Robert Bickley was born on 13th October 1889 at 13 Catherall’s Buildings, Canal Side, Chester. His parents were William and Alice and William Stanley Bickley, was his elder brother. The boys, their older sister Mary Eleanor (Nellie) and younger brother, George Wilfred, were orphaned in 1895 when their mother died. Their father had died previously, age 30, in 1891.
The siblings were split up at this stage. After unsuccessful placements, Robert and George went into the Robert Clark Turner Institute (Chester Union workhouse) in Hoole, Chester. William Stanley (Karen Perry’s grandfather) went into lodgings and, after an unsuccessful period staying with their mother’s sister, Nellie went to a Barnardo’s home in Essex. Later, George went to live with another aunt in Ince. Around 1902/3 Robert was taken in by Alfred Hayes, great grandfather of Mark Ellis, who was a collier in Buckley and lived at 35 Padeswood Road. Alfred and Annie Hayes who had 9 children of their own (from the 1911 census) took Robert in and effectively adopted him. One of their children was Mark’s grandmother, Florrie Ellis nee Hayes.
After his mother died, William Stanley lost contact with his brothers and sister until he moved to Hindley for work. By chance he heard that George was living in the area and arranged to meet with him and Robert. This was possibly the last time that the brothers met as both Robert and George were killed in the Great War. William Stanley was always deeply affected by his loss which was compounded as he also lost 2 of his own sons who died in childhood. Karen Perry’s grandfather’s children were: George (died in infancy), Hilda, Edna, Sidney, Nellie (Karen’s mother) and Stanley (died in infancy).
Robert joined the Royal Field Artillery and on the 22nd February 1915 he entered his first theatre of war, the Western front, based in France. He survived for a year, a miracle in itself, until the 1st July 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme. How he was killed, we do not know. In the twelve months that he served at the front Robert Bickley earned the Victory medal, the British war medal and 1914-15 Star (aka ” Pip, squeak and Wilfred”
His final resting place is a quiet little cemetery in Vlamertinghe, Belgium, just a few miles away from Ypres. The Mitford gates guard the cemetery, the Mitford girls’ older brother was buried there also and the family dedicated the gates in his memory.
Corporal Robert Bickley, serial number 4949, died on the 1st July 1916. Mark Ellis and his father, Neville Ellis, paid their respects to Robert in 2009 and travelled to Belgium. In doing so, the Hayes/Ellis family was reunited again with a young man who had never been far from their thoughts.
George Bickley, a Corporal in the Manchester Regiment died in the Dardanelles on 12th December 1915. He is commemorated on the Ince-in-Makerfield War Memorial. His story was told in a local newspaper.
From the North Wales Coast Pioneer 13th July 1916
Mr. Alfred Hayes, 35, Padeswood Road, Buckley, received on Saturday the sad news of the death of Corporal Bert Bickley- “We regret to inform you, with deepest sympathy, of the death of the late Corporal Bickley. He was killed yesterday (July 1st) by a shell. Bert was one of the best chaps in the battery and well liked by everyone. It would be impossible to find anybody who would do their duty more bravely or better than Bert had done his. He was always cheerful and making jokes, and was good friends with everybody, and will be greatly missed by every officer, non-commissioned officer and man in the battery. Although we could not save him we are paying him the deepest respect possible in death. He will be buried tonight, and a cross has been made showing his name, number of regiment and date of death, and this will be put at the head of the grave. We are sure you will find comfort in and be proud of the fact that he died bravely doing his duty for his King and country. Again expressing our sincere regret of this very sad occurrence.” Corporal Bert Bickley was one of the popular members of the Free Library Bowling club. He joined the army on August, 1914, just after the outbreak of war. He had been at the front for 12 months, and was home on leave in March last. This makes the second to be killed in action during the last four weeks, who were members of the Free Library Bowling Club.
From an unknown newspaper
Corpl.Corporal George Wilfred Bickley
Mr. and Mrs. Jones of 112. Petticoat-lane, Ince have received the news that Corporal George Wilfred Bickley has been killed in action. Corporal Bickley was in the 5th Manchester Regiment, and he enlisted in August, 1914, afterwards being drafted to the Dardanelles. The unfortunate soldier was 23 years of age, and lived with his uncle, Mr. William Jones, at the above address. He was very well known and respected. The following is a copy of the letter received by Mr. And Mrs. Jones: “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Jones – I scarcely know how to begin this letter to you, knowing what a shock the news it contains will be to you. Poor George was wounded yesterday morning and we have just had word that he died later in the day in hospital. I have not been able to get any particulars as to how he was wounded, but I do know that at the time he was hit he was gallantly leading his men. I am more sorry than I can express with my pen. Last Saturday evening I had a good chat with him in his dug-out. We were aware then that some move was about to take place, though we did not then know what it was. George handed me a few photographs, which he asked me to look after and see that they were sent home if he happened to get hit. These, along with some more of his personal belongings, I am forwarding to you by registered post. The funeral, at which I hope to be present, will take place this afternoon at four o’clock, in a little cemetery not far from where I am now sitting, and a wooden cross suitably inscribed will be erected to mark the spot. I do not know if there is anything more I can tell you, but if there is please let me know. All his friends join me in expressing their heartfelt sympathy with you in your trouble. He will be very much missed by us, both as a friend and a true British soldier, always ready and willing, and a man who never shirked a duty with never a thought of the danger involved. – Yours respectfully, Corporal Entwistle.” Bickley was 26 years of age