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Robert Eckton was born in Longridge on the 24th August 1892 the son of stonemason Alfred and Ellen Jane Eckton (nee Haslam). He was baptised in the Church of St. Lawrence in Longridge, the church where his parents had married on the 31st October 1876. Robert was one of eleven children, six of whom survived, the other five being; Thomas Alfred (1880), Grace (1883), Margery Ann (1886), William (1890) and Elizabeth Ellen (1900).

When the 1901 Census was recorded it shows Robert and his family living at 25 Fell Brow in Longridge and his father Alfred working as a stonemason. His elder brother Thomas was labouring in a stone quarry in Longridge and his two elder sisters were both employed as weavers. Sadly, Robert`s father passed away in 1909 and by 1911 his mother had moved the family to 7 Little Lane in Longridge. His widowed mother Ellen was keeping house while Robert and Margery both worked in a cotton mill and his brother William was labouring in a bobbin works, the youngest, Elizabeth was still at school. The family also had a lodger, Joseph Haslam, a labourer employed at Preston water works.  The two siblings missing from the home, Grace and Thomas Alfred had both married by 1911, Grace in 1906 and Thomas in 1910.

Later information states that Robert had served with the Territorials for about four years prior to his enlistment. His service papers confirm that he enlisted on the 5th August 1914 and that pre-war he had been working at George Whittle`s Stonebridge Mill in Longridge as a weaver. Robert joined the 4th Battalion LNL and was issued with his original service number of 335 which in January 1917 would become 200172. For official purposes he noted his mother Ellen Eckton of 7 Little Lane, Longridge as his next of kin.

He sailed to France with the 1/4th Battalion on the 4th May 1915. A week after landing in France the Battalion became part of the 154th Brigade in 51st (Highland) Division. Robert, unlike many of his friends managed to survive the Battalion`s first major action at Festubert. In January 1916 the Battalion left the Highland Division and transferred into the 164th Brigade of 55th (West Lancashire) Division. During 1916 the Battalion was involved in the actions on the Somme, Guillemont, Ginchy, Flers-Courcellette and Morval.

According to his service papers Robert was wounded on the 20th July 1917 which was just prior to the Battalion`s involvement in the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) 31st July – 10th November 1917. The Battalion was in the trenches around Ypres when he was struck by shrapnel in his left arm and right thigh. He was taken to 17 Casualty Clearing Station to be treated before being removed to 16 General Hospital at Le Treport. By the 24th August 1917 he had moved to 3 Convalescent Depot at Le Treport and having recovered he was then sent to the 25th Infantry Base Depot at Etaples. His papers then show that on the 13th September 1917 Robert was posted to the 1/5th Battalion LNL, joining them in the field two days later when they were in the dug-outs at the Canal Bank, Ypres, the 1/5th Battalion being part of the 166th Brigade of 55th (West Lancashire) Division.

Two months after Robert joined the 1/5th Battalion the 55th (West Lancashire) Division took part in the Battle of Cambrai (20th November – 30th December 1917).  It was after an attack on the 30th November 1917 that Robert was posted missing;

Cambrai, 30th November 1917 – 8:30hrs

That morning a heavy fog hung in the air over the 55th Divisional front line, a line that had been heavily bombarded for the past 90 minutes.

The enemy penetrated the 1/5th sector at Holts Bank, having advanced at a staggering rate, with overwhelming numbers into Pigeon Quarry, they had succeeded in seriously outflanking our men.

Massively outnumbered, and with the help of the Liverpool Scottish, the Loyals gallantly stood firm and inflicted serious damage on the German soldiers, succeeding in holding Adelphi and Gloucester Roads until such time as they became so few in number they were forced to withdraw.

Prior to the withdrawal, an element of Loyal North Lancs had already been cut off from the rest of the Battalion and were completely surrounded at Limerick Post. Somehow they succeeded in defending their encircled position, managing to reach their own line by 5:00hrs the next morning.

In this action the Battalion paid a heavy price, 2 men had been killed, 3 Officers and 27 other ranks wounded, 2 Officers were wounded and missing, while 16 Officers and 384 non-commissioned Officers and men were missing.

It later transpired that Robert had been captured by the Germans, however, he was also badly wounded having sustained fractures to both legs below the knee. He was transferred to a field lazarette (field hospital) by his German captors but sadly it was eventually confirmed that Robert had died from his wounds just three days later, date of death given as 3rd December 1917. He was originally buried by the Germans in St. Souplet Communal Cemetery but his body was later exhumed and reburied in St. Souplet British Cemetery which is located about 20 kilometres south-east of Cambrai.

Robert`s papers note that the only personal item returned to his mother was his identity disc.

In early March 1918 the Preston Herald newspaper reported on a Memorial Service for Robert in the family`s local parish church of St. Lawrence in Longridge;

Preston Herald 9th March 1918


A Memorial Service was held at the Parish Church on Sunday morning in memory of Pte. Robert Eckton, L.N.L., who died a prisoner of war on 3rd December 1917. The Reverend T.M. Harrison M.A. (Vicar) conducted the service, and at the close the Dead March was played by the organist Mr. A. Hawthornthwaite.

After the war Robert`s mother took receipt of her sons` 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals to which he was entitled. The family would also receive his Memorial Plaque and Scroll in recognition of his sacrifice.

Robert is remembered on the Memorial Plaque inside St. Lawrence`s Parish Church, although the plaque notes his rank as Corporal rather than Private as stated in his service papers.

War Memorial Plaque – Parish Church of St. Lawrence, Longridge

Janet Davis
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