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The Fallen of Kirkby

Roger Preston

The Menin Gate, Ypres
The Menin Gate, Ypres
  • Son of Richard and Ellen Preston of Soutergate; husband of Elizabeth Agnes Preston (née Taylor).
  • Private, 18381, 2nd Battalion Canadian Infantry (Eastern Ontario Regiment).
  • Killed-in-Action, 26th April 1915 in the Langemarck area during the 2nd Battle of Ypres, aged 35.
  • Commemorated on the Menin Gate, Panel 10-26-28, Ypres, Belgium.

Roger Preston (‘Rodger’ in Canadian military records) was born on 28th October 1879, the eldest child of Richard, an iron ore mining engineer, and Eleanor Preston, then living at Sea View in the Parish of Dalton-in-Furness. By 1891 the family had moved to Soutergate, and Roger’s parents went on to have six more children, of whom only 2 were still alive by 1911, when Ellen was living alone with her granddaughter, Mary E. (Elizabeth, after her mother?) Preston, then aged 7, still in Soutergate.

Roger himself had married Elizabeth Agnes Taylor of Keighley in Settle in the West Riding of Yorkshire, in 1898 when he was 20. He spent 10 years in the police force in Yorkshire, before he and his wife emigrated to Canada sometime in the first decade of the century, apparently leaving their daughter Mary behind with her grandmother.

The couple lived at 1138 6th Vermilion, Edmonton, Alberta, where Roger found work as a labourer and was a member of the ‘Active Militia’, Canada’s equivalent to the Territorial Army. As soon as war broke out Preston volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, joining the 2nd Battalion Canadian Infantry on 18th September 1914. His Attestation Papers describe him as 5’ 10”, of dark complexion, with dark brown eyes, black hair, and an appendix scar. He gave his religion as C of E.

The Eastern Ontario Regiment was part of the 1st Canadian Division of the CEF, the First Contingent arriving in France in February 1915. Their first major engagement was in the Second Battle of Ypres, which began on 22nd April. Before their surprise attack, the Germans released a cloud of poisonous chlorine gas, which drifted over the Allied lines. The subsequent battle lasted four weeks, but Roger Preston was killed at Brielen near Langemarck on the fifth day. His body was never found, and after the war the Canadian Army had his name included among the 54,896 on the Menin Gate Memorial to men who had died in the area but had no known grave.

It was not until 5th November 1915 that the North Western Daily Mail reported that Private R Preston of Kirkby had been listed as killed; the Parish Magazine had already described him as “fallen” back in June. On 9th January 1916, a joint Memorial Service was held in the parish church of St Cuthbert’s, for Roger Preston, Richard Knight, William Sykes, William Nicholson Brockbank and John Wilson.

It is not known whether Mrs Preston ever returned from Canada.

Roger Procter ’s name at The Menin Gate, Ypres
Listing on the Menin Gate, Ypres

The Second Battle of Ypres was notable for the first use by Germany of poison gas, at least on the Western Front. In January 1915, the Germans had fired shells carrying xylylbromide, at Russian troops on the Eastern Front, which was reported to have cost over 1,000 lives.

Now, on April 22nd 1915, the, German army launched their attack (the Second Battle of Ypres). The Allies, having little experience of the use of poison gas in battle, faced a four-mile- long release, which the wind blew across their trenches.

However, in spite of this early, experimental use of gas, the Germans failed to make a significant breakthrough. By 1917, mustard gas had been developed, but gas mask technology had kept pace with this form of chemical warfare, so it was never totally successful.

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