|Private Robert Bull - Somme July 1916|
My G-Uncle Robert was born in 1878. He was my paternal grandmother's brother. He married Jenny Haydon on Christmas Eve 1899 and in time they had two children, Lillian born in 1904 and Robert born in 1908 and later another baby girl was born.
Pte. Robert Bull - 1916
Lillian & Robert - about 1914
Robert worked at the City saw Mills in St Pauls, Bristol where he lost the forefinger of his left hand in an accident.
City Saw Mills Employees - Robert Bull: centre, back row
Robert joined the Gloucester Regiment as Pte. 4405. Early in 1916 he wrote to his wife: "...I have got bad news for you. I have got to go to France on next Friday .... so has Ted Hancock and a lot more of my pals, about 150 of us, some of the 4th and a lot more of us here." He added, "I was hoping to see you again before I went. I applied for a pass this week, but of course, its all over now. .... If I were you I would not upset myself , for I hope with Gods help to see you and my dear children again." His last paragraph reads, "Its true this time, for they are serving us out with everything to go. I don't know what to do for socks, I have not a pair to go with, and when they pay us it will be too late to buy any. I wish you could send me a couple of pair and a ounce of tobacco, and I will send you the money when I am paid. It may be the last you ever have to send but I hope not. Will you write at once as I may not have another chance to write to you, so goodbye and may God bless and look after you and the darling kiddies, Goodbye darling, your loving husband, Bob"
On 13th April, he wrote again from France: "Dear Jenny, I received your last letter just after I wrote one to you ..... I wish all the same you had sent those cough peps, I can't seem to shake off the cold. You see I am sending you a card with the good old Gloster badge. I hope you will keep it as they are hard to get here, so directly I saw it I got one knowing it would please you." He went on, "We are having a drop of rain here, so I am glad we are out of the trenches for a few days, it is not a pleasant place when it is raining. I hope you are still well .... I suppose the dear kiddies are allright and not to much trouble to you, I suppose old Buffer (this seems to have been a nickname for his son Robert) is getting quite a man now, the dear old dog. I know old Trotters (this appears to be what he called Lillian!) is a good girl, she could not be anything else God bless her, I should like to see her now and I am glad the baby is going well, I shall know her better bye and bye." His final paragraph reads, "Well old girl I must come to a close, don't forget the peps (i.e. the cough drops) and write soon, goodbye and God bless you my sweetheart and keep you and the children till I see you again."
... He never saw them again, by the end of July 21st, Robert was just another corpse in 'no mans land' on the Somme. A Red Cross letter to his wife Jenny dated October 25th 1916 reads '... Pte Hill 3516 B. Co. 6th Gloucesters, now in hospital abroad, ... tells us that he himself saw Pte. Bull killed on the parapet in front of the Leipsic Redoubt (this was the "Leipzig Redoubt" - a name given to a section of the German Line) on 21st July "Shrapnel came right over on top of him and killed him right out". A further Red Cross letter, dated December 16th 1916, confirmed the terrible news with further evidence .... 'Sergt. E. Davies, 2701 1/6 Gloucesters B. Co. B.E.F. tells us that he himself saw Pte. Bull killed just beyond Ovillers beyond the second German trench ... Sergt. Davies says that the ground where Pte. Bull fell was overlooked by the Germans and swept by their fire. so that it was impossible to bring in the fallen.'
This map shows the area where Robert fell in the 1st battle of the Somme - close to Ovillers. It was taken from Harmsworth's Universal Encyclopedia Vol X1, published in 1922 .
The family still have the original letters written by Robert and the communications received from the Red Cross. Mysteriously, they also have a small blood stained leather pouch with a rosary (Robert and his family were Catholics) - it seems that one of Robert's pals managed to reach his body at some point, recover these items and later, returned them to his widow. Jenny never got over her loss. A few years later, she suffered a debilitating accident after which she had to be cared for by her children, "old Buffer" and "old Trotters", until she died on 22nd July 1935.
Robert's family received the Victory medal and the British medal for his WW1 service. Robert need not have gone to the front line because of his missing 'trigger' finger but he went to war willingly for his country despite the fears he expressed in his letters - a story of bravery common throughout our country at the time. We tell his story so that future generations will know what happened to him and his comrades. [Diane Yearsley (grand-daughter), Tracey Thomas (great-grand-daughter) & Dave Napier (grand-nephew)]
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