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Robert Critchley was born in Little Hulton in 1892 and was the eldest child of John and Alice Ann Critchley. He had three younger brothers; James (b. c1895), John (b. c1898) and Fred (b. c1900) and at the time of the 1901 census the family was living at 19 Smithfield Lane in Little Hulton.

Ten years later, 1911, and the family were still at the same address and Robert and James had followed their father into the mines. Robert was working as a drawer (The person who is employed by the collier to take full tubs from the workplace to the haulage and bring back empty tubs) and James worked as a drawer below ground. John and Fred were still in school and there were several new additions to the family; Mary (b. c1903), Nellie (b. c1909) and Richard (b. 1911). Two children had died in childhood, Harry and Tom.

Robert was 22 years 150 days old when he joined the Army at Farnworth on 11th November 1914 and had still been living with his parents who had moved t0 20 Allen Street. Robert had no previous military service.

The medical officer described Robert as standing 5ft 3.5in tall, weighing 121lbs,  a 36in chest and having blue eyes, brown hair and being of fresh complexion.

His service record shows that he was initially drafted into the 11th (2nd Reserve) Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment with the number 17874 and was called up for duty and sailed to France to join the 7th (Service) Battalion in the field on 6th August 1915.

stad antwerpen

H.S. Stad Antwerpen

On 28th March 1916 Robert was sent back from the front on the Hospital Ship Stad Antwerpen with loose cartilage in his right knee joint and was nominally posted into the depot whilst under observation at the 3rd South General Hospital in Oxford where he spent 13 days before moving to the Orchard Convalescent hospital in Dartford. A medical officer wrote;

Was sent back from France with suspicion of loose cartilage in right knee joint. Since admission has had no symptom whatever. Walking about fully.

Upon his release Robert was permitted to return home for a furlough of leave (24th May – 2nd June 1916) and was then posted back into the 11th (2nd Reserve) Bn. at Seaford. During his short time at Seaford he received a number of entries on his Regimental conduct sheet;

28th June 1916: 1. Absent from roll call at 2130hrs. 2. Using improper language to a N.C.O.

1st August 1916: Overstaying his leave from 2130hrs (01/08/1916) until reporting himself about 2000hrs on 02/08/1916).

4th August 1916: Drunk and creating a disturbance in camp about 2300hrs.

7th August 1916: Absent from parade at 1515hrs until 2130hrs.

On 10th August 1916 he was sent back to France and put on the strength of the 25th Infantry Base Depot. He was then attached to the 1/5th (Territorial) Battalion of the Loyal North Lancs. and joined them in the line.

On 21st September 1916 he was transferred properly across to the 5th Loyal North Lancs. (number 8727) so, unusually for one of Kitchener’s men, he now became part of the Territorial Force and his number changed to 243865 when the TF were renumbered in 1917.

Between 5th October 1916 and 10th May 1917 he was attached to the 177th Tunneling company of the Royal Engineers presumably because of his previous experience of mining. During his time with the 177th they were stationed in the Railway Wood-Hooge-Armagh Wood area of the Ypres Salient, where they were engaged in mining activities against the Germans on the Bellewaerde Ridge near Zillebeke. He was awarded a good conduct badge on new years day 1917.

Having returned to the 1/5th Loyal North Lancs. on 10th May 1917 he was admitted to the field ambulance with furunculosis (boils on the skin) on 25th of that month but rejoined the Battalion about 10 days later.

On 31st July 1917 the 1/5th Battalion were in action on the opening day of the Third Battle of Ypres near Passchendaele on what would become known as the Battle of Pilckem Ridge.

Battle of Pilckem Ridge

Source: Wikipedia

The British attack began at 3:50 a.m. on 31 July; the attack was to commence at dawn but a layer of unbroken low cloud, meant that it was still dark. The main attack of the offensive, by II Corps across the Ghelveult Plateau to the south, confronted the principal German defensive concentration of artillery, ground-holding and Eingreif divisions. The attack had most success on the left (north), in front of XIV Corps and the French First Army. In this section of the front, the Entente forces advanced 2,500–3,000 yards (2,300–2,700 m), up to the line of the Steenbeek stream. In the centre of the British attack, XVIII Corps and XIX Corps pushed forward to the line of the Steenbeek to consolidate and sent reserve troops towards the Green and Red lines (on the XIX Corps front), an advance of about 4,000 yards (3,700 m). Group Ypres counter-attacked the flanks of the British break-in, supported by all available artillery and aircraft at about midday. The German counter-attack was able to drive the three British brigades back to the black line with 70 percent losses, where the German counter-attack was stopped by mud, artillery and machine-gun fire.

The 1/5th Battalion war diary for this day reads;

WIELTJE, 31st July 1917. Fifth Army attacked German trench system along the whole of it’s front at ZERO = 3-50 a.m.

1/5th Loyal North Lancashire Regt. attacked the German Gheuvelt – Langemarck trench system on a front of 350 yds penetrating 400 yds beyond enemy third line.

‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies gained the Battalions first objective and ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies reached second objective as per programme – numerous prisoners being taken.

The 166th Infantry Brigade Objective was reached in the allotted time and finally the 55th Division objective was gained in the GREEN LINE.

Later during the afternoon the Germans counter-attacked on the front of the 55th Division and our line was withdrawn to the BLACK LINE.

1/5th L. N. Lancs. Regt. moving up to support 1/10th (Scottish) Kings Liverpool Regt. and 1/5th South Lancs. Regt.  1/5th Kings Own (R.L.R) moving up and occupying whole of BLUE LINE.

Order of Battle for attack:- On our right, 1/5th Kings Own (R.L.R), on our left 12th Sussex Regt, 39th Division.

Casualties: – Killed: Lieutenant (A/Captain) H. Chronnell, Lieutenant G. Glaister, Lieutenant J. S. Carr. Wounded: Lt. Colonel T. O. Smith, Lieutenant (A/Captain) S. L. Redfern, Second Lieutenant M. H. Tutt, Second Lieutenant R. T. Thornley, Second Lieutenant J. M. Woods.

Approximate total of casualties, other ranks: 150.

TRENCHES. 1st August 1917. C.23.C BELGIUM. Sheet 28 N.W. Germans heavily shelled our positions throughout the day. The ground became a complete quagmire through the incessant rain.

Casualties: – 3 other ranks killed. 12 other ranks wounded.

Private Robert Critchley was admitted to the Field ambulance on 1st August 1917 and unfortunately died of his wounds later that day. He was buried in the White House Cemetery at St. Jean-les-Ypres.

The three 1/5th Bn. men killed in action during the shelling are remembered on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial and of the 12 men wounded another succumbed to his wounds and was buried in the Brandhoek New Military Cemetery.

240616 Private JOHN ROBERTSON
241220 Private JOSEPH WALSH

31554 Private RICHARD WOODS

Private Robert Critchley’s personal effects were later received by his mother who wrote;

April 19th

Dear Sir or madam, I have great pleasure in receiving the property of the late 243865 Private Robert Critchley 1/5 Batt LNL despatch 15/2/18; 3 identity discs, packet of letters, cards and photographs, 1 cap badge, 1 wallet and comb and I thank you very much also for the cap badge it is a remembrance to me. You must excuse me for not answering them sooner.

I remain yours truly, Mrs A A Critchley. No 2, Allen St. Little Hulton, Near Bolton.

His family would also receive his 1914/15 star, British War Medal and Allied Victory Medal in addition to a memorial plaque and scroll bearing Robert’s name and in recognition of his sacrifice.

Robert is remembered on the Little Hulton War Memorial and on a brass plaque inside St Paul’s church, Peel.

Little Hulton War Memorial

Little Hulton War Memorial

Rank: Private
Service No: 243865
Date of Death: 01/08/1917
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 1st/5th Bn.

Paul McCormick
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