Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
Motor Launch 291
Place of birth:
Date of death:
Cause of death:
Grave or panel reference:
Name of father:
Name of siblings:
Irene Maude; George Sidney
Name(s) of children:
Date of birth:
Place of enlistment:
Home; Rhineland, Germany
Age at death:
Cemetery or memorial:
Name of mother:
Elizabeth Stokes (née Donald)
Name of spouse:
Lilian Madge (née Alderson)
1911 Census – 58 Oakfield Road
Frank Harold Stokes, known as Harold, was the younger of two brothers who served in the First World War, both of whom returned home safely. He was born on 22 May 1898, five years after his sister Irene and three after his brother George Sidney, known as Sidney. Their parents were George and Elizabeth (née Donald), both of whom were members of New Court Congregational Chapel. There is, however, no record of Harold’s baptism in the Chapel, unlike his sister and brother.
George Stokes was in the printing trade, rising to be a ‘Printer’s Manager, Letterpress’ by the time of the 1911 Census. The family lived first at 17 Inderwick Road in Crouch End and then moved to 58 Oakfield Road, a little nearer New Court. The Census also records Elizabeth’s mother and George’s mother, both widows of ‘private means’, living with them there. In 1911 Harold was still at school.
On 21 September 1916 Harold joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), London Division, ‘for the duration of hostilities’, giving his occupation as bank clerk. He was first an Ordinary Seaman, based at HMS Victory VI (which was Crystal Palace depot and nowhere near the sea) and HMS Victory I, which was Portsmouth Flagship and Barracks. In July 1917 he was made a Signalman, based at HMS Victory X, Portsmouth Accounting Base, and attached to Motor Launch (ML) 291.
A Motor Launch was a small military ship in Royal Navy service, designed for coastal and harbour defence, for chasing submarines and for air-sea rescue, first introduced during the war. Motor launches were built in New Jersey, USA, assembled in Montreal and then shipped to Britain as deck cargo, usually four per ship. From 1916 they served in the Auxiliary Patrol, manned by RNVR personnel such as Harold.
In December 1918 ML291, with Harold on board, was chosen to lead a flotilla of 12 Motor Launches heading for Germany as the Rhine Patrol Flotilla. Under the Armistice of 11 November, British, French, Belgian and US troops occupied the Rhineland to oversee the peace, with the British establishing their HQ and a bridgehead at Cologne. It was vital for the Allies’ overall strategy of controlling communications and commerce in the occupied territories to control traffic on rivers and canals.
The Commander of the flotilla, which set off on 17 December, was Commander The Hon. Patrick Acheson, MVO DSO RN, a career naval officer who had served with distinction on the battle cruiser Inflexible, including at Gallipoli. The route from England to Cologne was via the Channel and then France’s rivers and canals; they could not take the most direct route across the North Sea, via Holland and up the Rhine itself because Holland had been neutral in the war and warships could not enter its territory.
Two of the ships were lost on the crossing from Portsmouth to Le Havre on 22 December, but two more were acquired in France. The flotilla travelled up the Seine, through Paris, crossing to the river Marne and on to Vitry-le-Françoise. Here they entered the Marne-Rhine Canal, passing through Nancy before arriving at Strasbourg to enter the Rhine and go downstream to Cologne. The weather was very bad that winter with heavy rain and the launches could often not pass under river and canal bridges until the water level had subsided.
By the end of January 1919 the Rhine Flotilla was in Cologne and took over the Cologne Watersports Club as its HQ; this was built on a barge on the river itself. Their duties included regular patrols of the Rhine within the British sector, naval escort for visiting dignitaries and ceremonial events.
Harold served as a Signalman in the Flotilla until the end of March 1919. He then returned for one month to HMS Victory X, the shore establishment in Portsmouth, and was demobbed on 1 May 1919. Throughout his service his character was assessed as Very Good, and his ability rose from Satisfactory at the end of 1917, to Superior in December 1918.
After the war, Harold lived with his wife Lilian (née Alderson) in north London, Barnet and later Reigate in Surrey. In the 1939 Register he is shown as a bank accountant and part-time member of Barnet AFS [Auxiliary Fire Service]. Lilian was a housewife and ARP Ambulance Driver. Harold died on 5 December 1958 in Eastbourne, aged 60.