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The Fallen of Kirkby

Robert John Rawlinson, M.M.

Robert Rawlinson, his wife, and daughter. Photo taken on leave in 1915 or 1916 (photo courtesy of the family)
Robert Rawlinson, his wife, and daughter. Photo taken on leave in 1915 or 1916 (photo courtesy of the family)
  • Son of William and Frances Mary Rawlinson of the Buck Horn, Beanthwaite.
  • Husband of Frances May Rawlinson (née Tyson) of Grizebeck Post Office.
  • Private, 21879, 8th Battalion, Canadian Infantry (Manitoba Regiment).
  • Awarded the Military Medal in the field, 21 December 1916, and promoted to Sergeant. Later promoted to 2nd-Lieutenant.
  • Died of wounds at No 33 Casualty Clearing Station, 30th September 1918, aged 27.
  • Buried in Bucquoy Road Cemetery, Ficheux, Pas de Calais, France, Plot III, Row B, Grave 2.

Robert Rawlinson came from a whole family of quarry workers: his father, William, as well as keeping the Buck Horn Hotel, was a river and rockhand, who died in 1934 aged 65; his brother, Richard, was an apprentice in 1913, and himself went to Canada in 1928; another brother, W. Granville, an apprentice in1924; Robert John’s uncle, Robert Rawlinson, who died in 1907, had been a quarry man; and his nephews, Ernest and Robert J., had been apprentices for a while.

The Buck Horn, Grizebeck Hill, now a private house. (Photo: Julie Rushton)
The Buck Horn, Grizebeck Hill, now a private house. (Photo: Julie Rushton)

Like a lot of young men of his era, Robert Rawlinson must have been persuaded a better life awaited in Canada, for he emigrated in 1913, two years after his marriage to Frances. According to the local paper, writing after the award of the Military Medal, Robert John Rawlinson, having been for four years a Territorial with the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, was among the first in Canada to join up when war was declared. When signing on he gave his occupation as ‘Gardener’. Having arrived back in England he went for training on Salisbury Plain.

Rawlinson saw plenty of action with the Canadians, being wounded more than once and promoted first to Sergeant and then 2nd Lieutenant. The formal photograph of him with his family on leave (above) may have been taken after the award of the Military Medal, but if so it must have been before the medal was presented to him, as no medal is on view.

The Military Medal

This medal, introduced in 1916, could be awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth forces from 1916 on, for “Acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire”. Unlike the VC, it was awarded purely on the say-so of the Commanding Officer in the field. The Military Medal was replaced by the Military Cross in 1993. It could only be given to non-commissioned officers and ‘other ranks’, so Robert Rawlinson must have been promoted to 2nd-Lieutenant before the attack on Bourlon Wood but after the award. The medal was worth sixpence a day in extra wages as well as a one-off gratuity – money that may have been very welcome in Grizebeck in 1916.

As far as we know, Robert John Rawlinson was the only Kirkby man to be awarded the Military Medal, or to be decorated for bravery in the First World War.

Robert Rawlinson’s military medal for bravery showing the reigning monarch
Robert Rawlinson’s military medal for bravery showing the reigning monarch
Robert Rawlinson’s military medal for bravery reading FOR/BRAVERY/IN THE/FIELD in four lines, encircled by a laurel wreath and topped by the Royal Cypher and Crown
Robert Rawlinson’s military medal for bravery reading FOR/BRAVERY/IN THE/FIELD in four lines, encircled by a laurel wreath and topped by the Royal Cypher and Crown

The attack on Bourlon Wood, 27-29 September 1918

The disastrous operation in which Robert Rawlinson was mortally wounded is recorded in detail in the Battalion War Diary. This document, compiled by a junior officer as events unfolded, is usually a dispassionate factual record, but in this case it places the blame for the mistakes, which cost the lives of every officer in A and C Companies, squarely on HQ. The attack was “a hurried affair, engineered by higher commands, regardless of the battalions”. Casualties could have been avoided “if more control had been allowed the Battalion Commander”; but “we were to reap the fruits” of the failures of the senior leadership.

At 6am on 29th September the British and Canadian forces began their attack on Bourlon Wood, south of Arras, behind a barrage, which was meant to cut the barbed wire between the trenches. The War Diary does not blame the gunners, who had “had no time to prepare”, but when the advancing troops reached the wire, it was intact, and they had to fight their way through. Even worse, the barrage was falling short and killing men on its own side – what became known in subsequent wars as “friendly fire’.

The excellent Canadian Army records clearly and painfully tell how Lt. Rawlinson died:

Canadian Army records

Bucquoy Road Cemetery

For some reason Robert John Rawlinson shares a Commonwealth War Grave with 46463 Private J.B. Biddle of the Manchester Regiment, who died the day before him.

The relevant text reads:

Lieutenant
R.J. Rawlinson M.M.
8thBn Canadian Infantry
30th September 1918 Age 27
Rest in the Lord
And wait patiently for him.

Robert Rawlinson grave. (Photo: Julie Rushton).
Robert Rawlinson grave. (Photo: Julie Rushton).

Bucquoy Road Cemetery in Ficheux, Pas de Calais, France, already contained 1,166 burials when the Armistice came, and was greatly enlarged later by bringing in bodies from other smaller cemeteries: it now contains the bodies of nearly 2,000 allied soldiers, including 136 from the Second World War.

Robert John Rawlinson M.M. of Kirkby-in-Furness lies in Block III, Row B, Grave 2.

The citation for the award of the Military Medal to Robert John Rawlinson:

Military Medal (M.M.)

King George V instituted the Military Medal in 1916 as WWI generated such a demand for medals. It is awarded to Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and men for individual or associated acts of bravery on the recommendation of a Commander-in-Chief in the field. A silver, laurelled bar is awarded for a subsequent act or acts of bravery and devotion under fire.

The front of the medal shows the reigning monarch, while the reverse side shows FOR/BRAVERY/IN THE/FIELD in four lines, encircled by a laurel wreath and topped by the Royal Cypher and Crown.

Canadians have received 13,654 Military Medals, plus 848 first bars and 38 second bars.

First Name: R J
Surname: Rawlinson
Rank: Serjeant
Service Number: 21879
Gallantry Awards: Military Medal
This Level 3 Gallantry Medal was established during the First World War on the 25th March 1916 and introduced in the London Gazette issue 29535, (back dated to 1914) to personnel of the British Army and other services, and personnel of Commonwealth countries, below commissioned rank. It was the other ranks’ equivalent to the Military Cross (M.C.), (which was awarded to Commissioned Officers and, rarely, to Warrant Officers, who could also be awarded the M.M.).

The military decoration was awarded to R J Rawlinson for acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire or for individual or associated acts of bravery which were insufficient to merit the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Conferment of the medal was announced in the London Gazette and R J Rawlinson earned the right to add the letters M.M. to his name.

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