Robert Clifford DAWSON
Rank: Private
Number: 49662
Unit: 11th Battalion MANCHESTER REGIMENT
Date of Death: 16 August 1917
Age: 25
Cemetery: Tyne Cot Memorial, Zonnebeke, Belgium

Robert ha dbeen born in the Stockport area but the names of his parents are not known. At a young age, he was adopted by James and Mary Wild of Hilldrop terrace, Stockprt Road, marple. The 1901 Census confirms that the couple, then 60, also had a 16 year old adopted daughter, Mary Gilmore. Nothing else is known of Robert's early life.

In 1914, he married Ann Selina Rowbotham in a civil ceremony registered at Stockport and they are thought to have lived at 26 Sunny Bank, Stockport Road. Robert worked ina  cotton mill in Ashton under Lyne and he enlisyted into the amry in the tonw. His service number suggests this was probably in early 1916.

On 30 July 1917, the Battalion moved to bivouacs in hop fields near the village of Elverdinghe, to the north west of Ypres (now Ieper). It stayed here for the next two weeks preparing for its part in a coming attack. The Third Battle of Ypres had started on 31 July, and, in this sector, the next phase would advance to capture the village of Langemarck. The Manchesters formed part of a mile-wide infantry attack.

The starting point for the attack was the west bank of the Steenbeck (a small river). On the way to their assembly positions, the Battalion's guides took to them to the wrong spot. Eventually, they made it to the correct place about an hour before zero hour.  There had only been two casualties, although the German artillery bombardment had been heavy.

At 4.45am, the men left their assembly positions and crossed the Steenbeck by way of a footbridge. As the Battalion was crossing, the enemy artillery fire increased and it destroyed the bridge. 8 officers, out of 16, were killed or wounded at this point. It was not a good start and the advance was made more difficult by the fact that it had been raining for days and the ground had turned to deep mud. The troops simply could not move quickly.

By 6.12, they had advanced to their designated point, about a kilometre away and were given orders to lie down in the mud until the 8th Northumberland Fusiliers had captured a position. It is reported that, at 6.30, the Fusiliers signalled for the Manchesters to advance, but they had not yet secured their objective. This exposed the Manchesters to heavy machine gun fire from an enemy strongpoint at Maison du Hibou. The Battalion also had an objective to capture an enemy post on its right flank, west of the Langemarck-Winnepeg road. "P" Company, captured some prisoners here, but they then came under rifle and machine gun fire. They pressed forward to a series of concrete structures where they captured more prisoners. The Company had become somewhat isolated and had to withdraw back to the main body of troops.

On the left of the attack, "Q" and "S" Companies had lost all their officers and the men were now involved in very difficult and uncoordinated fighting for some huts, east of the Langemarck Road. Eventually the battalion managed to establish a defensive line here, running from the huts to the road. An enemy counter-attack, later in the day, was beaten off. The attack had been successful but at a significant cost. 5 officers, including Carl Lowther, had been killed. 46 other ranks had also died. Robert and Arthur Stott were amongst them.170 others had been wounded.

Further information about Robert can be found in the book "Remembered" by P Clarke, A Cook and J Bintliff.

(Original research into the events of 16 August by John Hartley for the Cheadle & Gatley War Memorials website.)

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