Infantry preparing to advance from assembly trenches during the opening day of the Battle of Arras, 9 April 1917 © IWM (Q 5118)
Robert Franklin was born in 1883 in Royton. His parents were Royton natives Thomas, a cotton mill worker, and Mary Ann. Robert was the youngest of their six children; his siblings being Herbert, Harry, Frank, Alice and Tom. In 1891 the family were at 143 Park Road but by 1901 had moved to 157 Rochdale Road (next door was Robert Mellor who would later live at number 157). By that point 18 year old Robert was working as a machine fitter at the huge Platt Brother's textile machinery works in Werneth which employed somewhere in the region of 15000 people. He remained at Platt's throughout his working life.
In 1905, Robert married Florrie Shirt. Florrie had been born in Glossop but had lived in Royton since she was a young child. The couple at first lived with her parents at 54 Albert Street. In 1906 Robert and Florrie's first child, Doris, was born but sadly she died later that year aged only 8 months. The couple then moved to 25 Thorp and there followed two futher children - Frank in 1907 and William in 1908. Further tragedies struck the Franklins in 1910 when first in April two year old Frank died and then in September one year old William died. Happily their next three children all survived - Douglas born in 1911, Ivy in 1912 and Rose in 1914.
At the outbreak of war the family were at 46 Park Lane and then in January 1915 Robert enlisted in the army in Oldham. He was not sent for active service abroad for a full two years and there is every chance this was due to him being a skilled worker engaged on war work at Platt's. Once sent to France in January 1917 he joined the 2nd Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers as one of the replacement drafts that unit received to make up for losses they had suffered the previous October. In that fighting Royton man Owen Regan had been killed. Previous to that others from Royton to have been killed with the 2nd LF were Harry Turner, Thomas Noone & John Rees Butterworth.
Date of Death:03/05/1917
Cemetery:Brown's Copse Cemetery
Early 1917 was fairly quiet for the Battalion but this was all to change when the Battle of Arras began on April 9th. This was the British Army's first major offensive of 1917 and the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers were to be part of the second phase of the opening day's assault. The 9th Division, in the first phase, was to take three lines of German defences (known as "Black","Blue" and "Brown") and then the 4th Division, which included the 2nd LF, was to pass through and take a fourth line and the village of Fampoux before pushing on and establishing themselves in a fifth German line - the "Green Line". The 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers allocated role in the scheme of things was first to capture 500 yards of the German fourth system and then to go on and seize about 450 yards of the "Green Line". It was then to dig in but to send strong parties forward to capture any German artillery in the area and to keep in touch with the retreating enemy. The 9th Division had been unable to keep up to it's timetable which meant the battalion had to wait it's turn out in the open. Under German artillery fire they lost about 150 men in casualties. At 13:30 it finally moved forward, reaching the Brown Line at 14:00. Then under cover of a creeping barrage the battalion went on the attack at 15:13 with B & C Companies reaching the first objective at 15:45 without great difficulty and without suffering many further casualties.Most Germans encountered at this point surrendered, a few tried to run but most of these were killed by Lewis-gun fire.At 16:12 it was the turn of A & D Companies as they passed through B & C and advanced towards the Green Line. They came under heavy machine gun fire and at first tried to push on but then coming to an area of ground that was flat and swept by fire had to dig in just east of the road running north of the eastern end of Fampoux. The battalion had suffered 63 casualties by this point. The men stayed in the new position overnight during a heavy snowfall and then throughout April 10th in which a further 73 casualties were suffered under sniper and shellfire.
The following day, April 11th, B & C Companies (later joined by D Company) played a minor role in a failed attack by the 1st King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. The battalion's casualties during the day totalled 19. One of the wounded men during this period was Charles Riley, who had to have a leg amputated and the following year died at home in Royton.
After their involvement in the opening days of the fighting the 2nd LF rested in the back area until April 29th when they moved back towards the front. At this point they were some 450 men strong - at full strength a British battalion would have nearer 1000.
They relieved the 22nd Northumberland Fusiliers in the front line to the east of Fampoux late on April 30th. The men found that the trenches were shallow and weren't sufficient to protect men standing upright. May 1st was a quiet one but at sunset and then again at dawn on May 2nd the Battalion came under German artillery fire suffering some casualties. The men were to launch an attack in the early hours of May 3rd but before doing so men of D Company were sent out to secure an unclaimed section of trench, moving in bright moonlight they came to the attention of German snipers and suffered several casualties in doing so. While this was going on the rest of the Battalion were readying themselves for their attack which was to take place at 03:45. Their first objective was a chemical works and Rouex railway station. They were then to push on and take some German trenches about 1400 yards further on. The chemical works were about 500 yards from the men's starting positions and the railway station perhaps half that distance. At 03:45 the Lancashire Fusiliers went over the top, advancing behind a creeping barrage provided by the British artillery. On the right B Company was in front with C in support whilst on the left D led the way with A following. D company was held up almost at once by machine gun fire, they and A Company suffered heavy losses. An attempt was made to outflank the houses where the German machine gunners were stationed but this failed and the survivors from both companies were forced to return back to the original front line.Meanwhile B & C Companies met little opposition and managed to push forward under cover of the barrage. They captured the chemical works and then still in accordance with the timetable began to progress further. Owing to the darkness and a railway embankment that split the two prongs of the Fusilier's attack these two companies were unaware of the failure of the attack to their left. To compound their problems the Brigade on their right had failed to capture their objective - Rouex Chateau - and when daylight came the defenders of that position began to put rifle and machine gun fire down on the Lancastrians. The men now found themselves trapped having advanced without support on either side. The Germans re-established their line between the station and the chateau and the entirety of B & C Companies were lost - either killed or captured. The Battalion recorded their losses for the day as 4 officers wounded, 1 officer wounded and missing and 9 officers missing with 17 other ranks killed, 84 wounded and 174 missing.
Robert Franklin was one of the many killed. Fellow Royton man Joseph William Helliwell was another of the Battalion who lost his life. That same day across the battlefield another three from Royton died - Harold Buckley, James Clarke and James Leach.
It was about three weeks later that Florrie Franklin, now living at 8 Canterbury Street in Higginshaw, received the official notification that Robert was dead. Later that year on August 29th she married James Swindells, a soldier, in Lees. It's not known what happened to her after that but there is a good chance she is the Florence Swindells who died in Blackpool in 1968 aged 83. Robert's parents Mary Ann and Thomas died in 1919 and 1928 respectively and are buried together in Royton Cemetery along with Robert's children Doris, Frank and William. Robert's brother Tom (1961,aged 80) is also buried with them.
It was later established that 94 members of the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers were killed that day. The large majority of whom have no known grave. To see the casualty list for that day please see Joseph William Helliwell's entry.