Rathbone, Richard

The 1901 census records the Rathbone family living at Back Bridge Street, Saltney (Lache-cum-Saltney). Head of the household was James Rathbone, 46 who had been born in Chester and was a General Labourer.  His wife Harriet was 40.  I believe they had married in a Civil Marriage in Chester in 1893 (ROC/31/105).   Their listed children were Richard Henry, 10,  May, 7 and Harriet, 5 had all been born in Saltney. Flintshire. Enumerators sometimes took a guess at the ages of those listed in the household and these seem to be incorrect when we look at the next census.

The 1911 census records the family still in Bridge Street, Saltney.  This census  form was completed by the householders  themselves so the ages are more likely to be accurate.  Head of the household, James  was 39 and was still a General Labourer.  Harriet was recorded as being  36.  The listed children were  Richard, 16 a General labourer,  May, 14, was “at Home”,  Hubert 12  and  James, 7 were at school.
(NB  Richard’s Service Papers,  state that he had a brother Walter. but no one of that name is listed in this census)

Richard Rathbone’s early  Army Service Records have survived and are accessible on They are, however very badly damaged and sometimes difficult to read.  Nevertheless we can pick out some of his story. His army career began well before the start of the war.

He enlisted in the army when he was just 17 years and 7 months old. He joined the Territorial  5th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment on the 7th July 1911. His Attestation form from that time includes his address – 5 Bridge Street, Saltney and it says he worked at the Stone Works in Saltney.  He was medically examined and declared to be ‘Fit for the Territorial Force’.

He served a total of 184 days with the Territorials  and was discharged in consequence of having joined the 3rd battalion of The Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

He signed new Attestation Papers in Wrexham on the 6th January 1912.  He was 18 years and 9 months old and his address was still Saltney. He was a Labourer in the Cement Works. The form makes it clear that he was still a serving soldier with the Cheshire Regiment and he expressed a wish to serve with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.  He was medically examined and was described as being 5 feet 4 & three quarter inches tall, weighed 114 lbs with a chest measurement of 34 inches with a 2 inch expansion range. His eyes were grey, his hair was brown and his religion was C of E.

From signing up on the 6th January 1912, he completed 4 months training which was completed on 10th May 1912. He then did further ‘Musketry training’ which took him to 16th June that year. There was a note about him forfeiting some pay for being absent. He attended training in 1913 and he was mobilised in Wrexham on 8th  August  1914. He was posted on 19th September 1914.

UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919 accessible on  confirms Richard’s regimental information as above and tells us that he was born in Saltney, Chester and enlisted in Wrexham. His medal card also on ‘Ancestry’  details his medals and tell us that he first entered a theatre of war on the 20th October 1914 and that he died whilst a Prisoner of War.

His Next of Kin was actually a list of his parents (James and Harriet Rathbone)  and his siblings. James, Walter, May and Harriet.

What actually happened to him is confused and confusing.

His medal card says that he entered his first theatre of war on the 20th October 1914. Written on the card is ‘Died as a Prisoner’.

There is an index card for Richard in The Flintshire Roll of Honour at The County Record Office in Hawarden, completed by his family which says he was killed in action on the 30th October 1914.

There is a note in his records  on a Casualty Form that says he was ‘killed in action’ on 26th January 1915 and was buried at Douni. The Commonwealth War Grave Commission says he died on the 26th January 1915.

His Army records contain correspondence with the family concerning the receipt of Richard’s personal effects, medals, plaque, scroll and message from the King

Richard’s  father, James signed up following Richard’s death.  He survived and there is an index card for him in the Flintshire Roll of Honour in The County Record Office in Hawarden.   (Card Saltney Ferry L 180) Rathbone, James, 5, Bridge Street, Saltney, 417579  911th A.E. Coy.   Period of Service 4 years 7 months.   Private.  Served in France 3 years 7 months, 12 months Home Service.   Card signed by Mr. Rathbone, 30th October 1919.

We were contacted by Richard’s Great Nephew Steve Rathbone, who  told us that James Rathbone was in fact Richard’s father.  (I had originally thought he was his brother).  Many thanks Steve.

“James Rathbone  was Richard’s  father who joined up on hearing of his son’s death. He served in the Lancashire Regiment as a Groom. I have a large regimental photo of him. As a young child I remember a similar photo of Richard with a Bear Skin Busby but it got mislaid, something my father was very annoyed about.

Many Thanks

Steve Rathbone”

What happened at Zandevoorde in October 1914.

I sought help from The Great War Forum and received a number of replies including this one from Clive which might explain what happened to Richard.

Rathbone was reported missing on 30 October 1914. As he landed on 20 October (the main battalion had arrived on 7 October) it may be that he was one of 90 men who were the only reinforcement to reach the unit in this period, on about 24 October.

The 1st RWF had suffered quite heavy losses in the Battle of Ypres before then, and the 400 or so remaining men were in muddy slit trenches on a forward slope near Zandvoorde village. Their view was restricted by hedges and they had little cover. That morning the enemy artillery blasted them, and a massive infantry attack came forward. The cavalry unit on the flank was equally pounded and pulled back, which uncovered the RWF’s right. As well as the enemy in front, German Jager troops now came round behind them; and by noon the unit had ceased to exist.

A few managed to escape and that evening about 86 men were left, of whom half were transport and rear echelon personnel. 10 officers 320 other ranks were missing: most had been killed, though some 4 officers and 50 other ranks were taken prisoner, all wounded.

Chris Baker  also replied on the Forum.

As he was a P.O.W., I am speculating that he may have been missing on 30th October 1914 and was then presumed dead on the 26th January 1915.

Although he was buried at Douai a fact that was confirmed by the Red Cross, it seems that his grave was probably not marked and was lost.He is remembered on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium.

30th October 1914: Sequence of Events.

0645 – 0800 hrs. 260 heavy enemy guns bombard Zandvoorde.

0830 hrs. Large number of German Infantry advance downhill toward 1st R.W.F. from east and southeast.    They are kept at bay all morning, never closing to the Battalion’s front.   Massive German Infantry assault on Zandvoorde (39 Division and 2 Jager Battalions).  The four squadrons of 1st and 2nd Life Guards are ordered to withdraw, but the two forward squadrons and the Royal Horse Guards machine guns are annihilated.  (On the site of the household Cavalry Memorial – see photo)).

0900 hrs.   Having occupied Zandvoorde, the enemy were 200 yards to south west (i.e. behind 1st R.W.F.).   They then closed up and fired on A Company from 30 yards from behind a hedge.

Approx. 0930 hrs Hal and Claude Dooner, his Adjutant, are killed.

1000 hrs. Two German field guns fire from Zanvoorde ridge directly into 1st R.W.F.’s shallow* trenches.

By 1200 hrs.  The Battalion’s resistance ends.

*R.W.F. were short of shovels to dig trenches!




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