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Lewis, Robert John

Robert John Lewis was born in the September quarter of 1916, (Hawarden Vol. 11b Page 366), the 3rd son of Robert & Mary LEWIS (nee PRICE) who had married on the 12th July 1905 at St. Mark’s Church, Lache cum Saltney.    Robert Lewis was 25, a bachelor and Fireman, his address was 1, Saltney Villas and his father, William Lewis, was an Engine Driver.   Robert’s bride, Mary Price, was a spinster, age 21 years and her address was 1, St. David’s Terrace, Stone Bridge, Saltney.   Her father, Charles Price was a Labourer.   Their siblings, Joseph Lewis and Eleanor Price were their witnesses.

They are first seen on the 1911 census living as a family, at 4, St. David’s Terrace, Saltney, Flintshire, which had 5 rooms.   Head of the household was Robert Lewis, age 30, a Railway Engine Stoker (L.N.W. Railway) born in Higher Kinnerton, Flintshire.    His wife, Mary, 26, tells us that they had been married for 5 years and 3 children had been born, all still living.   Their children were William, 4, Charles, 2, and Margaret, 9 months, all had been born in Saltney, Flintshire.   There was a Boarder, Edward Wright, 30, single and a Boiler Maker working for the L.N.W. Railway, born in Horwich, Lancashire.

By the 1921 census, which was taken on the 19th June 1921, the family had grown, and again, Robert was head of the household, now age 41 years 10 months and a Loco Engine Driver with the London & N.W. Railway at worked at Mold Junction.   Mary was age 36 years 8 months.    William, 14 years 11 months, and a Fitter’s Apprentice for the London & N.W. Railways at Mold Junction.   Charles, was age 13 years and 1 month.   Margaret was age 11 years exactly.   Gwyneth was age 7 years 4 months, John Lewis (Robert John) was age 4 years 11 months and Phyllis was age 2 years 6 months.

Robert John’s parents, Robert & Mary were living in Blackpool on the night of the 29th September 1939, when the 1939 National Register was taken.  Were they on holiday or had the moved because of Robert’s work on the Railway?   They did move about a lot when they worked for the Railway company.  They were staying at 59 Bloomfield Road, Blackpool, Blackpool C.B., Lancashire, in the household of Walter & Alice Kershaw and a Sarah E. Fleming.   There was a redacted or closed record as well, but I don’t know who that was.   This source tells us the dates of birth, Robert was born on the 28th August 1880 and Mary on the 6th November 1884.   They also stated their occupation, Robert’s was a Railway Locomotive Driver and Mary was described as doing “Unpaid Domestic Duties,” as most married women who did not have a job was described on this Register.

This same 1939 National Register shows Robert John & Phyllis living at 4 St Davids Terrace,Saltney, Hawarden, Flintshire.   Robert John’s birth date was the 9th July 1916 and he was a Bricklayer, while Phyllis’s birthday was the 2nd January 1919 and she was in the Women’s A.T.S.   This source also tells us that Phyllis was to marry a gentleman with the surname Harvey, and I was able to find their marriage in the December quarter of 1939.   Phyllis married Douglas John C. Harvey in St. Mark’s Church, Lache cum Saltney (Cheshire West CE35/3/161).

The newspaper cutting, dated the 12the October 1940 (Cheshire Observer), that I have of the funeral of Robert John, tells us that he had been educated at Mold Junction Council School and had served his apprenticeship as a bricklayer with Messrs Robert Williams and Son, Chester.    He had, for seven years, been an active member of the Cheshire 7 Men’s V.A.D. British Red Cross Society and was also a committee member of the Stone Bridge Tontine Club.   Robert John had only recently joined the Royal Engineers in the July of 1940 and had seen service at Newark, Hull and London.    While in London, he had joined the Bomb Disposal Squadron.

His Royal Engineers Recruitment Card tells us that it was on the 20th June 1940 that he did enlist.  There seems to be transfers listed on the card, as on the 18th July 1940 he was transferred to 2TB Newark, then on the 10th September 1940 he was in the 33 Bomb Disposal Section (78/B Coy. 2TBRE).   According to the websites below, Robert John must have been one of the first to join this new Squadron.  He had entered into one of the most dangerous units of the British Army, having to risk his life to dismantle any bombs that had been dropped and not exploded.   This would take nerves of steel.

His death certificate will tell more about the circumstances of his death, but this has to be purchased (Romford Vol. 4a Page 956).

Casualty List 334 (page 17, Robert John is listed as “Killed in Action.”

According to the website  – https://www.royalengineersbombdisposal-eod.org.uk/our-history/ Robert John would have been one of the first recruitments in 1940.

Our History – WW2 – Royal Engineer Bomb Disposal began during WWII. In September 1939, it was decided by the War Office that the Royal Engineers (RE) would provide temporary bomb disposal (BD) teams until the Home Office could recruit and train special ARP teams to do so.

The first teams consisted of an NCO and two sappers, and were required to dig down to the bombs and blow them in situ. The first bombs to be dropped on the UK were in the Orkneys in October 1939, while the first unexploded bombs fell on the Shetlands in November 1939. The Formation Order of May 1940 formally handed responsibility for Bomb disposal to the Royal Engineers and created 25 bomb disposal sections, soon increased to 134. Despite almost non-existent equipment and little training, the sections learnt fast. In June 1940, just 20 unexploded bombs were dealt with. This rose to 100 in July, 300 in August and over 3000 in September. By this point, the BD section had increased in number and been organised into 25 BD Companies. Between September 1940 and July 1941, over 24,000 bombs were made safe and removed. In 1942 and 1944, BD Companies also joined the task forces for the invasions of Malta and France. Peace in 1945 resulted in a drastic reduction of BD units along with the rest of the Army, and by January 1950 RE BD consisted of one regular squadron headquartered in London and six independent territorial squadrons, later reformed into Army Emergency Reserve Squadrons.

https://www.royalengineersbombdisposal-eod.org.uk/our-history/

Our History – WW2 – Royal Engineer Bomb Disposal began during WWII. In September 1939, it was decided by the War Office that the Royal Engineers (RE) would provide temporary bomb disposal (BD) teams until the Home Office could recruit and train special ARP teams to do so.

The first teams consisted of an NCO and two sappers, and were required to dig down to the bombs and blow them in situ. The first bombs to be dropped on the UK were in the Orkneys in October 1939, while the first unexploded bombs fell on the Shetlands in November 1939. The Formation Order of May 1940 formally handed responsibility for Bomb disposal to the Royal Engineers and created 25 bomb disposal sections, soon increased to 134. Despite almost non-existent equipment and little training, the sections learnt fast. In June 1940, just 20 unexploded bombs were dealt with. This rose to 100 in July, 300 in August and over 3000 in September. By this point, the BD section had increased in number and been organised into 25 BD Companies. Between September 1940 and July 1941, over 24,000 bombs were made safe and removed. In 1942 and 1944, BD Companies also joined the task forces for the invasions of Malta and France. Peace in 1945 resulted in a drastic reduction of BD units along with the rest of the Army, and by January 1950 RE BD consisted of one regular squadron headquartered in London and six independent territorial squadrons, later reformed into Army Emergency Reserve Squadrons.

https://www.bombdisposalclub.org.uk/bomb-disposal-history/ – A must read history of the UXB.

According to the Cheshire Observer 12th October 1940, Robert John’s death is published.

Deaths – LEWIS, – On 7th October 1940, Killed at Dagenham, Sapper Robert John LEWIS, beloved son of Mr. & Mrs. R. LEWIS, 4, St. David’s Terrace, Saltney, aged 24 years.

Robert John’s Casualty Card tells us that he was killed at 18.00 hours at Connor Road, Dagenham, Essex.    His next of Kin had been informed.

This was obviously devastating for the family but sadly fate would deal another blow to Robert & Mary Lewis in 1946. Way after the war had ended, on the 7th April 1946, they were to receive news that their youngest son Cyril Edwin, age 24 years, had been killed in a Motor accident in Coggeshall, Essex.   Please click on the link to read his story.

Then on the 4th December 1946 Robert Lewis, Robert John and Cyril Edwin’s father died, and on the Website https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/157739572/robert-lewis, thanks to an unknown author, was written:-

“He had been an engine driver and had worked for London and North Western, and London, Midland and Scottish Railway at Mold Junction Motive Power. He lived at 4 St David’s Terrace, Saltney, Chester. He retired in 1945. He died at Chester Royal Infirmary, aged 66 yrs. He was buried on the 7th December 1946. – (Source:- Cheshire Observer 7th December 1946)”

So Mary Lewis and her remaining two sons, three daughters and six Grandchildren would have been devastated again with the loss of a husband, father, son and brother in such a short time.

Robert John must be remembered for his sacrifice for us all to live safer lives.


Learn more about the other soldiers on the Saltney Ferry Memorial

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