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Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: W. Robinson
Born: About 1889
Date of Death: 29 September 1918
Age at death: 29
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own)
Unit, Ship, etc: 15th (or 5th) Battalion, attached 16th Battalion Tank Corps
Enlisted: October 1914
Rank: Second Lieutenant
Decorations:
War (and theatre): WW1 (France and Flanders)
Manner of Death: Killed in action
Family Details: Son of William and Lucy Ann Robinson of Haworth, Yorkshire
Residence: 19 Victoria Avenue, Mytholmes, Haworth, Yorkshire
Home Department: Board of Trade – Labour Department (Yorkshire and East Midlands Division)
Civilian Rank:
Cemetery or Memorial: Unicorn Cemetery, Vend’huile, France (IV.C.22); Haworth War Memorial; Ministry of Labour War Memorial (located at Caxton House, Tothill Street, London) and the Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London)

Biography:

WalterRobinson

Walter Robinson (Copyright: Keighley News)

When I first started working on researching the Board of Trade War Memorial men, I wasn’t at all sure what to find. Only a very small handful of the men had either photos or an extensive background history published on our group’s original website. I wanted to go beyond the original research and locate more details about those who weren’t as lucky with any remembered stories about them. One of the names that caught my eye was that of Walter Robinson for whom we had no census or even birth details recorded.

All I knew was a small amount of information recorded from the index of All UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919  – these details comprised the facts that Walter served as a Second Lieutenant in the 15th (or 5th Battalion) attached to 16th Battalion Tank Corps of the West Yorkshire Regiment. I also knew he was killed in action on 29 September 1918 and is buried in Unicorn Cemetery, Vend’huile (IV.C.22). I also knew that he worked for the Board of Trade Labour Department in the Yorkshire and East Midlands Division).

Not much to go on given no relatives were listed and his name is fairly common. How then to locate more details about Walter Robinson?

I searched on a few internet forums including the Great War Forum and from here managed to identify that there was a Walter Robinson who served in the Tank Corps who was remembered on a War Memorial in Keighley. From here I contacted volunteer researchers for the Men of Worth project to pass on the details I knew and to confirm if my hunch was right and if ‘my’ Walter came from Haworth.

With this lucky break I now knew Walter was born in about 1892 in Denholme, Yorkshire and I managed to locate him recorded in the censuses of 1891, 1901 and 1911.

In 1891 he is living with his parents – William Robinson and Lucy Ann Robinson and one of seven brothers and sisters in Thornton, Yorkshire. In 1901 the family were living at 5 Back Minnie Street, Haworth. I then found him again listed aged 22 in the 1911 census living at 19 Victoria Avenue, Mytholmes, Haworth, Yorkshire. He is living with some of his other siblings and is working as a railway clerk. Another useful source are probate records and luck was at hand again as Walter Robinson has a probate recording him still at the same Victoria Avenue address. His probate dated 28 May 1919 lists Emily Robinson (spinster) and effects of £389 14s 3d.

Looking again at the Keighley War Memorial it is clear that there is another Robinson named. Further research revealed that one of Walter’s brothers, Clifford Robinson (born in 1897) also died in World War one (he died two years earlier on 16 September 1916 due to an exploding shell). He has no known grave and is named on the Thiepval Memorial.

A further insight of Walter’s life and character came from a brief article in the Keighley Gazette  dated 12 October 1918 published at the time of his death. This reports:

“Second Lieutenant Walter Robinson, of 19, Victoria Avenue, Mytholmes, Haworth, was killed in action on September 29. He joined the forces in October, 1914, before which he was engaged at the Labour Exchange at Doncaster. He went to France with the Green Howards, and soon reached the rank of sergeant. He came home last year to take up a commission, and was gazetted to the West Yorkshire Regiment. Shortly after his return to France he became acting captain. In the early part of this year he volunteered for the Tank Corps, and took up training for the purpose in Dorset. He again went to France in August last, but had only held his new post a month when he was killed. He was a clever and intelligent young officer of considerable promise, and much regret is felt in Haworth at his death. This is especially so at the West Lane Baptist Church and Sunday School, with which he and his family have been actively connected for many years.”

What’s more this article had the added bonus of containing a picture! Thanks to the efforts of Andy Wade and other researchers with a similar interest, finding his photo kickstarted a target of trying to locate as many photos of the 305 Board of Trade men as possible.

Somme-map

Map of the Somme Offensive (August – November 1918)

But to return to Walter’s story. As mentioned in the brief extract from the Keighley News, we know that Walter Robinson was a talented young man. Before the war, he worked his way up from manual work as a woollen doffer (ie someone who removes bobbins or doffs from spinning frames) at a mill to becoming a railway clerk and then to finding employment in one of the Board of Trade’s new Labour Exchanges. As referenced in the Keighley News article, this ambition and leadership ability, also prompted him to rise through the army ranks and seek new opportunities. He initially joined the Yorkshire Regiment (commonly referred to as the Green Howards) before rising to the commissioned officer ranks and posted to the West Yorkshire Regiment as acting Captain (with up to around 200 men under his command). He promptly volunteered for the 16th Battalion Tank Corps and returned in August 1918 to the front line only a month before his death. He died on 29 September 1918 in the first 90 minutes of the Battle of the St Quentin Canal, which was an important battle for a vital supply route of the Riqueval Bridge. The battle which ultimately lasted until 10 October 1918 involved British, Australian, American and French forces whose objective was to break one of the most heavily defended sections of the Hindenburg Line. The battle ultimately resulted in victory for the allies and set the road for the Armistice on 11 November 1918.

During the first day of action in the battle, the British were trying to take a ridge near to Quennemont Farm. However the British Mark V tanks faced heavy artillery fire, anti-tank rifles and mines. (Source: https://www.keighleynews.co.uk/news/16293348.metal-coffin-for-haworth-man-walter/). For instance, four heavy tanks and five medium tanks were destroyed in just 15 minutes by the German field guns.battle-of-st-quentin-canal-prisoners-bringing-in-wounded-and-mark-v-tanks-advancing-near-bellicourt-29-september-1918-iwm

According to the website, “The Long, Long Trail“, the idea of some type of armoured vehicle or “land battleship” was only initially suggested in the British army in the autumn of 1914, by a Lieutenant-Colonel E.D. Swinton, which were followed by the first experimental machines and their first use on the battlefield of the Somme at Flers-Courcelette on 15 September 1916. The Tank Corps was formed as a separate British army unit a year later on 28 July 1917, in acknowledgement of the specific requirements for tanks in terms of logistics, transport, maintenance and reconnaissance. The Tanks Corps was seen as something of an elite force, so Walter Robinson’s choice to join the unit was a good career move.  The early tanks were however slow and hard to manoeuvre and were open to attack by heavy artillery, machine gun fire and explosives    By 1918, when the Mark V design of British tank was produced and deployed on the battlefields,  the tank was more developed but still not a war winning machine and the Germans had found ways to attack and destroy tanks.

According to the 16th Battalion War Diary for the time, the morning of 29 September 1918 was fine but there was dense fog, making it extremely difficult to see the progress of the battle. The tanks were immediately heavily attacked. Ultimately all tanks were were put out of action and almost 66% of the battalion were lost with 2 officers killed (including Walter Robinson), 16 wounded and 1 missing. Additionally 21 were killed, 31 wounded and 16 were reported missing. (Read more about the capture of the St Quentin Canal on The History Press website).

Walter Robinson is buried in France at the Unicorn Cemetery, Vend’huile (IV.C.22) although his name is wrongly recorded as William Robinson by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Back in England he is remembered in his home town on the Haworth War Memorial as well as in London on the memorials to civil servants on the Ministry of Labour and Board of Trade War Memorials.

 

Researching Walter Robinson has been very rewarding. From little more than a name to go on, I have been able to put a face and flesh to his bones. Walter’s life and sacrifice has become very real to me.

In the words of the Tank Corps motto, “Through mud and blood to the green fields beyond”, I hope that both Walter Robinson and the many thousands of men and officers of the Tank Corps of WW1 are now at rest and at peace.

 

 

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