BAMBER BRIDGE IN WORLD WAR 1
41263 PTE. R. H. LAW. CHESH.R.
Robert Henry Law was born on 15 April 1895 and baptised at Brownedge St Mary’s on 21 April. His father was James Law (b. 1870 in Higher Walton), a cloth dyer. His mother was Alice Ann Wilson (b. 1872 in Bamber Bridge). James and Alice were married in 1894 and they had 4 children: Robert, followed by James Vincent (b. 1898), Clara May (b. 1900) and finally Francis Wilson (d. 1903). James died in 1904. In 1911, Alice was living at 9 Aspden Street, Bamber Bridge. She had gone back to work as a roving frame tenter. Robert was working as a creeler in a spinning mill but when he enlisted he was a card tenter in a cotton mill. In 1911, Alice married John James Burton (b. 1865 in Walton Le Dale), who himself had 8 children from two previous marriages. Between them in their new family they still had five children of school age. The Laws moved in with the Burtons and the family lived at 16 Brownedge Lane.
Robert enlisted in December 1915. He was 5’4” tall and had a 33” chest. He initially joined the South Lancashire Regiment (ser.no. 26998), but was later posted to the Cheshire Regiment, 22nd Battalion, with service number 41263. 22nd (Labour) Battalion was formed at Chester in December 1916, moving to France in the same month. In April 1917 it was converted into 64th and 65th Labour Companies of the Labour Corps. Robert was attached to 64th Coy and given a new service number, 38049.
Labour Corps companies did not keep war diaries so it’s impossible to know precisely the circumstances of Robert’s death. We know only that he was wounded on 29 October 1917 and died in a Casualty Clearing Station at Dozinghem the following day. This was during the Second Battle of Passchendaele, the concluding phase of the Third Battle of Ypres, during which the small but strategically important village of Passchendaele was captured, at an appalling cost of human life. Robert was 22 years old.
Service Number: 41263
Date of Death: 30/10/1917
Regiment/Service: Cheshire Regiment, 22nd Bn. transf. to (38049) Labour Corps, 64th Coy.
Cemetery/memorial reference: IX. B. 6.
Cemetery: DOZINGHEM MILITARY CEMETERY
Alice Ann was still living at 16 Brownedge Lane when her husband John died in 1938. She then moved to a house on Duddle Lane which she named ‘Dozinghem’ after the cemetery where her son was buried. She died in 1942.
Robert’s cousin was William Burton (b 1896 in Bamber Bridge). William enlisted with the Royal Garrison Artillery in January 1912. He was given service number 36583. He served in Gibraltar from 1912 to July 1915, then at Alexandria in Egypt. In 1916 he was transferred to 143 Heavy Battery with whom he served out the War. On his transfer he was promoted to Bombardier. 143rd Hvy Bty was sent to Salonika, arriving on 25 July 1916. By the time they arrived, the fighting there had reached stalemate and the front was relatively quiet although conditions were appalling, many men succumbing to malaria and other semi-tropical diseases. Fighting was renewed with a great Allied offensive in September 1918 which resulted in the capitulation of Bulgaria and the liberation of Serbia. William was discharged on 27 March 1919.
John James Burton was William’s brother. Born 1888 in Bamber Bridge, he lived at 22 Mounsey Road, he was married and had three children. He enlisted in January 1915 in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment but was discharged on medical grounds 6 months later without having served abroad.
His uncle was Samuel Wilson. Sam Wilson was born in Barrow-in-Furness in 1879 – his family seem to have lived in Barrow for about 5 years but they originated in and returned to Bamber Bridge/Walton Le Dale and in 1881 lived on Black Lane. In 1891 the family had moved to Cockshott Brook (at the top of Cinammon Hill) and Sam had started work (aged 12) as a weaver. He first enlisted in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in 1894, service number 4645. He claimed to be 18 but he was in fact still only 15. He was 5’ 8” tall and weighed 126lbs so he was a strapping lad and bigger than most adult men so he could easily have passed for older than he really was. A family member tells me Sam was discharged when he was found to be under age but he re-enlisted when he was old enough. He may have re-joined the Loyals but in his 1914 attestation papers he says he has served in the RGA and was discharged on termination of service. Of course, this is 20 years later so a lot of water has flowed under the bridge! During this time it is likely that Sam served in South Africa in the Boer War and possibly also in India. When he enlisted for the third time in 1914 he gives his age as 36 and his occupation as a stoker. He rejoined the Royal Garrison Artillery in Coventry on 11 August 1914 and was assigned service number 275112. He is a big man – 5’ 10” tall and weighing 188lbs. He was posted to 119 Heavy Battery and sent overseas on 10 March 1915. In December 1915-January 1916 he had a couple of run-ins with authority and was fined a couple of weeks’ wages for absence without leave and drunkenness. There may have been personal problems as well: in his records there is a letter from a Miss Sarah Sutton living in Chislehurst in Kent, dated September 1915, asking the military authorities for information regarding Sam’s whereabouts and if he has been wounded as she has not heard from him for some time. Sam was in France by this time and may well have subsequently got in touch.
112 Heavy Battery RGA was attached to 8th Division and with them Sam would have seen action in the Battle of Albert (the opening phase of the Somme) in 1916; at Pilkem and Langemark in 1917 (early phases of the Third Battle of Ypres); and also at St Quentin, Rosières and Villers-Bretonneux during the German Spring Offensive in March 1918. In May-June 1918 Sam was hospitalised, eventually in Manchester, suffering from myalgia (muscle pain). The records suggest that he was at Ripon when he deserted on 16 August 1918. It appears he was first thought to have overstayed his sick leave and when he failed to reappear was judged to have deserted. His last military record dated 13 October 1922 says he is still a deserter and he was awarded no medals. Sam was nearly 40 when he deserted and he had spent more than 20 years in the army. By August 1918 maybe he was just too knackered to go on? Sam eventually settled in Darwen where he died in 1958.