305698 PTE. R. MERCER. K.L.R.
Robert Mercer was born in the latter half of 1882 in Bamber Bridge. CWGC records his parents as Robert and Elizabeth Mercer, but I’m not sure this is correct. Robert appears in the Censuses from 1891-1911 as living with his grandparents, Robert and Isabella Mercer, and it looks as though he was the illegitimate son of their oldest daughter, Elizabeth (b. 1861). The 1911 Census shows that Robert and Isabella had 6 children; one died and the other 5 were still alive in 1911, and the only one who could be Robert’s parent is Elizabeth. Elizabeth was born in 1861 and is not living with the family in the 1891 Census, meaning she had married, died or gone away. So in 1911, Robert (jnr) was living with his grandparents at 43 Withy Grove Cottages, Bamber Bridge. He was a cotton spinner. After the Census (probably 1912) Robert married. His wife’s name was Mary (maiden name possibly Ross) and they moved to 19 Oxford Road. There is a further conundrum, in that Robert is commemorated on St Mary’s (Roman Catholic) memorial, whereas all his relatives were baptised in Anglican churches (one possible explanation is that his wife Mary was a Catholic and he converted in order to marry her). And there’s more confusion: in 1915 the Preston Herald published a list of men from St Mary’s who had already enlisted, and there are two Robert Mercers. ‘Our’ Robert had an uncle called Robert (b. 1870) and he had several sons, including one called Robert (b. 1896). This family emigrated to Canada and this younger Robert enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1917. There are also Mercers on St Saviour’s and the Methodist Rolls of Honour but I have yet to establish if these families were connected.
Robert enlisted with the King’s (Liverpool Regiment), probably in late 1914 or early 1915. He was given service number 2580 and posted to 1/8 Battalion. In 1917, he was given a new-style service number, 305698. In 1915, when they landed in France (3 May), 1/8th (Irish) Battalion came under orders of 154th Brigade in 51st (Highland) Division but on 17 January 1916, the Bn was transferred to 165th Brigade in 55th (West Lancashire) Division. 55th Division’s first real test was during the Battle of the Somme and the assault on the village of Guillemont (4-6 September). They then fought at Ginchy (9 September), Flers-Courcellette (17-22 September) and Morval (25-28 September). The Division suffered heavy losses and at the end of the month they received orders to leave the Somme and move to the Ypres salient, where they remained for over a year. Robert may have missed the fighting on the Somme, as the newspaper article tells us that he was wounded in action in 1915, recovered at home and returned to the front just before Christmas 1916. His Bn then spent the first half of 1917 in the salient, which was considered relatively ‘quiet’ though they were still surrounded on three sides and constantly exposed to enemy artillery fire.
13 July 1917 was a fairly typical day. The Bn was in the trenches at Potijze. The War Diary records “Work continued as much as possible. Trenches and back areas heavily shelled with gas shells, which hampered the work in the trenches and also patrol work. Casualties: 2 killed, 3 wounded, 10 gassed.” A week later, on 20 July, they were still in the trenches and made a raid on an enemy trench. The raiding party met strong resistance and failed to take the enemy trench. It was probably during this raid that Robert Mercer was killed. He was 34 years old.
Service Number: 305698
Date of Death: 20 July 1917
Regiment/Service: King’s (Liverpool Regiment), 1st/8th Bn
Cemetery/memorial reference: III. G. 10.
Cemetery: VLAMERTINGHE NEW MILITARY CEMETERY
Additional Information (according to CWGC, but see above): Son of Robert and Elizabeth Mercer; husband of Mary Mercer, of 19 Oxford Road, Bamber Bridge, Lancs.
Robert Mercer was a cousin of Richard Howcroft who served with the Royal Field Artillery and died in Egypt in November 1918.