Robert Bradbury RUSSELL
Rank: Private
Number: 11659
Unit: 19th Battalion MANCHESTER REGIMENT
Date of Death: 23 July 1916
Age: 29 (based on 1901 Census)
Cemetery: Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France

Robert is believed to have lived all his life in Bramhall. He was the eldest of the three children of Robert and Elizabeth. When the 1901 Census was taken, the family was living at 41 Moss Lane and 14 year old Robert was working as a clerk for a cotton company. By the time of the Great War, he had changed jobs and was working for one of the industry's trade associations - the Calico Printers Association, at its offices in St James Buildings, Oxford Street, Manchester.

In early September 1914, with the War just over a month old, Robert enlisted into the army, joining the fourth of the "Pals Battalions" being formed by the Manchester Regiment. He was assigned to No. 3 Platoon in "A" Company. Some details of the Battalion's recruitment and training can be found here. In November 1915, the Battalion was deemed ready for War and it left Britain to go on active service in France.

During the evening of 22 July 1916, Robert arrived in assembly positions in a German trench captured earlier in the month. In front of them was Trones Wood and, beyond that, the village of Guillemont. This move forward had been spotted by the enemy who kept up a regular artillery barrage on the Manchesters throughout the night. In the early hours of the 23rd, they moved through the wood and into their final positions.

At 3.40am, Robert left the relative safety of the trench and advanced across open ground towards the village. They were immediately subjected to heavy rifle, machine gun and artillery fire. However, casualties were not heavy until they reached unbroken German barbed wire. Leading elements of the Battalion managed to reach the village. On the left of the attack, "A" Company was suffering massive losses from concentrated machine gun fire and had to fall back. The Company had been reduced to about 30 fit men. In the centre, "C" company made progress into the village but was now attacked from three sides and cut off from the rest of the Battalion. On the right, "D" Company had been unable to penetrate the barbed wire and the men had to try to find cover in the open fields. They were so close to the Germans that they were in grenade-throwing range and came under heavy attack form these. "B" Company was in support of "D" and also lost many men.

By 6am, it was clear that the attack had failed and they would have to withdraw. This had to be undertaken over the open ground with minimal protection. Small groups of men managed to make it back to the assembly trenches, throughout the morning. Of these, only a handful was from "A" Company. No-one from "C" Company reported back. "B" and "D" Companies had fared slightly better.

By late afternoon, the remnants of the Battalion were relieved from the front line. Because it had not been possible to recover the bodies of the dead, some 493 Pals were reported as "missing". Robert's body was never found and identified and he is commemorated, along with some 73,000 Missing of the Somme, on the Thiepval Memorial. Other local men killed in the attack were Tom Pugh, Alan Adshead and Ernest Spink. None has a known grave.

(Updated: February 2008)

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