In 1901 Robert Stott Mellor was still at 2 Queen Street with his mother, three sisters and a cousin of his father, Elizabeth Pickup. By 1911, the 17 year old Robert was working as a clerk in a cotton mill. Perhaps this was the Sandy Mill where he was later the assistant secretary. At that time the family had moved to 1 Charles Street with mother Sarah working as a music teacher. His sister Nancy was also a teacher.
Robert joined the army in February 1916, he spent time as a member of a reserve unit at Southport, the 27th Manchesters, before being sent out for active service. He joined the 22nd Battalion in June 1916. It was during this month, that as yet unbeknownst to the family, that Robert's cousin John Gerald Mellor died in Turkish captivity in Baghdad.
A short time after he joined his new unit they were to be one of the assault units on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916. It was to be the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army and was also Royton's worst day of the war - 12 men from the town's war memorial were killed that day along with at least one other Royton born man.
The 91st Brigade was to use two of it's four infantry battalions as assault troops - the 22nd Manchesters & the 1st Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment. The men were to attack German positions known as Bunny Alley & Fritz Trench which were north and east of the village of Mametz. They would have to get across 150 yards of No Mans Land first.The men managed to reach the German front line with relatively few casualties but as they advanced further they came under withering machine gun fire from the German troops who had by now surfaced from their underground bunkers, where they had been sheltering from the British artillery bombardment. Hard fighting went on through the day and by 16:00 the whole of Mametz was in British hands along with Bunny & Fritz trenches. The 22nd Manchesters had taken their objectives, a relatively rare occurrence for British troops on that bloody day but it came at a terrible cost. Of the 796 men with the battalion that morning there were 472 casualties -202 of whom were killed.Six of those killed were Robert Long, John Pickles, Fred Ludlam, Alfred Oliver, Fred Travis & Harold Fitton.
On July 5th the shattered battalion were withdrawn from the frontline and moved to Buire where it received a fresh draft of 434 men to bring the unit back up to strength. This saw a dilution in the Mancunian character of the battalion with less than a quarter of the new arrivals coming from the Manchester Regiment with the remainder being drawn from the Middlesex, Royal West Kent, Sussex, Royal Fusiliers and Border Regiments.
It wasn't long until the new look battalion was again in the fight. They were to be one of the first units involved in the long and bloody fight for High Wood, which was to continue until that September. The wood which lay in front of Bazentin-le-Grand and Bazentin-le-Petit crowned a ridge which was about 100 feet high. This provided whoever was in control of it commanding views of the Somme battlefield for a considerable distance. The first British attempt to wrest control of the wood began on July 14th as part of the Battle of Bazentin Ridge. In the evening of that day, two of 91st Brigade's four infantry battalions (of which the 22nd Manchesters were part) - the 1st South Staffords and 2nd Queens advanced upon the wood. The South Staffords began to take losses immediately from machine gun fire coming from the wood, the Queens got further before taking fire and were first to the fringe of the wood at it's south western corner. They could see no sign of Germans as they peered through the trees (at this stage the wood had been untouched by artillery fire). When the South Staffords came abreast the two battalions plunged into the wood. The Queens went on to hold the whole of the south east and part of the north east of the wood. The South Staffords came up against the German frontline which ran for 300 yards through the far end of the wood and whilst failing to break through again suffered heavy casualties. As a misty night fell German reinforcements began to arrive in the wood and on the British side fresh battalions began to head towards the wood.A company of Robert Mellor's 22nd Manchesters arrived in High Wood to bolster the weakened South Staffords.At 23:00, whilst the British High Command was toasting the capture of High Wood, the strengthened Germans launched a savage counterattack. The 1st South Staffords line was torn asunder, taking many 22nd Manchesters with them. As dawn arrived on July 15th there were still men of the battalion scattered about the wood, mixed up with 1st South Staffords and men from the 3rd Durham Royal Engineer Company who had arrived to build strongpoints but found themselves having to fight as infantrymen.
As the second day of the fighting around the wood raged on, with several more British battalions now engaged, two further companies of the 22nd Manchesters were sent up and placed under the command of the officer commanding the 1st South Staffords. Many of these men and the South Staffords were later to break and flee from the wood. Inside, still fighting a losing battle were still scattered groups from the battalion. Elsewhere amongst the foliage other British battalions were being mown down as they attempted counterattacks.By the end of the day with it clear that the wood was a lost cause for the time being it was ordered that all units should withdraw by 03:30 on July 16th and the area was to be smothered with artillery fire. By then Robert Stott Mellor and many others were dead. Six other British battalions had worse casualties than the 22nd Manchesters but it still had 200 dead, wounded and missing. On July 20th a cousin of Robert - Edward Eric Mellor was killed in further fighting at High Wood.
On August 12th, the Oldham Chronicle reported that Robert's mother had not heard from him for some time and also that a Royton man had written to his relatives saying that he was missing.A further two weeks passed before Sarah Mellor received official notification that her son was missing in action. In early October she received a letter from a Corporal J.Astor of the Northumberland Fusiliers which confirmed her worst fears. Astor wrote that he had come across a soldier's body on the battlefield and had found letters and photographs on it. He enclosed these with his letter.
On July 14th 1917 the following notice appeared in the Chronicle:
In loving memory of Private Robert S.Mellor,
killed in action on July 14th 1916
Always remembered - Redcar
It's not known who Redcar was but they have his date of death as being the 14th (rather than the CWGC's 15th), perhaps this places Robert in the company who first went into the wood to reinforce the South Staffords during the first night of the fighting.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has the following men from the battalion being killed on July 15th 1916
ATKINSON WILLIAM 26 Private 33232 from Carnforth
BARLOW JAMES 37 Private 21094 from Manchester
BOOTHMAN RICHARD 23 Serjeant 20677 born Middleton,enlisted Manchester
BROWN JOHN 35 Lance Corporal 20273 from Bury
CLOUGH THOMAS 29 Private 33651 from Ashton under Lyne
DAVIES FRANK 25 CSM 21378 from Cheshire Military Cross Winner
FERRIE ROBERT 21 Private 28360 born Kidderminster,enlisted Manchester
GIBSON JOHN 22 Lance Corporal 20916 from Manchester
HALL GEORGE 21 Private 20792 from Stockport
HILTON HAROLD 22 Private 25797 from Manchester
HIRST ERNEST 20 Private 28405 from Shaw
HOLBROOK HENRY 26 Private 20570 from Stockport
HORROCKS GEORGE 22 Private 20294 born Crewe, enlisted Manchester
HOWARTH ROBERT 35 Private 20430 from Middleton
IRLAM JAMES Serjeant 20574 born Salford, enlisted Manchester
KERSHAW FRED Private 21265 born Trenton,Staffs.Enlisted Manchester
LEEK HARRY Private 20583 from Manchester
PREDHUMEAU LEON Private 21057 from Manchester
ROWE SYDNEY 21 Corporal 20317 from Manchester
SCHOFIELD JAMES Corporal 21025 born York,enlisted Manchester
SULLIVAN WILLIAM Private 25590 from Manchester
WALTON WILLIAM Private 21167 from Manchester
WOOD ARTHUR 22 Private 21447 from Manchester
ROBERT STOTT MELLOR
Date of Death:15/07/1916
Panel Ref:Pier&Face 14C
Park Mill No.1/Larch Mill on the left,earlier the Highfield Mill belonging to the Mellor family (spot the WW1 tank in the photo)
Robert Stott Mellor was born on March 7th 1894 at 2 Queen Street, Royton. His parents were William Edwin, a cotton mill manager, and Sarah Elizabeth. At the time Robert was the youngest child with Nancy & Olive being his older sisters. On October 8th 1895, William Edwin Mellor died suddenly at home aged only 44 (the death certificate stating pulmonary disease & cerebral apoplexy) , at the time Robert's mother Sarah was about three months pregnant with daughter Winnifred. The Mellor family owned the Highfield Mill on Bleasdale street, which had been built by Robert's grandfather (also Robert Mellor) in 1876. Upon Robert senior's death in 1894 the mill had passed into the ownership of William Edwin and his brother, also Robert Mellor. Sarah Elizabeth Mellor inherited her husband's share upon his death. The mill was later sold in 1904 and became the Park Mill and later still the Larch Mill.
The tiny figures you can see against the white chalk are the 22nd Manchesters and 1st South Staffords advancing on July 1st 1916. 6 Royton men were killed with the 22nd Manchesters. Photo courtesy of IWM