uncle, Frank Tomkinson of Pittshill near Tunstall who had been killed in FrancSenior pamphlete in 1918 at the age of 25. Frank had inherited many of the letters written by his name-sake. They presented their findings to a meeting of the class and spoke for about twenty minutes. The course fee, for eight six-hour classes, was £20, and Dr Holmes gave up the whole of one of his Saturdays each month for what must have seemed a derisory fee. Some years later, famous for a series of TV programmes include War Walks, he could have commanded a substantial fee and attracted a much larger audience, but in fact he remained available to those with a genuine interest in the experiences of the first world war.
This year, the anniversary of the start of the first world war, an expanded text of the Seniors’ brief talk has been edited by Paul Anderton and published by The North Staffordshire Historians’ Guild, together with illustrations from the letters. Frank had worked at Whitfield Colliery and served in the Royal Field Artillery, training first at Markyate in Bedfordshire and then on Salisbury Plain. In 1916 they were sent to Ireland, and Frank attended a memorial service for Lord Kitchener in Dublin cathedral. In 1917 the battery left for France and Frank served there until his death in May 1918. The booklet is then a series of memorials, to the author of the letters, the two students and their tutor who sought to recover the voices and experiences of those who had fought in the first war, and indeed to Keele’s adult-education tradition which the University abandoned in the 2000s.
Details of the booklet can be had from The North Staffordshire Historians’ Guild


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