Private, East Surrey Regiment, 1st Bn.
Service no. 201552.
Died on 18 July 1917, aged 31
Remembered at Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France
Brother of John Albert Grainger
Chris Burge writes:
Robert Grainger, the first child of Robert Grainger and Amelia Sarah Lea, was born on 17 March 1866 and baptised four days later at St Andrew’s, Lambeth, when the family address was recorded as 17 Windmill Street and Robert Snr worked as a carman (carter).
In 1891, the Grainger family lived at 83 Thomas Street (now Warham Street) near Kennington Oval. They later moved to 16 Surrey Lodge, a complex of social housing on Kennington Road.
School records show Robert and his next youngest brother Frederick attending nearby Walnut Tree School in 1893. Robert stayed with his family during their various moves over the following years until on 19 March 1907 he walked the short distance from his home in the Hayles Buildings on St George’s Road, across the busy Elephant and Castle junction to the Army recruiting office at 38 New Kent Road. Within a week he had been posted to the depot of the Lincolnshire Regiment. He was discharged medically unfit after just 163 days.
At the outbreak of the war, Robert and his younger brother John were living near Clapham Junction railway complex and working as goods porters. In December 1915, Robert Grainger attested in the final days of Lord Derby’s Group Scheme, with the obligation to come if called up later on. His medical, which took place at Wandsworth Town Hall on 12 December 1915, recorded him as 29 years and 9 months, 5ft 9in tall, 10 stone, with a 37in chest and physically strong but with bad teeth.
He was issued with a grey armband with a red crown, and have his National Registration card stamped, “ATTESTED 12 DEC 1915”. His call-up date followed Lord Derby’s group schedule and Robert reported to the Wimbledon recruitment centre on 1 March 1916. Robert Grainger was now private 3806 of the 3/5th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment.
There was no immediate expectation that this Territorial Force unit would go overseas. It moved to Cambridge on 1 January 1916, then Crowborough and was in Tonbridge by October 1916. A year after Robert was first in uniform, on 27 December 1916, he married Beatrice Harriet Salmon at St Jude’s, Southwark. The couple gave their address as 63 Hayles Street, which was Beatrice’s home. Robert had first met Beatrice when they were both living in the Hayles Building some nine years before, when she was just 16.
Robert was a trained signaller and was sent to France on 29 March 1917 (he was renumbered 201552). He had been in the Arras sector when he was posted from the 7th East Surrey to the no. 1 company of the 1st Bn East Surrey on 10 June 1917, they were north-east of Arras. June had ended with a quiet five days in trenches opposite the shattered Fresnoy Wood. Specific mention was made of good communications between HQ and front companies by use of ‘Fullerphones’, buzzer, pigeon and lamp. Early in July, orders were received that a ‘two company’ strength raid was to be made on enemy trenches at Fresnoy. Preparations and training followed after nos. 1 and 4 company had been chosen for the task. Bad weather delayed the raid from the 15th to 4am on the 18th. The raid casualties were two officers wounded, other ranks four killed, 20 wounded and 14 missing. The missing were not thought to have survived.
On 18 July 1917 Beatrice was informed that her husband had been reported missing. She was left waiting for further news, her hopes fading as the months past until finally Robert Grainger was officially presumed to have died on or since 18 July 1917.
German documents show that Robert did die on that day. His identity disc was retrieved when his body was buried and returned to British authorities. The disc was the only possession returned to Beatrice. Inexplicably this happened twice, once in July 1918 and again in November 1920. On both occasions Beatrice dutifully acknowledged receipt of the item posted to her address at 52 Hayle Buildings, St. Georges Road SE 11.
In order to receive her husband’s Plaque and Roll, Beatrice was obliged to complete Army Form W5080, a statement naming all living relatives of a deceased soldier. Beatrice took the completed form to St. Jude’s Vicarage in Southwark to be witnessed and countersigned on 9 October 1919. Apart from herself, she listed Robert’s parents and his four remaining siblings who all lived at various addresses in Stockwell.
Beatrice Harriet Grainger did not remarry and remained in Southwark for many years. She died in 1971, aged