The Man Behind the Medals
In this blog series, SOFO Museum’s Research volunteers look at the stories behind some of the medal sets in the museum’s collection, from those that can be seen on a visit in our dedicated Medals display, to some of those that are still tucked away in the archive. This is our third VC special, looking instead at men named on our new Oxfordshire Gallantry Board, which tells the story of the county's Victoria Cross and George Cross recipients.
While medals will tell you a little bit about a soldier’s service, it’s only with further research that their full story can be revealed. SOFO’s Research volunteers respond to enquiries we receive through our Research Service, helping people find out more about their relatives who served in the county regiments, and raising funds to support the museum in the process. Using a combination of the museum’s records and those available elsewhere, they piece together stories like this one.
Group Captain Frank Kirby VC CBE
From an enlisted volunteer in the Oxfordshire Yeomanry to senior officer in the Royal Air Force, Frank Kirby had an incredibly varied military career, which also saw him decorated for a number of acts of gallantry while serving in the Royal Engineers during the Boer War.
Frank Kirby joined the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars as a Yeoman in January 1889 (service number 57), attending four annual summer camps, until 1892 when he enlisted on 8 August as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers (reg no. 698) at St George’s Barracks, London.
He later transferred to the Mounted Detachment, Royal Engineers, Aldershot, in August 1893. By August 1895 he was appointed Lance Corporal, then promoted to Second Corporal in April 1898. Again he transferred, this time to ‘G’ Company, Royal Engineers, at St Mary’s Barracks, Chatham in August 1898. Just over a year later he re-joined the Mounted Detachment at Aldershot in October 1899, and was promoted to full Corporal the following month.
It was with the Mounted Detachment that he was sent to South Africa in November 1899 and served in the South African Campaign (Boer War) until December 1901. During the conflict he was Mentioned in Despatches several times and took part in blowing up the Bloemfontein Railway in March 1900, for which he was awarded his first decoration for gallantry, the DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal), in June 1900.
For his actions in that same month, June 1900, during a raid north of Kroonstad under General Hunter Weston, he was awarded the VC (Victoria Cross) in October 1900.
Following theis he was romoted in the field, direct from Corporal to Troop Sergeant Major, in April 1901. He was transferred from South Africa to Home Establishment in December 1901 and posted
to the 60th Company, Royal Engineers, Aldershot as Company Sergeant Major.
Another transfer came in January 1902, to the School of Military Engineering at Brompton Barracks, Chatham as a Probationary Field Work Instructor, then promoted to Quarter
Master Sergeant Field Work Instructor in October 1902.
Kirby was appointed Regimental Sergeant Major in December 1906 and served at the Schoolof Military Engineering until 1908, then as Sergeant Major, Training Battalion, 1908 – 1910 before returning to the School of Military Engineering until April 1911. It was in April 1911 that he was gazetted with an honorary commission as a Lieutenant, appointed a Quartermaster, and posted to the newly formed Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers at Farnborough.
He transferred to the new Royal Flying Corps in May 1912 and helped to form the Central Flying School, Upavon, where he was promoted to Equipment Officer with the temporary rank of Captain in September 1914.
He proceeded to France in March 1916 and commanded No.3 Army Aircraft Park, Royal Flying Corps, at Trevent. He was appointed temporary Major in April 1916 and was given his full Captaincy in the field in January 1917. Captain kirby VC was posted from France to Home Establishment in January 1917 and became Commanding Officer at the No.1 Stores Depot at Greenwich (now Kidbrooke).
In the same month he was appointed as a Temporary Lieutenant Colonel in and was then posted to the Air Ministry as Inspector of Stores Depots in August 1917. He was promoted to the Substantive (actual rank, not temporary or acting) Rank of Major for services in connection with the war in January 1918. The Royal Flying Corps became the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918, at which time he achieved the Substantive Rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
He was appointed Temporary Colonel to command the Technical Corps, RAF, in August 1918, and an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in January 1919. Frank Kirby reverted to his Substantive Rank of Lieutenant Colonel in May 1919, following the Armistice, and was posted to Headquarters, South Eastern Area, in June 1919 as Quartermaster General.
On 1 August 1919 the Royal Air Force introduced its own rank titles to replace the previous Army ranks, so Lieutenant Colonel became Wing Commander and Colonel
became Group Captain.
His final posting, in February 1926, was to command No.4 Stores Depot, RAF, at Ickenham
He was appointed a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1926, and retired in December 1926 with the rank of Group Captain (Colonel).