B (Robert?) FLETCHER
Rank: Lance Corporal
Number: 240122 (?)
Unit: 1/5th Battalion CHESHIRE REGIMENT
Date of Death: 1 July 1916
Age: 19
Cemetery: Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France

The war memorial at Stockport Art Gallery records a B Fletcher, serving with the Cheshire regiment. It has not been possible to find anyone of this name, although a Robert (Bob?) Fletcher was killed on 1 July and it is presumed that this is the same man.

Bob had been born in Stockport, attending Brinksway Sunday School as a boy and playing for their football team. He worked at Ring Spinning Mills, Stockport. The family home was at 84 School Street and his parents, brothers and sisters were living there in 1916. Bob was a pre-war member of the Territorial Force, serving with the Cheshires. His original service number was 1460.

The 1/5th Battalion was commanded by Colonel J Groves. He was not respected by many and was described in a subordinate officer's diary as "An absolute coward, he dare not go out to the trenches. The C.O. is living in luxury. Carpets, sofas, fires and beds just the same as at home. He sits down and carves his joint and has his wine at night." This was in stark contrast to William and his comrades who were living in the trenches amongst mud, lice and rats. In the early part of 1916, Colonel Groves volunteered them to become a Pioneer Battalion - having the dual role of fighting and trench construction. The men felt they were no longer a "proper” front line unit, who only had to fight.

1st July 1916 was the first day of the Battle of the Somme and was the last of Bob’s life. He was in trenches opposite Gommecourt in the north of the battlefield. The Cheshires’ job was to follow the leading attack battalions across No Man’s Land to consolidate the captured German trenches and establish strong points to repel any counter-attack. They left their trenches at 8am, in the third wave of troops. In the smoke and confusion, many lost contact with their officers and comrades.

They made it across No Man’s Land to the captured trenches but quickly found themselves having to drop their tools and engage in fierce hand-to-hand fighting with groups of enemy soldiers who had come out of their “dugouts”. Initially, the attacking battalions were able to consolidate but, by the middle of the day, were coming under intense artillery fire. Germans were attacking them with grenades from both sides of their positions. By mid afternoon, retreat was the only possibility.

45 members of the Battalion had been killed. Bob was originally posted as “missing”. In June 1917, the military authorities made a presumption that he must have been killed. His body was never found and identified and he is commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval.

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