Andrew Maxwell Dickson and Mary E Robinson married in the late summer of 1886 at St Stephen’s Church, Chorlton on Medlock, Manchester and they appear to have spent their married life living in t broadly the same area – firstly in Rusholme (where Robert was born on 28 June 1887) and later at 36 Duncan Road, Longsight.
Nothing is known of Robert’s early life but, in 1910, he married Sarah May Oldfield in the Hayfield area and they are thought to have then lived at Bute House in Marple Bridge. He was working as a bookkeeper for Mackenzie Stewart & Co Ltd, Bridgewater House, Whitworth Street, Manchester (and is included on the Company’s entry in the Manchester City Battalions Book of Honour). Andrew Dickson died in 1912, aged 48, and when Robert and Sarah’s son was born the following year, they named him in his memory.
In his younger days, Robert had been a member of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the Manchester Regiment (the forerunner of the Territorials). He was a first class shot and, although no longer a part-time soldier, he was a member and Honorary Secretary of Compstall Rifle Club.
In spite of his past experience, Robert was not an early volunteer for the army when War was declared in 1914. He didn’t join up until 27 May 1916, when he enlisted as a private into the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment. He was given the service number of 32919 and was assigned to “A” Company of the 1st Battalion. He joined the Battalion on active service on 9 January 1917, after finishing his training. It wasn’t too long before he was selected to become an officer and, on 26 May 1917, he joined No. 10 Officer Cadet Battalion back in the UK. He received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant on 20 October 1917 and was posted to the 11th Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment. At some later point, he was attached to the Rifle Brigade.
Towards the end of March 1918, it was becoming very clear that a major German offensive would be launched in the near future. The British could not known where and when it would be delivered and all they could do was prepare for the almost inevitable. On the 19th and 20th, Robert and his men spent the days digging defensive trenches near the village of Clastres. The attack started around dawn on the 21st with an extremely heavy German bombardment. The Battalion was ordered to occupy its battle positions as the reserve unit for its Brigade. A few hours later, it was clear that the front line troops had been overrun and many were dead. Many more were prisoners.
At 11.30, the Battalion was ordered to withdraw and take up another position on a canal bank at Jussy. “D” Company would fight a rearguard action to cover the retreat of the other men. They managed to withdraw successfully and, by early morning on the 22nd, they were in position on the canal. They had to cover a front of 2700 yards in only rapidly prepared defences. At 7am, the German infantry were first sighted and, at 9am, a party of them tried to cross the canal but were driven off. The German then put down heavy machine gun fire on the Battalion’s positions and they kept this up for most of the day. In the afternoon, their artillery also opened fire. There were many casualties, no doubt including Robert. During the evening, there were further attempts to cross the canal but these were all driven off or quickly counter attacked.
The next day, the Battalion was forced into another withdrawal and, most probably, Robert will have been buried by the advancing Germans. This will have been very near to where he died but, in the 1920s, many of these small burial areas were closed as the land was returned to civilian use. The bodies were brought to a new Cemetery at Grand-Seraucourt, where they were reburied.