Kibworth teachers track down the family of a hero local soldier killed in the First World War

This follows an appeal we help publicise online

Friday, 19th November 2021, 6:21 pm
Updated Friday, 19th November 2021, 6:24 pm
teacher Lee Holmes by their WWI display - and the memorial plaque.
teacher Lee Holmes by their WWI display - and the memorial plaque.

Jubilant teachers at a Harborough school have tracked down the overjoyed family of a hero local soldier dad killed in the First World War.

Lee Holmes, who teaches at Kibworth Mead Academy in Kibworth Beauchamp, said he was “delighted” to have traced the great-granddaughter of Gunner Frank Herbert Kirby.

The history teacher launched the nationwide mission after staff found a heartfelt memorial plaque from Gunner Kirby’s devastated wife saluting him in a cupboard at their school.

The memorial plaque to Gunner Frank Herbert Kirby.

And Lee is now preparing to send the priceless emotional tribute to the valiant serviceman’s great-granddaughter Allison at her home in Plymouth, Devon.

“I’m just thrilled that we’ve been able to get in touch with Allison and tell her that we’ve uncovered this plaque dedicated to her great-grandfather Frank here at our school.

“We were just clearing out an office in our humanities block here when we stumbled across it,” said Lee.

“We literally had to dust it down.

The memorial plaque to Gunner Frank Herbert Kirby.

“I decided there and then that that we had to strive to do all we could to find out more about this heroic soldier – and to try to return this humbling tribute from his wife to his family.

“It’s particularly poignant and very timely that we’ve managed to track down Allison just days after Remembrance Sunday.

“Someone saw my tweet urgently appealing for help as we tried to solve this Great War mystery.

“Luckily they had also spotted that Allison had created an Ancestry.com profile as she started carrying out extensive research into her family during the Covid lockdowns.

“So he put two and two together and connected us both up,” said Lee.

“And now we know a lot more about Frank – and we’ll be packaging up and sending Allison this heartrending tribute from his wife.

“She was overwhelmed and overjoyed and it’s just so good to find her so quickly.”

Gunner Kirby, hailed as a dear husband and father, was killed in action on the Western Front in France on May 6, 1917.

The married dad-of-three, who served in the British Army’s powerful Royal Field Artillery unit, was just 26 when he made the ultimate sacrifice for king and country in the Great War.

Frank was born in West Maitland in New South Wales after his family made the daunting 10,000-mile voyage to Australia aboard the steamship Energia from Plymouth in the early 1890s, it’s emerged.

His parents, who had eight children altogether, spent several years Down Under before returning to the UK to live in Leicester.

Frank married his sweetheart Emma Elizabeth Chapman in 1912 in Leicester.

The couple went on to have three children.

Allison told Lee that her grandfather William Walter Kirby was their middle child.

And he went on to fight for the Royal Leicestershire Regiment, the Fighting Tigers, himself in the Second World War.

Tragically Frank’s teenage younger brother George was killed on the Western Front in 1915 aged just 19 and his body was never found.

Their heartbroken parents suffered another terrible blow when Frank was killed fighting the German Army two years later.

The dad-of-three is buried in Dickebusch New Military Cemetery in Belgium.

Frank and his wife Emma had Phyllis Jane in 1913, William Walter in 1914 and Frank in 1916 – just a year before the gunner lost his life.

“We featured Frank’s plaque in a special display we’ve created in our humanities block here at school.

“Every student has made a poppy which go up the wall and on to the ceiling,” added Lee.

“We have put up pictures and a mini-biography of every soldier from Kibworth killed in the two world wars.

“And if anyone out there has any more information about Frank – and maybe a picture – we’d love to hear from you.

“You can call me at the school on 0116 279 2238.

“We are starting to put some real flesh and blood on to this gripping story now as we start to piece Frank’s life and death together.

“But we are still no nearer solving the puzzle of how this very moving plaque to him came to be resting in a cupboard here at our school in Kibworth.”