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Robert Heaps was born on the 8th April 1885 in Preston the son of Robert and Jane Heaps (nee Hunt). The marriage of his parents took place in the Parish Church of St. John on the 20th July 1872 and later Census information suggests that they had thirteen children altogether but of those only eight survived;

  • Joseph (1876)
  • Richard Francis (1881)
  • Louisa (1882)
  • Robert (1885)*
  • Jane Ann (1887)
  • Christopher (1891)
  • William (1893)
  • Walter (1897)

By 1901 Robert and his family had relocated close to the village of Brindle near Chorley, their address was Little Radburn and they were living next door to the Lord Nelson public house. The Census record notes that Robert`s father was a coal dealer and farmer, Robert and his sisters Louisa and Jane all worked in one of the local mills. By 1911 the family had moved again, this time to Victoria Terrace in Whittle le Woods, the Census noting it was a `three down four up` property. Robert Snr. was now a newsagent while Robert had also changed his job, he was employed as a carter for a coal merchant and only his brothers Christopher, a cotton weaver, Walter and his sister Jane also a cotton weaver were still living at home with their parents.

Robert attested under Lord Derby`s Group System, his group according to his birth year of 1885 was Group 13 so he would have voluntarily enlisted at some point between October and December 1915. His papers then note that he was officially called up for service and posted for duty with the 4th (Reserve) Battalion LNL on the 12th February 1916. Robert was initially issued with the service number 5546 which in January 1917 when the Territorial Force was renumbered would become 202627. He was single and prior to being called up had been employed as a labourer.

He embarked for France on Christmas Day 1916 with a number of reinforcements and just two days later he joined the 1/4th Battalion and was posted into “A” Coy, the Battalion coming under the Command of 164th Brigade in 55th (West Lancashire) Division. The Battalion had been overseas some seventeen months having embarked on the 4th May 1915 and when Robert joined them on the 27th December 1916 they were in billets in the town of Ypres.

The Battalion spent the next few months in and around the same area of Ypres and during this time Robert had two periods of sickness, the first with a septic right forearm when he was out of action 25/2/17 – 26/3/17 and the second with `Myalgia` 9/7/17 – 20/7/17. The Battalion War History notes that during June and July 1917 the weather had been fairly dry but then on the 29th July 1917 a thunderstorm arrived. The amount of rain that fell had filled the shell holes with water and the roads became almost impassable due to the amount of mud. On the 31st July 1917 the 3rd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) began and it was during the Battalion`s involvement in the first phase known as the Battle of Pilckem (31st July – 2nd August 1917) that Robert was wounded and then taken prisoner.

“At 03:30hrs on 31st July 1917 the British opened up a heavy artillery barrage on the enemy. Later, the 1/4th Bn, part of the 164th Brigade were tasked to seize and secure the Gheluvelt-Langemarcke line.

Midway into their advance to secure their objective, casualties began to get particularly heavy, owing to enemy sniper fire, machine-gun fire and shelling from two sides. A number of Officers had also been killed. The Battalion continued to push forward and succeeded in securing their objective by 11:40hrs. The line was held up until around 14:30hrs, until the enemy successfully counter-attacked and forced the Brigade to fall back.

Casualties had been high, just over 50 men from the 1/4th Bn killed; and another 250 men were wounded or missing during the attack”.

Robert apparently had a gunshot wound; a bullet had entered his right shoulder which passed through his body coming out near his spine. After being taken prisoner he spent about a month in a field hospital behind the German lines before being transferred to a POW camp at Langensalza. Robert`s service record notes that he was officially accepted as a POW when his name appeared on a German POW list dated 14th September 1917 and according to the excellent Red Cross POW records his family received a communication on his whereabouts on the 24th September 1917. He appears to have spent the remainder of the war in Langensalza and was still there when the Armistice was declared. The exact date of Robert`s repatriation back to the UK is unknown.

On the 24th January 1919 an article was published in the Lancashire Evening Post, the information in the article appears to have been supplied by Robert`s father;

GERMAN CAMP MASSACRE

WITHNELL MAN AMONG PRISONERS FIRED AT

“Having himself served 16 years with the old 47th Regiment, Mr. Robert Heaps, of 24 Swansey Fold, Whittle le Woods, (an agent of the Lancashire Daily Post for 13 years) has given also to the military forces his five sons. Of these, Private Christopher Heaps, of the King`s Liverpool Regiment, has been missing for three years, and is presumed dead. Pte. Wm Heaps is with the Australians, and has once been wounded in the arm. Gunner R.F. Heaps, R.F.A. has been gassed, while Gunner Walter Heaps has been wounded in the leg.

Another son, Private Robert Heaps L.N.L. Regiment, was a prisoner in Germany for 17 months, being captured on 31st July 1917, at Ypres. He had previously had a remarkable escape, a bullet striking the third button of his tunic and flattening it. When taken prisoner he was severely wounded, a bullet entering his left shoulder and passing out near the spine. He was treated in hospital for a month and then passed on to Langensalza, where he describes the food as `unfit for pigs`. Later he was put among a working party in a salt mine, and here the treatment was harsh in the extreme. Two men had 25 waggons a day to fill and if there were 3 men the quantity fixed was 50 waggons, and this was on a starvation ration, there were 64 Englishmen employed there.

Pte. Heaps was amongst the men fired upon during trouble following the Armistice. The dispute, he states, was caused by the French breaking up a wooden hut and using the timber for firewood. The guard turned out and fired several volleys, there being 17 men killed (three were British), and another ten wounded. While in the salt mine Pte. Heaps had a dispute with a civilian, and as punishment had to work on a Sunday. The last three weeks, he observed, they worked and did not receive any pay. It was considered the worst camp in Germany.

Pte. Heaps is now back at work in the employ of Alderman Cotton, Mayor of Blackburn.

Note: According to his pension record Robert was working as a bricksetter`s labourer employed by J.N. Boothman of Swansey Mills and Alderman Cotton, the Mayor of Blackburn was the Chairman of Directors at Swansey Mill in Clayton le Woods.

Robert was finally discharged from the Army on the 5th January 1919 and then in the June quarter of 1919 he married Ellen Swarbrick at St. John the Evangelist Church in Whittle le Woods.

For his war service Robert received the British War and Victory Medals.

In 1939 Robert and Ellen were living at 1 Mount Pleasant located just off Chorley Old Road in Whittle le Woods, his occupation noted as Public Works general labourer.

Janet Davis

Janet Davis

Janet Davis has been researching her family history for many years and through this she discovered many relatives who served in WW1. This interest then led Janet to do many walking the battlefield tours with her husband. In April 2013 she discovered this website and volunteered to help. Janet believes that there are lots of stories still to be told, most of them very sad but at the same time they are a fascinating insight into the men, their families, what they did and where they came from.
Janet Davis

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One Response to 202627 PTE. R. HEAPS. L.N.LAN.R.

  1. Dave Heaps says:

    Great article, very interesting. Presently research the family surname ‘ Heaps and Heap’ and their involvement in WW1 and WW2.

    Many thanks

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