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Robert Kellett was born on the 23rd August 1890 the son of canal bargeman Henry and Mary Kellett (nee McNulty). Robert`s parents married in Preston in 1884 and Robert had four brothers and five sisters; Mary (1886), John Aquila (1887), Ann (1888), Ellen (1894), Henry (1897), Elizabeth (1899), Margaret (1901), Joseph (1903) and Albert (1905).

When the 1891 Census was taken just a few months after Robert was born he was with his parents on board the 50 tonne barge `The Lune` which at the time was berthed on the Preston to Lancaster canal at Borwick, his father was the barge captain. The family also had a 16 year old lad on board, James Bradley, described as `crew`.

On the 21st May 1894 Robert started school at St. Wilfred`s in the centre of Preston, the school record noting his address as being 7 Green Street West. By 1901, his father was still a canal boatman but the family had moved into 31 Bolton Street in Preston. Robert`s elder brother John was also working the canals alongside his father.

The Census taken in 1911 shows Robert`s father and brother John as dock workers and the family also had a new address, 28 Pollard Street. His sister Mary was a labeller at a biscuit works, Ellen, Henry and Elizabeth were all employed in mill work. Robert was absent from the family home in 1911 and as he joined the 2nd Battalion LNL at some point, he may well have already been with the Battalion when this Census was taken, his allocated service number being 10178.

In 1911 the 2nd Battalion was in India and based in Poona in 1912 – 1913 and then when war was declared they were stationed in Bangalore. They were immediately mobilised and despatched to East Africa, sailing at 5pm on the 16th October 1914 on board the `Karmala` at a strength of 19 Officers and 830 other ranks. They landed on the 31st October 1914 and within a few days took part in their first action of the war on the 4th November 1914 at Tanga a.k.a. `The Battle of the Bees`.

The Battle of Tanga (A.K.A. The Battle of the Bees)

The Battle of Tanga was an unsuccessful attack by the British Expeditionary Force “B” under Major General A.E. Aitken to capture German East Africa in concert with the invasion force “C” near Longido on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was the first major event of the war in German East Africa and saw the British defeated with a significantly smaller force of German Askaris and colonial volunteers.

At noon on 4th November 1914, Aitken ordered his troops to march on the city. Well concealed defenders quickly broke up their advance. The fighting then turned to jungle skirmishing by the southern contingent and bitter street fighting by the harbour force. The Gurkhas of the Kashmiri Rifles and the 2nd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment of the harbour contingent made good progress and entered the town, captured the Customs House and the Hotel Deutscher Kaiser and ran up the Union Jack. But then the advance was stopped. Less well trained and equipped Indian battalions of the 27th Bangalore Brigade scattered and ran away from the battle. The 98th Infantry were attacked by swarms of angry bees and broke up. The bees attacked the Germans as well, hence the battle`s nickname. The Battalion lost 44 men killed in action and a further 5 men died of wounds later the same day.

Lance Corporal James Gregson of the 2nd Battalion penned a letter to the Daily Post in Preston under the date 18th February 1915 in which he gave his own personal account of the Battle;


“Having seen a few letters in the `Post` from fellow Prestonians who are in distant parts of the Empire, I and a few `proud uns` decided to write a few lines to you to express the pleasure of seeing how the old team was still keeping its name up in the football world. (Reference to Preston North End).

I am writing this letter in British East Africa, where my Regiment is at present stationed. A little while back I was looking at the December issue of the Lancashire Daily Post and in it came across a couple of photos of two men of our Regiment who got killed in German East Africa, in an engagement in which our Regiment suffered severely. I will try and describe the fight.

Our convoy of transports, with HMS Goliath and Fox, arrived off the coast of German East Africa on 2nd November. As soon as we anchored the Captain of the Goliath gave the German Commander twelve hours’ notice to surrender, but the Germans sent back word that if we wanted Tanga we would have to fight for it, and our General Officer Commanding then gave the order to disembark, which we did, getting wet through in the process, for we had to wade up to our necks in the sea before we could land.

We were met by a few German snipers, but we soon cleared them off. We then fixed bayonets and opened out into skirmishing order. On our right we had the Kashmiri Rifles and on our left the 61st Pioneers. We then got the order to advance through a dense jungle, which was a very trying time for us, for you must remember, we were not far from the Equator. Well anyway, we got through this without any opposition from the enemy, and came in sight of the town of Tanga.

It seemed so quiet and peaceful that I thought the Germans must have evacuated it, an impression that was soon dispelled, for as soon as we got into the town, they let us have it. The Germans had fixed all the maxim guns in the windows of their houses. Men were falling all over the place, but still we pressed on. It was simply a death-trap, and the General gave the order to retire, which we did in good order. We lost a lot of men in the retirement, and how I got out of it myself, God only knows, I don`t”.

The Battalion remained in East Africa until early May 1916 when as part of the Indian Expeditionary Force they were evacuated to South Africa following mass ill-health. Towards the end of December 1916 the Battalion was despatched to Egypt and Palestine where they remained until April 1918. The Battalion was then `warned for service with another expeditionary force`. On the 18th May 1918 they were sent by train to Port Said where they boarded the hired transport `Huntspill` and sailed immediately for France, reaching the port of Marseilles on the 26th May. After spending a few days in camp they entrained once again eventually arriving in Racquinghem. By the first week in June 1918 the Battalion received notification that it would be joining  the 102nd Brigade of the 34th Division, part of the First Army, however, almost at once they transferred into the 101st Brigade alongside the 2/4th Battalion The Queen`s and the 4th Battalion, the Royal Sussex Regiment.

On the 20th July 1918 the Battle of the Marne opened, the 2/4th Battalion`s involvement began on the 23rd July during the phase of the battle known as the Battle of the Soissonais and of the Ourcq (23rd July – 2nd August 1918). By the time the 2/4th Battalion had been relieved and had arrived back in billets on the 4th August, the casualties from the action amounted to; 3 Officers and 76 other ranks killed or died of wounds, 14 Officers and 318 men wounded and 32 men missing, a total casualty list of 443 men. Robert was amongst the wounded and he was eventually removed to a Stationary Hospital in Rouen where, sadly, on the 7th August 1918 he finally succumbed to his wounds.

Robert`s death was later announced in the Preston Guardian;

Robert was laid to rest in St. Sever Cemetery Extension in Rouen. After the war his parents would have received their sons 1914-1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals and also his Memorial Plaque and Scroll in recognition of his sacrifice.

Private Robert Kellett`s name is also remembered on the Roll of Honour inside the Harris Museum and Library in Preston.

Rank: Private
Service No: 10178
Date of Death: 07/08/1918
Age: 27
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 2nd Bn.

Janet Davis
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