Date of Death:12/05/1917
Regiment:King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment)
Panel Ref:Bay 2
Robert Lowe was born on March 26th 1879, probably in High Crompton although he always gave his place of birth as Royton. He was the eldest child of James, a cotton worker, and Eliza. At the time of Robert's birth they were living in High Crompton but it was at St.Paul's in Royton that he was baptised on July 9th 1879 and by the time of the 1881 census the family, a younger brother William having been born, were at 31 Radcliffe Street in the town. Further siblings arrived over the years - James, Harry, Albert, Arthur (twin of Albert who died in 1891 aged 11 weeks) and Ethel. The Lowes moved from Radcliffe Street to 5 North Street by 1891 and this remained the family home for the next two decades.
In 1903 Robert married Frances Blomley at St.Paul's and they later lived together at 35 Turf Lane. Their first child, James, was born in 1904 with Ada and Albert following in 1906 and 1909 respectively. In 1911 or 1912 Robert and family left Royton to move just over the border to 309 Shaw Road in Oldham although Robert continued to work at the Shiloh Mill. In 1912 another son, Robert, was born but sadly young Albert died aged two. A fifth child was born in 1915, Fanny, but she was to die later that year just eight months old.
By the time Fanny had been born, Robert was already a member of the army. He had enlisted in Shaw in December 1914 into the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment and became a member of it's 8th Battalion which had been formed in October of that year. Robert and his new comrades spent time training in the south of England before crossing over to France for active service on September 27th 1915. The Battalion's first months were spent in and out of the frontline with no great actions to report. While the Battalion was in a rest camp on February 18th the unit's machine gunners were sent to support another unit and one of their number, Robert's fellow Roytoner, John William Shirt was mortally wounded the following day.
In mid February 1916 the Germans had seized a position near to Ypres with commanding views known as The Bluff. In that fighting Royton man George Alfred Smith had been killed. It was decided that not only must the British retake The Bluff but they would further improve the situation by also taking a German trench position known as 'The Bean'. The preparations for the attack were greatly hampered by bitter cold and snowfalls. It was decided that the attack would begin the second morning after the first day fine enough for the artillery to operate.
Around about this time another Royton man in the Battalion, Edgar Fitton, wrote to his sister describing the conditions the men found themselves living in:
"I am still alive and kicking and in good health. We have been in the trenches and we had some narrow escapes. We are going in again on Thursday. We lost a few men when in the trenches last time. And talk about mud, we have to go up to the waist in it in some places.We are sleeping in a hut, and I have seen better pig cotes"
The bombardment eventually began on March 1st and was a complete success,demolishing the German front line. The guns kept up a slow rate of fire during the night of 1st/2nd March to prevent the enemy repairing the damage. Early in the morning of the 2nd it was decided that the attack would go ahead without the planned 20 minute preliminary bombardment.
By 03:45 the 8th King's Own were in position and at 04:30 the leading infantry - the 8th KORL, 2nd Suffolks and 1st Gordon Highlanders - attacked. The attack achieved complete surprise and by 05:10 the men of the three battalions had captured all of their objectives. The 8th KORL had cleared Germans on one flank with grenades and a group on the other by bayonet. As daylight came the advanced companies of Edgar's battalion were hit by sniper fire from a group of Germans but these eventually surrendered at about 07:00. At 10:00 the Germans opened a heavy artillery bombardment which continued unabated for two hours. Many men became casualties and quite a few of the men lying injured near the battalion's first aid post were killed. Shortly after this bombardment ceased a group of about 80 Germans attempted to advance but were quickly stopped by machine gun fire, the German bombardment then recommenced. In the evening a bombing raid by German troops was also fought off.
Even though the day could be considered by the Army a rousing success the cost to the 8th KORL was considerable. Amongst the many casualties, three Royton men were dead: Edgar Fitton ,John Walsh & William Thomas Whitworth. The dead included a further eight men from the Oldham district, three of whom had enlisted in Royton. The following night, March 3rd/4th, the men were relieved during a blizzard in which the men, who weren't equipped with greatcoats, suffered terribly.
At the end of March,a mile to the west of the Bluff, a German salient in the British line at St.Eloi was attacked. The 8th held their part of the line nearby and were not involved in the first week of confused fighting over the shattered landscape. By April 3rd nearly all the original objectives had been taken but a gap remained in the British line with the Germans clinging onto a position known as No.5 Crater. The capture of this and the trenches beyond it was allocated to the 8th KORL. The Battalion moved up at 08:30 on April 4th and were guided to their assembly point between two craters. The enemy garrison of No.5 Crater was estimated to be 200 strong and had reportedly dug themselves in under it's lip, armed with machine guns and defended by wire in front. C Company, of which Robert Lowe was a member, was to lead the attack. C Company moved forward at 02:00 on April 5th through the smoke of the artillery of both sides only to find the crater apparently unoccupied, they then pushed forward to the water logged trenches beyond with the same result. The men of the 8th consolidated their new positions but then when daylight came it became apparent that due to the darkness and confusion they had 'taken' No.4 Crater and the German held No.5 was behind them. The Germans put up fire but were heavily outnumbered and entirely surrounded and were soon captured. The casualties for the 8th KORL numbered 18 deaths and 45 men wounded.
Like many other units the 8th KORL were moved to the Somme sector ready for the huge planned summer offensive. The Battalion underwent intense training ahead of the battle but were not to be one of the units involved in the early fighting which began with terrible losses on July 1st 1916. The 8th's first taste of battle that month was on July 18th in the bitter fighting for Delville Wood - on that day A & B Companies were involved with some losses, Robert Lowe as part of C Company would not have seen combat.
The Battalion's next combat came on August 16th and this time Robert Lowe's C Company were to be one of the assaulting units. The objective was the German front line trenches at Guillemont. On the afternoon of August 15th B & C Companies went forward to take over the front line trenches from which the attack was to be launched the next afternoon. The section of line allotted to be taken by the 8th KORL was too close to the British troops to be bombarded beforehand and when the attack began the men were unable to make any headway against the German machine gun and rifle fire. A second attack was mounted and the fighting went on until B & C Companies had no more officers or NCOs standing. The survivors headed back to the British frontline which was manned by A & D Companies. Wounded men were brought back but could not be immediately evacuated, a downpour added to their misery. After dark two more efforts were made, one by the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and another by a mixed force which included the 8th KORL's D Company. Both failed but weakened the Germans sufficiently that they were eventually dislodged the following day, by which time the survivors of the 8th KORL had already been relieved.
As the Battle of the Somme wound to an end, the British High Command attempted one last attack at the valley of the Ancre River on November 13th 1916. The 8th KORL had moved into the area on October 7th and entered the front line trenches two weeks later. They found these trenches to be two feet deep in mud. The 8th KORL were part of the attack on the fortified village of Serre with the plan being that the 2nd Suffolks were to carry the trenches in front of Serre with the King's Own in the second wave to then pass through and establish a flank to the the north. The men immediately moved forward to occupy the front trench once the 2nd Suffolks had vacated it and then, with A Company remaining in reserve, moved forward to struggle through the mud behind the Suffolks. Some of the men managed to get through almost to their objectives whilst others were held up by mud and the German fire. C Company holding a line together were later so heavily shelled that they were withdrawn and amalgamated with D Company which had somehow earlier bypassed the German frontline in the confusion but had then come under very heavy fire and forced to withdraw. The attack was a failure but had helped pinned down enough Germans to help as gains were made elsewhere.
After the end of the Battle of the Somme the Battalion saw no major combat until the Battle of Arras which began on April 9th 1917. On Easter Sunday,April 8th,1917 the 8th King's Own formed up in Arras in the snow before moving up to the assembly trenches. B Company was hit by a shell at this time killing 6 and injuring 23. The battalion then took over some reserve trenches from the 1st Cameronians.The men of the 8th were not to be part of the first wave of the attack on April 9th and assembled by a
prisoner of war cage west of the village of St.Catherine at around 06:00. Morale was high at this point, the noise of the British artillery bombardment was stupendous and through the morning the first German prisoners of war started coming in reporting that their first and second lines had been obliterated. At 10:10 the men of the 8th moved off along the left bank of the River Scarpe towards the fighting. They remained in support until 19:00 when they were finally called upon to head to the new front line. In the confusion of the battle communication to the 8th had failed and they had no knowledge as to their objective or how far the distance to the line was. It turned out to be some 3000 yards and by the time they got there they met scattered groups of British soldiers returning from the failed attack that they should have been part of. The 8th KORL then dug in all night, making a good trench from which other units launched attacks the following day. The following morning they were relieved from this position.After something of a false start to it's involvement in the battle the 8th were in action on April 11th when with the 2nd Suffolks they moved off before dawn to attack the village of Guemappe. Again a shell fell amongst the assembling troops killing 3 and wounding 8. A Captain Wallace of the RAMC was to receive a Military Cross for his work in the trench which included having to amputate a man's leg using only his nail scissors. At 07:00 the two battalions advanced down a grassy slope in broad daylight with the village some 2000 yards away. Behind the village was a wooded hillside which afforded excellent cover for the German machine gunners and riflemen. Casualties were predictably heavy and the men were soon forced to ground, taking shelter in shell holes. They clung to these positions for nine hours, heavily shelled throughout. They then received word that they were to join the advance of the 1st Gordon Highlanders who were to pass through for a fresh attack. The Highlanders set off at 16:30 and were mown down, some reached the shelter of the shell holes occupied by the King's Own and Suffolks, none progressed any further than that. The misery of the men of the three battalions was then compounded as snow began to fall. They endured until 01:00 the following morning when they were relieved. At a position known as the Harp they received rations along with hot tea and rum. On the night of April 13th they moved to billets in Arras. Since April 9th the casualty list for Robert Lowe's battalion was 43 killed,175 wounded and 28 missing.
After some much needed rest in Arras the 8th King's Own returned to the line on April 23rd, taking over trenches in front of Monchy. The men were disheartened to find the trenches were on the forward slope of a hill and plainly visible to the Germans, whose own trenches were concealed in folds of the terrain below. To compound the problem the area had been very heavily shelled and the trenches were little more than groups of shell holes. Enemy snipers and machine gunners prevented any movement by day but by night the men worked to link up the various shell holes to form a viable front line. At 23:30 on April 26th the Germans launched an assault on the position held by Robert Lowe and his comrades in C Company. The men of the King's Own held fire until the enemy were almost on top of them, the effect on the ranks of the Germans of the sudden burst of fire at close range was devastating and the the attack failed. One of those killed amongst the Battalion was Royton man John Healey.
On the 28th another heavy attack was delivered and was again fought off and the Battalion was finally relieved on May 1st.
Although the men were then theoretically resting they were put to work digging communication trenches and after the ordeals of the front line were close to exhaustion. They were then put back into the front line on May 10th in front of Monchy. The Battalion's numbers were at this point down to around about 350 men and were barely enough to cover the amount of line allocated to it. Then on the afternoon of May 12th the severely weakened 8th KORL were ordered to attack a trench which was to be incorporated into the British frontline. The men went over the top at 18:00 and found themselves under heavy machine gun fire from both flanks. Increasing the casualties, the British machine guns that were laying down fire on the German trench cut down the men of the Battalion as they passed over a crest during their advance. Being shot at from all sides it wasn't long before the attack spluttered to a half. When the survivors struggled back under cover of darkness the Battalion numbered only 167 men.
Robert Lowe was not one of them, he lay dead out in no man's land.
Robert's widow Frances received the following letter from the Battalion's Chaplain:
"He went over with the battalion in the charge which was made against the German trenches. It was while he was in a shellhole that he was hit on the top of the head by a sniper, and I am exceedingly sorry to say he was killed instantly. I cannot tell you how sorry we all are, but I want you to know that we feel very deeply for you in your great loss and to offer you on behalf of the officers and men of the battalion our very true and heartfelt sympathy. He was one of the few survivors of the original battalion and while he has been out here he has always proved himself a splendid soldier. His death seems to have left an unbridgeable gap in our ranks and in our hearts. And yet we know that he has not died in vain. For he has made the supreme sacrifice in thus giving his life for the safety of the homeland, the honour of our Empire, and we honour his memory as a brave and gallant comrade whose self sacrifice and devotion has helped to pay the price of the ultimate triumph of our cause and to hasten the dawning of a better age for the world. It is a noble death and I hope it will be an endless source of pride and comfort for you to remember the greatness of the offering which he has made on the altar of patriotism. He has been laid to rest just east of ___, where he fell on the field of honour, and a cross marks his grave. May he rest in peace until that great day when you will find him again in perfect peace and joy, and that you will forget the anguish of your sorrow, the joy of having again the loved one whom you lost awhile. May God comfort you in this great sorrow and sustain you with his own sweet consolation in this dark hour of bereavement. In honest sympathy in which all ranks of the battalion wish to join"
On Sunday June 3rd 1917 at St.Paul's, Reverend Humphreys spoke at length about Robert and read out the above letter. He mentioned that Robert had been baptised at the church, had attended St.Paul's School and the Sunday School, had been a member of the church choir and had also been married there. Humphreys said:
"We feel the loss very keenly of this brave and good soldier....one dare not attempt to add more to what is so excellently and tenderly expressed (the letter from the Army Chaplain) except to say that we, too, offer to you, his wife and children, his mother and all other relatives and friends, our sincerest and deepest sympathy, with a prayer from our very inmost heart that our Loving Father may send His Holy Spirit into your hearts and fill them with His sweetest comfort and help in this time of your trouble and heart breaking sorrow".
The service concluded with the National Anthem, the Blessing and the 'Dead March'.
In 1919 Roberts eldest son James died aged 15 and was buried in Royton alongside his brother Albert and sister Fanny. Frances Lowe remarried in 1920 to John Kellard. She remained at 309 Shaw Road in Oldham for the rest of her life and died in 1956 aged 76. Robert's parents James and Eliza died in 1933 and 1938 respectively and are buried together at Royton Cemetery.
The other men of the 8th KORL listed as being killed that day are listed below, like Robert Lowe none of them have a known grave:
BENNETT PERCY Private 27764 from Manchester
BOTTOMS WILLIAM Private 5656 from Furness
BOWES JOSEPH Private 200605 enlisted Ulverston
CARTER PERCY 22 Private 16027 from Whitefield
CLEMENTS JOSEPH Private 25731 born Melton Mowbray,enlisted Blackpool
CONNOR JOHN 20 Private 22964 from Manchester
CUNLIFFE TOM 28 Private 27561 from Blackburn
DOBSON JOHN 19 Private 26648 from Lancaster
DOWER MAURICE Private 22437 from Warrington
DRAKE FREDERICK Private 30081 enlisted Manchester
EDDLESTON JOSHUA 27 Private 15245 from Accrington
EDMANDS GEORGE Private 20519 born Leicester,enlisted Liverpool
GODDARD HARRY Lance Corporal 30057 from Colne
GOODEN JOHN 19 Private 201343 from Bolton
HADFIELD TOM 19 Private 27576 from Shaw
HALL HARRY 28 Lance Corporal 240102 from Garstang
HARRISON HERBERT 31 Lance Corporal 201239 from Ulverston
HENSHAW JOHN 33 Serjeant 12402 from Heaton Norris
HOLDEN FRED 27 Lance Serjeant 21645 from Oldham
LARTER ARTHUR 23 Private 15530 from London
LAW JAMES Private 33495 born Bacup,enlisted Burnley
LEA JAMES 24 Private 27756 from Garstang
LINGARD HENRY Serjeant 25645 from Manchester
MEADEN WALTER 31 Private 20211 from Manchester
MOORES HAROLD 21 Private 23760 from Manchester
McLOUGHLIN MARTIN 37 Privat 201874 from Bacup
NUTT STANLEY 20 Corporal 15862 from Manchester
REELING FREDERICK 21 Private 30042 from Darwen
RICKETTS BENJAMIN Private 15631 from Manchester
ROSKELL WILLIAM 25 Corporal 11538 from Blackpool
SHOREY JOSEPH 23 Private 21969 from Carlisle
SIMPKIN SYLVESTER Corporal 15836 from Manchester
STOPFORTH ROBERT 39 Private 201771 from Clitheroe
SWINDLEHURST JAMES 39 Private 201227 from Scorton,Lancs
WALMSLEY THOMAS Private 26679 from Lancaster
WATSON JOHN 23 Private 240291 from Carlisle
WEST REGINALD 29 Private 23355 from Buckinghamshire
WHALLEY CUTHBERT Private 200607 from Barrow
WILSON JOHN 37 Private 33477 from Burnley
WINSOR GEORGE 41 Serjeant 24928 from Eccles