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Robert Lawson was born in the summer of 1895 and was the eldest child of Thomas and Kate Lawson (nee Wilkinson). Thomas and Kate married at St. Andrew`s Church in Ashton on Ribble, Preston on the 27 April, 1895.

After they married the couple moved into a more central area of Preston and went on to have six daughters and another son; Annie (1896), Edith (1899), Dorothy (1902), Margery (1904), Lillian (1906), Louisa (1908) and Walter (1909).

In 1911 the family were living at 29 Aberdeen Street in Preston where Robert`s father was labouring to provide for his family while his eldest son Robert was working in a mill as a weaver.

Robert apparently enlisted into the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in January 1914 when he was 19 years old. Unfortunately none of Robert`s service papers seem to have survived so information is fairly limited.

On the 29 November, 1914 Robert sailed to France to reinforce the 1st Battalion who had been there since August.

Robert together with another 457 N.C.O. `s under the command of 2/Lieut Horace Gray Gilliland joined the 1st Battalion at Hazebrouck on the 4 December, 1914.

The 5th and 6th December 1914 were spent at Hazebrouck refitting. On the 6th at about 9am three bombs were dropped by a German aeroplane, hitting a house within C Company`s billets. This resulted in ten soldiers being killed and a further eight wounded. There were also eight civilians killed two of which were children and several others were wounded.

The Battalion remained at Hazebrouck until the 21st December and continued with their training and they were also issued with winter clothing.
On the 20th December at 16.25pm the Battalion was ordered to stand by and be ready to move at once.

21st – 22nd December 1914 – Givenchy.

On 21st December at 07.00am the Battalion, with the 2nd Brigade moved by motorbuses to Zelobes (1/2 mile west of Vieille Chapelle). From Zelobes they marched to Le Touret, arriving about 12.45pm.

Orders were received that the battalion, along with the Northamptons, should make a night attack in order to regain some trenches that had been taken by the Germans on the night of 19th – 20th December near an orchard by LA QUINQUE RUE. It was noted in the War Diary that the information of the enemy`s disposition was somewhat vague.

The battalion left Le Touret at 15.30pm followed by the Northamptons and were led by a guide (an Officer of 2nd Ghurkas) to a spot from which it was decided the attack should commence. The men carried 170 rounds of ammunition each.

By 18.45pm the two battalions were deployed ready to advance. A and D Coys in the front line, supported by C and B Coys at 100 yards distance. The Loyal North Lancashires took the right of the line and the Northamptons the left. The whole frontage covered about 300 yards.

At 19.00pm the order to advance was given by Major Powell and the whole line moved forward with fixed bayonets, the companies now being closed up and in two ranks.

After crossing two lines of trenches occupied by the 58th Infantry, with heavy rifle fire they charged and occupied the front line of the enemy`s trenches. After a short halt the attack was continued and another trench about 100 yards further on was captured. The battalion advanced further and was reorganised on a road by the orchard. During the advance 2nd Lieut Ellis was seriously wounded and about 20 men killed and wounded.

A line was occupied, and a reconnaissance conducted about 20 yards to the rear of the orchard. Tools were sent up to the newly held trench an hour or so later. It is written that the night was very wet and cold and the men only had minimum rations.

The line was held throughout the night, but they did suffer some casualties from bombs that were thrown from a German trench running obliquely to their right flank. At 07.00am on the 22nd December a Company was withdrawn from the Northamptons line due to the trenches being overcrowded.

Shortly after day break a very strong German attack developed from the direction of LA QUINQUE RUE and by 10.00am the line became untenable chiefly owing to the enfilade fire (flanking fire) from the right flank which was very exposed.

After suffering very heavy losses and putting up a very stubborn defence, the retirement of the line commenced from the left and about 300 men succeeded in reaching the Rue do Bois.

The Battalion was collected and reformed on Rue de L`Epinette, the Machine Gun detachment cooperating with the Northamptons went up in support and a line was held by them roughly on the line when the attack had started on the night before. At about 15.00pm the battalion was withdrawn and went into billets at La Couture.

The battalion losses from this action were heavy. Captains Smart and Graham killed. Captains (DeCantect), Lieutenant Batty-Smith, 2nd Lieutenant Gilliland were all missing. Captain Hay was slightly wounded. There were 408 other ranks killed, wounded or missing.

Sadly, Private Robert Lawson was one of the men posted as missing. The news was conveyed to his family back in Preston in January 1915.

Finally, in early September 1915 his family received confirmation from the Authorities that for official purposes Robert was presumed to have died on the 22nd December 1914.

A brief article with a photograph of Robert was published in the local paper on the 18 September, 1915.

​​​Robert`s body was never recovered from the battlefield and so his name was recorded on the Le Touret Memorial.

He was awarded the 1914/15 Star, British War and Victory Medals for his sacrifice for his country.

Janet Davis
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