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Robert Gradwell was born on the 26th January 1896 the son of Richard a boot and shoemaker and Ellen (nee Hines). Richard Gradwell was born in Preston and Ellen was from Wigan and they married in Preston in the third quarter of 1889. The family lived at number 86 Adelphi Street, the address of a boot and shoemaking family which stretched back to 1870 when it was started by Robert`s grandparents, Lawrence and Bridget, the business having moved to Adelphi Street from 84 Friargate in Preston. Robert was the third of Richard and Ellen`s children, the oldest being Mary (1891) followed by Richard (1893) with his two younger siblings being John (1898) and Jane (1902).

Robert received his education at St. Wilfred`s R.C. School in the centre of Preston, starting there on the 27th June 1899 and leaving on the 2nd June 1902 to go on to the school at English Martyrs.

At the time of the 1911 Census Robert`s father was recorded as running the business with his mother being his assistant. Robert was now working in a laundry while his younger brother John worked in the laundry of a dry cleaners. His two eldest siblings both had jobs, Mary was a weaver and Richard was a brass lacquerer. The youngest member of the family, Jane, was still attending school.

Robert was called up for military service on the 27th March 1916, his papers state his preference was to join the R.F.A. but as was usually the case the Army put him where they wanted him and he was duly attested into the 4th (Reserve) Battalion LNL. He was posted to the 3/4th (Reserve) Battalion and issued with the service number 5292. He was single and confirmed that he had no previous military experience. His height was recorded at 5`8” and he had a 35” chest. Robert gave his address as 86 Adelphi Street and named his mother Ellen as his next of kin.

On the 16th July 1916 Robert embarked for France with a number of reinforcements, sailing from Folkestone. After spending a couple of weeks at the 25th Infantry Base Depot in Etaples Robert was sent on detachment from the 1/4th Battalion to the 8th (Service) Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. He joined the 8th Battalion in the field on the 26th July 1916 and became a member of “B” Company. The 8th Battalion had suffered serious losses during the Somme offensive of July 1916 which is why they received a number of reinforcements from not just their sister Battalions but from other Regiments as well.

By the 24th August 1916 the Battalion had moved into the Leipzig Salient and it was during this engagement that Robert received a gunshot wound to his face. He was admitted to a field ambulance for treatment on the 26th August but the wound does not appear to have been too serious and he was back with the Battalion by the 31st August. On his return the Battalion was at Bouzincourt carrying out training and supplying working parties, both there and at Ovillers la Boisselle. During the whole month of September the Battalion remained out of the line in training and moving between Lealvillers, Raincheval, Longuevillette, Prouville and Hedauville until finally on the 30th September 1916 they went into the Hessian Trench north-west of Stuff Redoubt, close to the town of Thiepval to relieve the Lincolnshire Regiment. This was the beginning of the 25th Division`s victory in the taking of Stuff Redoubt from the Germans, known as the Battle of Ancre Heights (1st October 1916 – 11th November 1916).

From the 8th October 1916 the Battalion along with the 10th Battalion Cheshire Regiment were taking turns in the occupation of trenches in the Stuff Redoubt sector and on the 9th October the North face of the redoubt was taken by the Cheshire Regiment. Over the following day vicious fighting took place, the enemy trying to retake the lost ground with the 8th Battalion LNL and 10th Cheshire’s repulsing the attempts. After stabilising the position, the 8th Battalion carried out a further attack to capture the Stuff Trench which was to the North West of the Stuff Redoubt, and although successful 1 Officer and 8 other ranks were killed in action and 20 men were wounded. Sadly, Robert Gradwell was one of the eight men who died, his date of death recorded as being 14th October 1916.

Robert`s family were duly informed and the following plea for information was printed in the Preston Guardian, his Mother had presumably received some conflicting information as to Robert`s fate;

There is no information in Robert`s papers about any of his personal effects being returned.

After the war Robert`s mother acknowledged receipt of her sons` British War and Victory Medals that he was entitled to and would also have received his Memorial Plaque and Scroll in recognition of his sacrifice.

As a soldier with no known grave, Robert`s name was later added to the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment name panel on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres (see below);

Rank: Private
Service No: 5292
Date of Death: 14/10/1916
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 1st/4th Bn. attached 8th Bn.

Ron Crowe
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