X/762 Private Frank Fenning Fuller Kidson,
South African Medical Corps.
Died of influenza, 30 October 1918
at the South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park, .
If I were ever to allow myself a ‘favourite’ from amongst the Richmond Cemetery Lads, he might well be Frank Fenning Fuller Kidson, a medic, who succumbed to the ‘Blue Death‘ (the Influenza Epidemic of 1918) an illness which took more lives in Europe than had the Great War (about 21 million versus about 15 million in the conflict on both sides). Sadly, his illness was to have grave repercussions, for his young wife, Kate, and for their infant daughter.
Frank Kidson was the son of Job Paul Kidson and his wife, Phyllis Elizabeth Fuller and, through his father, he came from pioneering stock. Frank’s great grandparents, William Kidson (b. 1784 in Staindrop, Co. Durham) and Anna Maria Parke (b. c. 1787 in Saffron Waldon) were 1820 Settlers, and, with their six children, members of Thomas Willson’s Party, which had sailed from London on La Belle Alliance, on 12 February 1820. This party was allocated land in Beaufort Vale, along the Bush River and close to the frontier of the Cape Colony. The parents of Anna Maria Parke were Joseph Parke and Elizabeth Talmash (or Tollemache), the latter a surname well represented on the war memorials in Ham and in Petersham.
William and Anna were married at St Paul’s, Shadwell in 1807, with one of the witnesses being Anna’s brother, Samuel Fenning Parke. The Fenning surname continued down in the Kidson family for several generations, and so I am confident that the Fleming which replaces Fenning in some of Frank’s military records is incorrect, and has been misheard with the error perpetuated.
The family lived first in the parish of Westminster, later moving to Bermondsey. We can observe the changes in William’s occupation throughout his marriage from the baptismal records of his oldest children. Immediately before his departure for the Cape he had been a Victualler in Bermondsey Street. He made a living in Bathurst, in the Eastern Cape, first as a Cattle Dealer, and later as a farmer. Just over 20 years later, the Victualler had reverted to type, and William was trading in Grahamstown as a wine merchant.
Frank’s grandfather, Joseph Parke Kidson, married twice and Frank’s father, Job, was a child of Joseph’s second marriage to Mary Timm. Like many of the frontier settlers, Job Kidson was called upon to fight in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. At the time of his marriage to Phyllis Elizabeth Fuller, in 1882, he was a trader at Indwe. The following year, he was initiated as a Freemason at the Lodge Star in the East, in Queenstown. The Lodge records show that he was working as a wagon maker. Job’s father was also a freemason, and several of his sons also became freemasons, members of lodges in King William’s Town, but there is no record that Frank ever became a freemason.
Frank Fenning Fuller Kidson was born on 18 March 1890, their fifth child, and first son. Fenning, so important in previous generations was included in his string of first names. Just under three months later, Frank’s father died in the Frontier Hospital, in Grahamstown, leaving five children under the age of seven. It is likely, given their ethos, that Job’s fellow masons would have helped his widow and children if they were in financial straits, as would his Kidson brothers. Frank would, unfortunately, have grown up without any memories of his father, as would the youngest of his sisters. Following Phyllis’s remarriage, she moved to the Transvaal.
At the time of his enlistment, Frank was employed in the South African Police Force. He enlisted in the Army in 1915, when he appears to have been deployed to a Reserve Battalion at Maida Barracks, Aldershot. He was sent to France the following year, after having been detailed for duty with the Military Police, not arriving there until September 1916, three months after the South African Brigade had suffered devastating losses while holding out at Delville Wood. It is not clear from his record card just when he was attached to the South African Medical Corps but it appears, as there is no indication of his being a patient, that this must have occurred before 2 June 1917, when he was transferred from the Military Hospital in Eastbourne to the Eastbourne Convalescent Hospital. Within a fortnight, he was transferred to the Military Orthopaedic Hospital in Shepherd’s Bush where he served as a medic until 1918.
We know that Frank was accommodated at Maida Barracks in Aldershot and subsequently at Inkerman Barracks, his residence at the time of his marriage. Parish records show that Frank married Kate Kathleen Eves in St John’s Church, Woking, on 26 April 1918.
The South African War Graves Project has obtained an interesting newspaper cutting about Frank’s exceptional height, shared with other family members, including his sisters, and which I have transcribed here:
CURIOUS RECORD OF A GIANT SOUTH AFRICAN FAMILY
There is serving at Aldershot a young soldier of the South African Infantry, Private F.F.F. Kidson, who stands 6ft 8in.
His father stood 6ft 1in., and served in the Zulu War. His mother, now with the family in Johannesburg, is 6ft 4½ in., and there are four daughters, all over 6ft. 4in. Three are married, with husbands respectively 6ft 4in., 6ft 2in., and 6ft 1in.
Kidson’s fiancée is only eighteen years of age and 5ft 4in in height but she weighs 16st[one]. Kidson belongs to a platoon of thirty-six men all over 6ft. He is anxious to meet a giant Hun.
On 20 October, the very day that his daughter, Frances Florence Fuller Kidson was born, Frank was admitted to the South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park, suffering from influenza. Medical records show that he was described as “dangerously ill” on 27 October.
Frank’s young wife, Kate, is said to have taken her newborn daughter to London, so that her father could meet her. He died at the hospital on 30 October, one of several members of the medical corps to die that week. Kate’s trip south was to cost her her own life, and she succumbed to influenza just over a week later, on 8 November 1918. She was particularly vulnerable to this virus, because she was exposed to it so soon after having given birth.
Frank and Kate’s daughter, Frances, gave birth to a son and three daughters from her marriage to Ronald Henry Watts. A subsequent pregnancy proved fatal. When I pause at Frank’s grave on Remembrance Sunday, I think not only of him, his wife and their orphaned daughter, but I also wonder whether his descendants in the UK are aware of the intrepid pioneers from whom they have sprung.
My post The Blue Death gives some information about the influenza epidemic and how it affected the staff and patients at the South African Military Hospital.
Wartime Marriages: Inkerman Barracks is also where my grandfather was stationed, at the time of his marriage my grandmother, in Leeds, in October 1917. I’m aware of a number of marriages between S.A.M.H. patients and local women—one of which was the marriage at Richmond Register Office in 1917, of my great great-uncle, John Henry Lewin,a patient at the S.A.M.H. because of life-changing injuries, and an enthusiastic contributor to the hospital’s magazine, The Springbok Blue.
Researching the 1820 Settlers
Those interested in the experiences of the 1820 Settlers in Albany, might like to obtain a copy of The Chronicle of Jeremiah Goldswain, a recent edition of which has been sensitively transcribed and edited by his descendant Ralph Goldswain.
Further information sought
I have been told, by one of her descendants whom I contacted, that Kate’s father, Benjamin Eves, a farmer, travelled down to London to collect the infant Frances, and that she was raised by her mother’s family in Woodbastwick. Frances Kidson’s birth was registered in Blofield, Norfolk, possibly at the same time as the registration of her mother’s death. Presumably this means that both these events took place at Woodbastwick, where the Eves were living. Would Kate’s father have been allowed to register the birth in Woodbastwick, if she had died in London? If she returned home, when ill, then who took care of her baby in London?