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2467 PTE. R. CUNLIFFE.  K.O.R.L.R.


Robert Cunliffe was born on 31 January 1896 in Bamber Bridge and baptised at St Saviour’s on 8 March that year.  His father was Thomas Cunliffe (b. 1861 in Longton), a general labourer.  His mother was Alice Hargreaves (b. 1863 in Scotforth, Lancaster).  Thomas and Alice were married in Woodplumpton in 1887, they lived there briefly and then moved to Clayton Green before settling in Bamber Bridge in 1891.  They lived in Bamber Bridge for the next 15 years or so, before finally moving back to Lancaster in about 1907.  They had 11 children, 10 of whom survived infancy: Henry (b. 1887), John (b. 1889), William (b. 1890), Christopher (b. 1894), then Robert, then Ellen (b. 1898), James (b. 1901), Alice (b. 1903), Thomas (b. 1905) and finally Annie (b. 1909).  In 1901, they lived at West Street (now West View), Bamber Bridge.  In 1911, Tom and Alice and all 10 children were living at 43 Green Street, Bulk, Lancaster.  Robert and all his older brothers were labourers like their father, with the exception of William who was in the Navy.


Robert was 18 when war broke out and he joined the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), 1/5th Battalion, being assigned service number 2467.  1/5 Battalion was formed at Lancaster in August 1914 and after brief training they landed at Le Havre on 15 February 1915.  They came under orders of 83rd Brigade in 28th Division.  In the spring of 1915, 28th Division was engaged in the defence of Ypres.  The Second Battle of Ypres (22 April – 25 May 1915) was notorious for the first mass use of poison gas by the Germans.  The first phase of the battle was at Gravenstafel Ridge (22-23 April).  The gas was chlorine gas and it was released by hand from canisters and relied on the wind for dispersal.  Many German troops were injured in the process and as many as 6000 French troops were gassed.  This attack was followed up by a second phase – the Battle of St Julien (24 April – 5 May).  By now, troops had discovered that pads soaked in urine and stuffed into their gas masks effectively neutralised the gas…  But it was in the third phase of the battle, at Frezenburg (8-13 May), that 28th Division was called into action.


According to Wikipedia:  The Germans moved field artillery forward, placing three army corps opposite the 27th and 28th Divisions on the Frezenberg ridge.  The German attack began on 8 May with a bombardment of the 83rd Brigade in trenches on the forward slope of the ridge, but the first and second infantry assaults were repelled by the survivors.  However, the third German assault of the morning pushed the defenders back.  Although the neighbouring 80th Brigade repulsed the attack, the 84th Brigade was pushed back; this left a 2-mile (3.2 km) gap in the line. The Germans were prevented from advancing further by Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI)'s counter-attacks and a night move by the 10th Brigade.


In May and June 1915, 350 British deaths were reported as caused by gas poisoning.  Robert was killed during the Battle of Frezenberg though it is not certain on which day, but it is recorded by CWGC as 9 May.  He was 19 years old.  Between 8-11 May, 1/5Bn had 24 men killed.


Rank:  Private

Service No:  2467

Date of Death:  09/05/1915

Age: 19

Regiment/Service:  King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), “D” Coy, 1/5Bn

Cemetery/memorial reference: Panel 12.


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