Private Ernest Robinson: Here’s to you Mr Robinson

Introduction and Identification
As I am still struggling with this chest infection, I thought that I would attempt another fallen soldier’s history; well, sort of. As I still wasn’t up to going out, I needed to have all the material that I required in front of me, so I looked at what I had and decided to pick on someone that I had absolutely nothing on other than one line from the Cannock Advertiser. The soldier that I chose, for what I thought was likely to be a very short write-up, is on the Great Wyrley memorial gates as Robinson, C. The reason why I picked Robinson at this stage was less to do with his history, but more that I felt it was another error on the memorial gates.

W.M.C Woodhouse on the Great Wyrley memorial gates. 2014.

C Robinson on the Great Wyrley memorial gates. 2014. Remember to click on photos to enlarge.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am very sceptical of the names on the gates – I have found several errors already. So, as usual, the first thing to do was to verify the name using my regular sources. I was to strike-out on my first port-of-call, as Robinson was not on the Great Wyrley Wesleyan Methodist plaque. I next checked the Staffordshire Roll of Honour: this was compiled in February 1926 by the Staffordshire War Memorials Committee and contains all the Staffordshire war memorials and the names upon them. The roll had a Robinson in the Great Wyrley entry, but it was an E Robinson and not a C Robinson. An E Robinson also appeared on the Cheslyn Hay list, which manifested itself on the memorial as Ernest Robinson.

Ernest Robinson on the Cheslyn Hay memorial. 2014.

Ernest Robinson on the Cheslyn Hay memorial. 2014.

It doesn’t take much to figure that I suspected that we had another Wyrley gate error here and that C Robinson was in fact E Robinson; not only that, but the Ernest Robinson on the Cheslyn Hay memorial is one of several soldiers, like Joseph Masters, that have found their way onto the Great Wyrley gates as well. There is also another complication, for on the plaques on the gate piers of those that served within Great Wyrley a C Robinson also appears – but he of course survived.

The borders of what are Great Wyrley, Landywood and Cheslyn Hay have changed dramatically since World War I, with whole swathes of what is now Cheslyn Hay then being a part of Great Wyrley: back then, Great Wyrley incorporated pretty much everything to the south of Cheslyn Hay village (form High St and Station St down to Landywood Lane) and, as such, Great Wyrley Cemetery was very much in Great Wyrley when it was opened in 1894. The borders seem very fluid when coming to the war memorials: possibly because the soldiers crossed them frequently for living, work and social purposes. It must be remembered that memorials are really more about the living than the dead and that there are no rules about which memorial or how many memorials a soldier can be on: as such, Herbie Higgs never lived in Great Wyrley and Thomas James doesn’t yet have a recognised war grave.

At the end of the day, it seemed to me that I needed to trace any ‘Robinsons’ in the locality prior to the War and then try to link them to the memorial and to Great Wyrley. While it wouldn’t be definitive, as it is still a few years before the War, a search of the 1911 census listed three Robinson families in the locale; one was to have a C Robinson and one was to have an E Robinson…

Charles Henry Robinson: The Survivor
Charles Robinson was born in Hartlebury, Worcestershire. His parents were Harry, from Worfield in Shropshire and Pollie (nee Smith), from Redditch in Worcestershire. The couple were married in 1889 and by 1891 were in Hartlebury, where first Leonard was born in 1892 and then Charles was born around the 22 July 1895. By 1901, the family had moved to Tettenhall, near Wolverhampton, where the youngest child Edna was born around 1904.

All we know is that by 1900 the family had settled at Poplars Farm, Cheslyn Hay. Harry Robinson, now 45 years of age, was employed as a domestic coachman – a chauffeur. Pollie, now 43, was a housewife. The couple had been married for 21 years by this stage and all three of their children were living with them. Leonard, the eldest at 19, was a colliery clerk at one of the local pits. Charles, now 15 and freed from school, was a described as a confectioner’s assistant. Finally, Edna, now 7, was at one of the local schools.

Charles Robinson and family, at Poplars Farm, Cheslyn Hay in 1911. (National Archives)

Charles Robinson and family, at Poplars Farm, Cheslyn Hay in 1911.
(National Archives)

The next we pick-up of Charles is on 1 August 1913, when having just turned 17 years of age the 5′ 2″ Charles joined the Territorial Force at Hednesford. Charles, who was described as physically ‘fair’, attested into the 5th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment. At this time, Charles was living at 23 High St, Cheslyn Hay and was now describing himself as a baker; he was employed at Wootton’s in Cheslyn Hay. I assume by this he means he did the baking at Wootton’s Post Office and shop on Low St in Cheslyn Hay.

Wootton's Post Office and Shop in the 1950s. (Cheslyn Hay &DLHS)

Wootton’s Post Office and Shop in the 1950s.
(Cheslyn Hay &DLHS – hope they don’t mind me using it)

His few surviving attestation papers show that a year later, on 4 August 1914, having turned 18, he was called to arms and on 3 September he was with his Battalion down in Luton. Here, and on that date, he signed the agreement as a Territorial he would be willing to serve overseas. This would at this stage be academic, as he would need to be 19 in order to serve abroad – and they clearly knew his age.

Robinson signs his overseas service agreement, Sep 1914 (National Archives)

Robinson signs his overseas service agreement, Sep 1914
(National Archives)

We actually have very little idea as to what constituted Charles’ war service, but we do have a few clues. Charles signed-up for overseas service, but never went abroad before 1916; we know this because he was awarded the Territorial Force War Medal and not the 1914/1915 Star. We also know that he was transferred to the Prince of Wales Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment at some stage, but other than this and the fact that he was awarded the British War Medal, we know nothing of where he served or what he did. Thankfully he came home, but other than the fact it seems they moved away from the area, he and his family step out from the easily traceable records.

So if he lived in Cheslyn Hay, why is he on the Wyrley plaque? Well, if you look at the 1911 census, he actually lived in the Great Wyrley Civil Parish. The site of Poplar Farm lies roughly under the current site of the Co-operative shop that is encompassed by High St, Landywood Lane, Dundalk Lane and Colliers Close. Back in 1911, when the Robinson family lived there, the census entry actually came under one of the enumeration districts for the Great Wyrley Civil Parish and not one of the Cheslyn Hay Civil Parish districts. It appears that the border actually ran just behind the houses and gardens on the south side of High St; Poplar Farm actually abutted the border, but from the Great Wyrley side. As such, Charles Robinson had every right to be reflected on the Wyrley plaques.

The location of Poplars Farm, Cheslyn Hay (Ordnance Survey)

The location of Poplar Farm, Cheslyn Hay, 1917.
(Ordnance Survey)

Ernest Robinson: The Cheslyn Wyrleyite
Like Charles Henry Robinson, Ernest too was not from the local area. He was the eldest child of parents Stephen and Hannah (nee Thornton), who were both 22 when they had married in the Rugby area in mid-1894. Ernest arrived a year later. Ernest’s casualty record places his birth as being in Crick, Leicestershire, whereas his census returns place it to Lilbourne, Nothamptonshire; whichever, and I suspect it was Lilbourne as Hannah was from there, the fact is both are in Northamptonshire, just a few miles apart and located to the east of Rugby.

The family moved around. Two years after Ernest, the family’s eldest daughter Margaret was born in Markfield, Leicestershire (located between Leicester and Coalville). It is likely that Stephen was working in one of the local granite quarries that made the place famous, especially as he was described in 1901 as a miner. By 1899 the family were living in Saredon, as Gladys, the next of the children, was born there that year. Stephen was described on the 1901 census as a colliery labourer below ground.

The Robinson family in Saredon, 1901. (National Archives)

The Robinson family in Saredon, 1901.
(National Archives)

By 1902 the family are in Cheslyn Hay, as this was the birthplace attributed to (Elsie) May Robinson, the fourth of the children, who was born in that year. It is possible that the family moved again, as the births of the next three children, Doris (1904), Ethel (1907) and Beatrice (1909), were all attributed to Great Wyrley as an area. If nothing else, this demonstrates that Ernest at least lived in Great Wyrley for several years and would entitle him to a place on the Wyrley memorial.

The Robinson family in Mount Pleasant, 1911. (National Archives)

The Robinson family in Mount Pleasant, 1911.
(National Archives)

According to the 1911 census Stephen was a coal hewer, whereas Ernest, now 16 years of age, was described as an edge tool grinder – possibly working at Gilpin’s Churchbridge works. Stephen and Hannah have seven children that are listed on this census, but the couple had in fact had eight – sadly, one had died. The household was complete by a lodger, John Ellis; the 69 year-old Welshman was a widower and a butcher’s assistant. The family were living in Halls Croft, which is off Mount Pleasant in Cheslyn Hay: in 1911 this property, like Poplar Farm, also appears in the census under the Great Wyrley Civil Parish. We know that the family were still living there in 1916.

Stephen Robinson, killed by a kick from a horse in 1916. (Cheslyn Hay LHS)

Stephen Robinson, killed by a kick from a horse in 1916. (Cheslyn Hay LHS)

We know that they were still living at Mount Pleasant in 1916 due to a sad, bizarre incident that prompted more of a write-up in the Cannock Advertiser than the death of Ernest received. In late April, Ernest’s father, Stephen, was killed at the age of 43 when he was kicked in the chest by a horse while assisting George Fellows and Lawrence Whitehouse to move two horses from one field off Mount Pleasant to another. The blow was taken by Stephen full in the chest, breaking several ribs and ‘causing other internal injuries from which Robinson expired almost immediately’. The report mentions a widow and eight children, suggesting that another child had come along since the census of 1911. There may have been two further births, as Ernest would have been away at the War at this stage; tragically, he himself would be dead within a few months.

The bizarre death of Stephen Robinson, 1916 (Cannock Library)

The bizarre death of Stephen Robinson, 1916
(Cannock Library)

It is possible that Ernest Robinson may well have been a regular soldier before the War, however, judging by the date he reached France I do think this is unlikely: Ernest attested into the 1st Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment and he would have been 19 years-old when the War started and as such he was old enough to go abroad immediately had he been trained, but although the 1st Battalion were deployed in France almost immediately, Ernest would not arrive in France until October 1915 according to his medal card, so I prefer to think that he must have been one of Kitchener’s Army, running off to Walsall to join-up as soon as war was declared.

Where he did his basic training is unclear, but we know from his medal record that he arrived in France on 5 October 1915. At this point, as a part of the 7th Division, the 1st South Staffordshire Regiment were fully engaged in the Battle of Loos, so Ernest may have been rushed up the line to the front almost immediately. He may have been there when on the 8 October the Allied forces faced a German counter-attack. By mid-October the battle was more or less over. The 1st Battalion remained in the La Bassee Canal area, which is just north of Loos, for several weeks after the battle, being in-and-out of the front-line. It may have been in this ‘calmer’ period that Ernest arrived. In December they were relieved, returning to the Amiens area for a rest.

The 1st Battalion returned to active service in February 1916, when it was deployed within the Somme area. On 1 July 1916 the infamous Somme offensive was launched, the immediate purpose of which was to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun. The 1st Battalion were a part of the attacking force that were designated to take Mametz, which they accomplished and on 3 July the 1st Battalion were allowed a brief rest.

The 1st Battalion returned to action on 14 July.  Colonel Vale, in his History of the South Staffordshire Regiment, said ‘they dug-in under heavy shell fire in a valley behind the British front-line’ as an assault had been ordered on High Wood that day. He went on to say ‘they moved-up to the assembly area through persistent shelling’. The Battalion, along with the rest of the brigade, managed to penetrate the wood, the 1st Battalion ‘suffering severely’ when they came across a ‘strong redoubt in the north-west corner’.  By the end of the day the Germans were to have countered and on the following day the brigade withdrew.

Ernest Robinson in uniform. (Cheslyn Hay LHS)

Ernest Robinson in uniform. (Cheslyn Hay LHS)

Ernest Robinson was killed during this offensive, although it isn’t clear how or when. His body was never recovered. He was awarded the 1915 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Hannah received his effects and a gratuity. Ernest would appear as one of the 72,000 names on the Thiepval memorial, correctly on the Cheslyn Hay memorial, correctly in the 1926 Staffordshire Roll of Honour for both Great Wyrley and Cheslyn Hay, but wrongly on the Wyrley gates themselves. Like Charles, Ernest may well have seen himself as being from Cheslyn Hay, but while it may simply seem like a technicality to him, he did in fact live in Great Wyrley – a fact shown by the only acknowledgement of his death in the Cannock Advertiser in late August 1916.

Casualty list, August 1916 - E Robinson, South Staffs Regiment, Great Wyrley is last on the list. (Cannock Library)

Casualty list, August 1916 – E Robinson, South Staffs Regiment, Great Wyrley, is last on the list.
(Cannock Library)

I believe the C Robinson on the list of fallen on Wyrley gates is Ernest Robinson. I have presented my case and believe the evidence is clear. It would be nice to give him his name back in Wyrley.

In Memory of Ernest, Stephen and Charles Henry Robinson

Mount Pleasant today; perhaps the field off to the left is the one that saw the death of Stephen Robinson in 1916. 2015.

Mount Pleasant today; perhaps the field off to the left is the one that saw the death of Stephen Robinson in 1916. 2015.

With Thanks to:
Cannock Library
National Archives
Ordnance Survey
Cheslyn Hay Local History Society

Colonel W Vale: The History of the South Staffordshire Regiment, Gale & Polden Ltd, 1969

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Comments
  1. […] Private Ernest Robinson: Here’s to you Mr Robinson […]

  2. angvs72 says:

    Hope you are better ASAP 🙂 (It’s the Uni fees isn’t it)?

  3. […] Private Ernest Robinson: Here’s to you Mr Robinson […]

  4. Pamela stanton says:

    I found this very interesting. I worked at a local daycare centre and one of our service users was a Mrs. Eva Thompson (now deceased). On one of our reminiscing sessions she talked about coming from Cheslyn Hay,and living on Mount Pleasant.She also said that her father had worked at a local farm, he had died as a result of a kick from a horse. It was so good to know that after all these years that people are still interested in their lives.

  5. Pepperpost says:

    Many thanks for your blog.I find it very interesting because my Father G Pepper is named on the Roll of Honour at the Great Wyrley gates as serving in the Great War and also his brother J Pepper. I look forward to reading future blogs.

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