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Alfred Robinson was the oldest son and second child of John Alfred and Rosalie Anna (nee Barrett) who married in the Middlesborough area in the first quarter of 1894. Alfred was born in the second quarter of 1898 and baptised at St Thomas’ church Lowther Street, York on 29th June 1898.
John was doing reasonably well working for the Prudential Assurance Company and by 1901 he and Rosalie were living with their three children and a servant in Havelock Terrace, on Cemetery Road in York.
John A. Robinson, Head, Married, Male, 28, Durham, Insurance Superintendent,
Rosalie Robinson, Wife, Married, Female, 31, Fyfield, Berkshire, -
Margaret N. Robinson, Daughter, Single, Female, 5, Morley, Yorkshire,
Alfred Robinson, Son, Single, Male, 2, York, Yorkshire,
Arthur J. Robinson, Son, Single, Male, 0, York, Yorkshire, England,
Christy H. Cockerill, Servant, Single, Female, 13, Malton, Yorkshire, Genrl Domestic,
Alfred was sent to Fishergate School where he proved himself intelligent and a hard worker. In time he got a scholarship and progressed to Archbishop Holgate’s school.
By 1911 they had moved to Wiggington Terrace with their five children
John Alfred, Robinson, Head, Married, Male, 39, Barnard Castle Durham, Assistant Superintendent Of Agents Prudential Assurance Company,
Rosalie Anna Robinson, Wife, Married, Female, 41, Fyfield Berkshire,
Margaret Nance Robinson, Daughter, Single, Female, 15, Morley Yorkshire, At Home
Alfred Robinson, Son, -
Arthur James Robinson, Son, -
Albert Edwin Robinson, Son, -
Donald Augustus Robinson, Son, -
At Archbishop Holgate’s he “…continued to manifest exceptionally brilliant mental qualities. Here he passed the local Cambridge University examination with honours. Apart from his school achievements he possessed rare athletic ability, and was one of the cleverest exponents of the Association code amongst the York public schools. More than once he assisted his side to win noteworthy victories and was the holder of several league and cup medals. After leaving school he received an appointment on the clerical staff of Messrs Rowntrees, of York, where he was popular. He was a gifted musician and his services as a pianist and social entertainer were much sought after. In connection with the successful pageant play produced by the young people connected with the Salem Chapel, at York, He took a prominent part. Naturally he made a host of friends. On the outbreak of war he was one of the first to volunteer his services, but being barely 17 years of age (sic. actually just 16!) he was not accepted for the active service regiment of the 5th Yorks.”
It was soon after the onset of the war that the family moved to Malton and took up residence in St Aubyn’s one of the houses known as Mount Crescent on Horsemarket Road. While he was in Malton, he earned considerable popularity by giving his services for various charitable objects as a musician.
After coming to Malton, he was successful in his next attempt at enlistment and was passed for the 5th Yorks Reserve Battalion. But once on the books of the Reserve Battalion, he immediately volunteered for service with the Expeditionary Force and was soon drafted out to France with the first arrival of the 5th Battalion in France.
The advance party left Newcastle on April 15th and arrived in France on the morning of 17th April. On the 18th they were joined by the rest of the Battalion and after less than 24 hours in Camp were entrained, arriving at Cassels at 6.0 am and marched twelve ‘hot and very tiring’ miles to billets outside the village of Steenvoorde, where they finally rested, for three whole days.
On the 23rd they were on the move again, proceeding by Motor Buses to Vlamertinghe and from thence marched to A Huts at Ypres arriving just as the German army had attacked at Ypres, using poison gas for the first time. ‘As they tramped along the pave road, with Vlamertinghe and Ypres ahead, the boom of guns became even louder. Crowds of refugees were met, hurrying westwards with handcarts perambulators and almost any kind of vehicle laden with all the worldly possessions left to them’
That night they moved forward to the banks of the Yser Canal in support of 2nd Zouaves. The Battalion lined the Canal banks under the shelter of a ridge before daylight, the men shortly afterwards digging themselves into shelter holes. B Company, which was somewhat exposed, suffered minor casualties from overdropping bullets.
That morning they had their first experience of shell fire, and over the next few days were fully involved in the chaos of the Battle of Ypres and sustained heavy casualties – a true baptism of fire. On the afternoon of the 24th the Battalion was ordered to cross the Canal and support the Canadians at Chateau, where it reported at 3.00 pm being subject to rifle and shell fire en route.
From Chateau they were ordered to proceed to Saint Jean to the support of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade. This village was soon afterwards in flames and the Battalion skirting its rear, skirmished across open country under heavy shelling to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade HQ. They attempted repeatedly to get into touch with the York and Durham Brigade, but could obtain no reply. They were taken over by a Canadian General and used to re-
It rained solidly all night and several men were wounded and one killed.
At 3.00 am on the 25th they received orders to proceed to Fortuin and en route passed a number of detached bodies of troops in retreat. They arrived at the rendezvous about 5.0 am in company with 5th Durham Light Infantry and met the General Officer in Command of the Yorks and Durham Brigade. With daylight shelling commenced and B and C Companies occupied line of reserve trenches on the right of the road to the left of the DLI, but no shelter was available for the A and D Companies except the hedge bottom on roadside.
About 6.0 am these latter Companies advanced to support of Royal Irish across open field and were met with heavy shrapnel fire. Soon the order was given to retire as the Royal Irish were falling back. In this movement A and D Companies suffered severely, losing 8 killed and about 40 wounded [the latter including the Adjutant].Alternating bursts of the shell and rifle fire continued throughout the day.
About noon the DLI, who had been ordered to search a farmhouse requested assistance and a party of 25 of D Company under Capt GC Barber and Lt H Brown was sent out. It was met by the fire of a Machine Gun concealed in the house and Capt Barber and a L/Cpl were instantly killed.
Capt Purvis reported small parties of Germans due North in the trenches and orderlies were sent to Brigade stating that "Enemy was inclined to press" and asking "Have you any orders ?". No reply could be obtained.
Other casualties occurred from shell and rifle fire, which died down at nightfall, when the dead were collected and buried.
Among these dead was Alfred. His grave did not survive the chaotic disturbances of the ground as battle continued over this area for the rest of the war and his remains have not been located.
Clearly the news of his death did not get back promptly to his family in Malton. It was not until the end of June that the Malton Messenger carried this article:
LOCAL SOLDIERS KILLED
PRIVATE A. ROBINSON, MALTON
Further letters received by Mr and Mrs Robinson, St Aubin’s, Mount Terrace, Malton, show that their son Private A Robinson, 5th Yorks Regiment (TF) previously reported dangerously wounded, was killed. Major Mortimer has written confirming the sad news, and a relative received the following letter:-
I regret to say that young Robinson was killed on Sunday 25th April near St Jeans. We were advancing to support the Canadians, and were under terrific shell fire; we had 60 casualties in “A” company. The young lad was practically instantaneously, and did not suffer long. We greatly deplore his loss, for he was a very nice lad and endeared himself to his comrades by his nice behaviour. He met his death bravely. I regret no word has reached you before, for the anxiety and suspense in your case must be awful. To the best of my belief a letter was written to his parents informing them, yet it is quite possible that it might not be received. If you would kindly let me know whether his parents received the letter or not I would be much obliged, as it is our duty to inform the parents in such cases which so often occur. If any information is required I will be pleased to forward the same, as I can well understand the blow is hard to bear. All his comrades feel the deepest sympathy for your loss. J. S. Fisney, Officer commanding.
Private A. L. Scott also wrote to Mr Robinson as follows:-
Dear Mr Robinson, -
Mr and Mrs Robinson have received many letters of sympathy in their bereavement, form townspeople and from officials of the Prudential Assurance Company, for which Mr Robinson is the local superintendent. Amongst the letters received was one from Mr Percy Vinter, Principal of Archbishop Holgate’s School, York, sympathising with the parents in their great loss, and adding “We feel sure that your son has honoured his school, giving his life for his country.” Mr G.T. Barker, headmaster of the Mixed Department, Fishergate School, York, has also written expressing his sorrow at seeing the announcement of Private Robinson’s death, and sympathy with the parents in their bereavement .
The deceased, a smart, popular young fellow, was a native of York, from which city he came to Malton with his parents. He was educated at the Fishergate School, York, where he won a scholarship and later went to Archbishop Holgate’s School where he continued to manifest exceptionally brilliant mental qualities. Here he passed the local Cambridge University examination with honours. Apart from his school achievements he possessed rare athletic ability, and was one of the cleverest exponents of the Association code amongst the York public schools. More than once he assisted his side to win noteworthy victories and was the holder of several league and cup medals. After leaving school he received an appointment on the clerical staff of Messrs Rowntrees, of York, where he was popular. He was a gifted musician and his services as a pianist and social entertainer were much sought after. In connection with the successful pageant play produced by the young people connected with the Salem Chapel, at York, He took a prominent part. Naturally he made a host of friends. On the outbreak of war he was one of the first to volunteer his services, but being barely 17 years of age (sic. actually just 16!) he was not accepted for the active service regiment of the 5th Yorks. However he was not to be so baulked of his desire to serve his country. After coming to Malton, he was successful in his next attempt at enlistment and was passed for the 5th Yorks Reserve Battalion. But he volunteered for service with the Expeditionary Force and was soon drafted out to France. While he was in Malton the deceased soldier gave his services for various charitable objects as a musician and these were greatly appreciated. The news of his death caused widespread regret in local circles.”
Alfred is among the many commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres. He is also commemorated on the Malton Town Memorial and on the War memorials in the churches of St Michael’s and Saville Street Methodists.