Robert came from a military family. His father, Thomas, had been a Lance Corporal in the pre-War regular army and had fought in South Africa during the Boer War. He had left the army some years before 1916 and was working as the librarian at the Manchester Regiment Depot (probably in Ashton under Lyne). The family home was at 73 Great Portwood Street, Stockport and Robert worked locally in the mill of the Vernon Cotton Spinning Co. on Mersey Street.
He enlisted in September 1914 when he was 17. The newly formed 80th Brigade, part of the Army’s 17th Division, did not go abroad until July 1915, by which time Robert was probably 18 and able to legally serve overseas. The Battle of the Somme started on 1 July 1916 and Robert’s Brigade will have already been in action for several days firing at enemy strongholds and attempting to batter down the barbed wire strung defensively across No Man’s Land.
The infantry battalions of 17th Division were not in action on the first day but attacked on the 2nd, capturing the heavily defended village of Fricourt. They would now be in almost constant action over the coming days and there would be no rest for the artillerymen. Of course, the German artillery was also in action, acting defensively. One of its main targets in each sector would be the British artillery gun positions and they would quickly get the new range, even if the guns were moved. Robert was, almost certainly, a victim of this shelling.
Later the Divisional Chaplain wrote to his parents. “It is with a heavy heart I write you this letter and I trust you will bear its message with the same brave and Christian fortitude that your son met his fate. Your son, Driver R Peel, was killed in action today. Your son was a splendid Christian and his loss is deeply mourned by all the officers and men. We buried him in a British Cemetery with many another of his comrades who fell in action.”