Robert Farell


Lance Corporal 241030, 5th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment)

Died of Wounds 19th November 1918 aged 21

Buried Saint Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen, Seine Maritime, France

Son of Thomas and Mary Farrell of Liverpool

Lived 30, Kaye Street, Heckmondwike

We know that many people experienced hardship in the years before WW1 and Robert is no exception. The surviving records give a hint of the difficulties faced, before they volunteered to enlist, by all those who came from what would now be called the ‘deprived areas’ of northern cities.

The first years of Robert’s life were spent in an area just to the north of Liverpool city centre, not far from the docks, largely made up of tightly packed and overcrowded housing known as Courts. Though some of the street names survive today, the housing has long been demolished, partly to create space for the Mersey Tunnels.

Robert’s father was Thomas Farrell who married Mary Dooley on 28 January 1889 at St. Sylvester Catholic Church in Liverpool. Thomas was born in that city and worked for some time as a Carter then as a Dock Labourer, a notoriously insecure occupation. Mary was from the Manchester area, but both families had their origins in Ireland. Their first child, Thomas, was born on 10 March 1890, but died soon afterwards. Thomas and Mary went on to have further children, six of whom survived to adulthood. They were: Mary born 3 June 1891; Michael 30 March 1896; Robert 23 September 1897; William 25 June 1899; Anna 30 May 1901, Margaret 22 February 1903. A son John was born on 31 August 1904, he died in a playground accident whilst young.

On 3 December 1907 the three boys, Michael, Robert and William, aged 11, 10 and 8 respectively, all appeared before W J Stewart, a Magistrate in Liverpool, before whom James Finnigan and his brothers had appeared in 1897. Using the wording of the records, they had committed the offence of ‘wandering’. All were sent to the Refuge and Industrial School for Roman Catholic Boys, St. Anne’s Street, Liverpool, not far from their home. Their ‘sentences’ were to last until they reached the age of 16. Their father Thomas was described as having ‘no settled home’ and their mother Mary as ‘deserted’. The younger daughters, Anna, aged 6 and Margaret aged just 4 were sent at the same time to the Roman Catholic Industrial School for Girls, Blackbrook House, Blackbrook, St. Helens about 10 miles away from their home. Only 16 year old Mary, the eldest daughter, remained at home with her mother. It is believed that the parents tried to reclaim their family but without success.

Robert was allowed to leave the School on licence on 9 December 1912 and went to live at Nugent House, an Auxiliary Home for the School and began work as an Apprentice Marble Mason at 4s 4d a week. This employment was followed by a number of others, but Robert seemed not to be able to settle, until on 31 January 1914 he was found employment by the School with ‘Mr J Stradling’, Collier, of 30, Kaye Street, Heckmondwike. Terms: Board, lodging, clothing and 2s a week at Strawberry Bank Colliery, Heckmondwike’. Joe Stradling clearly had previous contact with the school; one former pupil was with him in 1911 at Union Road, Heckmondwike, Yorkshire.

Just after the outbreak of WW1 Robert visited the School and was said to be doing well at his work. Robert may have volunteered at first with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in March 1915, but was certainly with the 2nd/ 5th Battalion Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment) by July 1915, training at Thoresby Park near Worksop. He wrote to his mother in August 1915 saying he expected to be at the Front in September 1915. That was not to be, and Private Farrell moved to Bubworth Camp near Retford before in February 1916 writing to the School from the vast No. 5 Camp, Larkhill, on Salisbury Plain Wiltshire.

Much information has been obtained from the Refuge School Record Book, as Robert Farrell kept in touch with the School.

Details of Private Farrell’s military service beyond that point are not clear. The next event we can be certain of is that by July 1918 he was an Acting Lance Corporal attached to the 186th Trench Mortar Battery, in the Third Army, 62nd Division, 5th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. Batteries of that kind operated Stokes Mortars, a weapon which fired a 10lb high explosive canister with an effective range of around 750 yards. At that stage of the war and in the area where they were in action the teams of soldiers would be operating with minimal cover and would always be themselves within range of enemy fire of all types. The work was both physically hard and dangerous. In the last months of the War the 186th Brigade took part in actions around the Canal du Nord, Quesnoy and to the East of Cambrai, including a major attack on 4 November. There were a series of attacks along the River Sambre in the first days of November 1918. It is probable that was where Lance Corporal Farrell received serious wounds whilst carrying out actions which led to the award of the Military Medal. When the attack was underway he rescued a badly wounded officer, carrying him on his back, along with his documents to safety and placed him into a horse-drawn ambulance. Robert received gunshot wounds to both his legs. He was moved along the casualty chain until he reached one of the long established hospitals in Rouen about 130 miles from the front. At some point one of his legs was amputated. He died from his wounds on 19 November 1918, eight days after the Armistice. He is buried in Saint Sever Extension Cemetery, Rouen.

The Liverpool Echo of 13 December 1918 announced that Robert Farrell had been awarded the Military Medal, but made no mention of his death on 19 November. The medal award was confirmed in the London Gazette in March 1919. Most of the Military Medal Citations were lost in World War Two in the London Blitz. Robert was also awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal. A Memorial Plaque was awarded on his death of which we have a photograph.

Robert completed his soldier’s will on 8 July 1918 in which he left “all my property and effects to my Sister Maggie Farrell’. On 16 April 1919 Maggie was sent £25 17s 1d, which included a war gratuity of £22. The will is signed ‘R P Farrell’. The ‘P’ is believed to be the initial of a Confirmation name but has been misread as an ‘F’ in some cases including the headstone on his grave.

Robert’s sister Maggie married Denis McLoughlin on 22 August 1926. They went on to have four daughters, one of which was Robert’s niece Marie McLoughlin who supplied us with photographs and details of how he was wounded.

In October 1911 Robert’s elder brother Michael Farrell was released from the School on licence to join the South Lancashire Regiment as a bandboy, service number 9668. He served with other former pupils in Umballa, Northern India and Quetta, now in Pakistan. He later saw service as a Sergeant with the Norfolk Regiment. He was awarded the Victory Medal, the British War Medal and the India General Service Medal with clasp for Afghanistan, North West Frontier, 1919.

The younger brother William was the last to leave the School. On 10 June 1914 he moved to Nugent House and from there started work as a Printing Machine Feeder at 7s a week. He was discharged from Nugent House on 9 August 1915 and went to live with his mother at 23, Strickland Street, Liverpool. He was described as a’ well behaved lad’ and by March 1916 had moved to a new job with a shipping butchers with wages of ‘14s a week and food’. He joined the Royal Navy on 7 June 1917 and served until 4 April 1919. His character was described as very good and his ability as satisfactory. There are indications that he later joined the Royal Army Service Corps and the King’s Regiment. William received no medals for his Naval or Army service.

The Roll of Honour for Heckmondwike has four soldiers having an address at 30, Kaye Street Heckmondwike: two of them lost their lives in the War; see the entry for James Finnigan 12/1474 12th Battalion Kings Own Yorkshire Infantry (Pioneers), the others are Edward and William Dooley, who survived, both of whom were related to Robert’s mother Mary.

Robert Farrell is remembered on the Heckmondwike War Memorial, Green Park, Heckmondwike and in the Vellum Book of Honour located in Heckmondwike Library.{JG-045}

The Spen Valley Historical Society would like to thank Fr. Nicholas Hird BD MA of the Holy Spirit Church Heckmondwike and St Pauls Church Cleckheaton, Sister Margot of St Gabriel’s Convent, Carlisle and Liverpool Record Office for their support in compiling these notes. Particularly, massive thanks to Janet Jones and Robert’s niece Marie McLoughlin, the daughter of his sister Maggie, both of Ormskirk, Lancashire.

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