Robert Crossland, Private 15/248 1st Leeds Pals
Robert Crossland was born on 2nd May 1889, and baptised two months later in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in New Wortley. He was the second child of James William Crossland and Elizabeth Ann Blackburn who had married in Bramley in 1884. Robert had an older brother William Isaac, and two younger sisters, Agnes and Jennie. There had been a fifth child who sadly had not survived. James worked for the Great Northern Railway as a plate-layer, inspecting and maintaining the track. He had previously been, in 1891, a stationery engine stoker. Neither of his sons followed him into this trade, William becoming a grocer’s assistant and Robert a cloth drawer, someone who fed and minded the tentering machine in which woollen cloth or felt was stretched while wet or steamed and then dried under tension, on tenter hooks. It appears Robert was also a keen cricketer, being a member of the Holbeck A Team, winners of the Leeds League in 1913.
Robert and Clarice
So when the war began Robert was 25, and he wasted no time in volunteering. He went first to Colsterdale, where the Pals did their initial training, but on Boxing Day 1914 he was home in Holbeck, for he married Clarice Amelia Swales in the Wesleyan Chapel there. He gave his occupation as Cloth Drawer and Private in the Leeds Pals, and his place of residence as Colsterdale. Clarice was a tailoress machinist. Following his initial training he was put into D Company, No.16 Platoon, and he is listed on the Roll as servant, to one of the company officers, but with no indication as to which one. His service records are missing but we can assume that he went next to Ripon, then to Fovant, and certainly sailed, with the rest of the battalion, to Egypt, there to guard the Suez Canal, from where he sent a postcard to William. Two months later they were on their way again, this time to France, to take part in the Big Push, the Battle of the Somme.
The Suez Canal, a postcard sent by Robert
Whether Robert was directly involved is not known, but if he was he clearly survived, unlike so many of his comrades. He also survived 1917 when the Pals once more came close to extinction at the Battle of Arras. He may, however, have been wounded at some stage. In March 1918 he was taken prisoner, and those records have survived. One of them mentioned a gunshot wound, to his shoulder and face, but as the initial report on his capture says he was not wounded that suggests an earlier encounter.
On 21st March 1918 the Germans launched the Kaiserschlacht, their final attempt to win the war before the Americans arrived in force. At the time the Pals were involved in battalion sports, and doing well as usual. But everything came to an abrupt end and they were hurried into the line, in time to be overrun on 27th March. Finally only four officers and about forty men escaped, Sergeant Mountain winning the Victoria Cross in the process, but Robert was not so lucky. He was captured at Ervillers, where the Pals had made their stand. What happened to him initially is not clear, but by the beginning of August he had arrived at Parchim POW Camp. At the end of August he was moved to Meschede Camp. He may also have gone to Friedrichsfeld Camp, but the dates are not clear. Certainly he was in the hospital at Meschede on 18th November 1918, because that was when he died, of pneumonia, just one week after the armistice. He may have been one of the victims of the Spanish Flu epidemic that was sweeping the world, and which eventually claimed more victims than the war itself. He was buried in the Niederzwehren Cemetery, Kassel, which had been established by the Germans for POWs who died while in captivity.
Robert was subsequently awarded the 1914-15 Star, for his service in Egypt, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, but these would have been sent to his widow, who would also have received his death plaque, the ‘Dead Man’s Penny’. It is possible that his brother William also joined up, not in the Pals, but I have so far found no confirmation of this.
Ancestry – Medal Records
Find My Past – Census Records
Free BMD – birth, marriage and death records
ICRC – POW Records
CWGC – details of death
Researcher: Peter Taylor, with additional information and photos from the family.
- All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
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