NEAL, Robert J.

281162, Bombardier, Robert John NEAL
Aged 29

Royal Garrison Artillery, 36th Siege Battery
Died of his Wounds on Friday 12th October 1917

Apparently he is Bombr Robert Jn Neal R.G.A. on the Kenny Hill memorial...Bombr John Neal R.G.A. on Beck Row memorial and Bombdr Robert J.Neal R.G.A. on Lakenheath war memorial, in which case he is the man below. There is a J.NEALE on the Mildenhall Memorial ?

Robert John Neal was born in Lakenheath in 1888 (Mildenhall Q3-1888 4A:695) son of Robert and Ellen Eliza NEAL (née TILLETT).

1891 census...Aged 2, he was at Undley Common, Lakenheath with his father Robert NEAL [25] labourer born Lakenheath; his mother Ellen Eliza [24] born Barton Mills; brother William George [1 month] born Lakenheath and aunt Emma Elizabeth TILLETT [14] born Barton Mills.

1901 census... Aged 12, he was at Claypits, Undley, Lakenheath with his parents and a boarder Clarence Littlejohn [5] born Peckham, London.

1911 census...Aged 22, now recorded as John NEAL, farmer's son, he was at Burnt Fen, Mildenhall with his parents and brother Arthur [7] born Lakenheath.

In Mildenhall, in 1913, he married Lilian BLADES [3-5-1891]. They had a son, Robert Gordon, born Mildenhall 20-7-1914. His widow remarried in Q4-1919, to Noah BELL of Kenny Hall Farm

He enlisted in the Cambridgeshire Militia (4th Suffolk Regiment) on 16th October 1905, giving his age as 17yrs 6 months, working for Mr Stephen Jordan at Cross Bank Farm, Lakenheath. he was 5ft 5" (165.1 cm)tall, weighed 112 lbs (51 kg), chest 30.5" to 32.5" (77.5 to 82.6 cm), blue eyes, brown hair, Church of England.

He then attested for the Kings Royal Rifle Brigade on 20th November 1906, giving his age as 18 years 7 months, still a labourer living in Lakenheath. He was now 5ft 7.5 inches tall, weighed 115.5 lbs and chest 35" to 38".
He was posted to Suffolk Regiment No.7444 on 23rd November 1906 and purchased his discharge on 2nd February 1907.

On 3rd May 1907 he attested for the Royal Garrison Artillery, No 86401, at Ely, giving his age as 19 years, he was now 5" 7.75" tall, weighed 127.5 lbs, chest 35" to 38". He purchased his discharge on 19th June 1908 for £18, then £9 , being half of this, was refunded to him when he enlisted yet again on 30th July 1915, as 6162, Gunner R.J.n Neal, Royal Garrison Artillery. Somewhere along the lines he was renumbered as 281162, Gunner Robert John NEAL. By now his father, as next of kin, was recorded at Mannings Farm, Burnt Fen, Mildenhall.

Dying of his wounds it is not possible to be sure of his place of wounding without his Army records. He was one of only two of his battery to die that week.

The Bury Free Press of 10th November 1917 reported:-

We have again this week to record the death of another young soldier, a native of Lakenheath but who made his home in Beck Row being Bombardier Robert John Neal, eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Neal, Peter House Farm, Undley, Lakenheath. Much sympathy is felt for the young widow, who is left with one child. The gallant soldier volunteered on Mar.7th 1915, and after training was sent to France on Sept. 7th the same year. He had his only leave and was home last December, when he was very cheerful and his letters to his widfe have always been of a cheerful tone. A letter received by his mother, dated October 12th reads:-
"Dear Madam,-Your son was brought in here last night badly wounded in the back, abdomen,legs and arms. It was hopeless from the beginning, and all we could do was to make him comfortable and warm in bed. He was too ill to suffer much pain, and he passed away quietly just over an hour after he was brought in. He was never conscious and so of course we could get no message from him, or his wife's address.Yours was the only one we could find, so will you let her have this letter as I have not time to write any more. At least he died among friends which will be some consolation to her. Yours with sympathy, The Sister in Charge."

"Dear Mrs. Neal - It is with deepest regret that I have to inform you that your husband, Robert, has died in hospital from wounds received in action. He was in charge of a gun in action, when a stray shell got a direct hit on it, killing one man and wounding your husband and three others. This occurred at 6:30 on the 11th inst. He was attended to at once, and sent straight to hospital, but unfortunately his wounds were too severe and he died at 2:05 yesterday (12th). He was buried in a quiet cemetery the same day, and we were informed of this, this morning. I shall make it my business to visit the site as early as possible, when a suitable monument shall be erected to his memory. As his section officer I deeply regret his death, as he was a true soldier and a brave man; and I know you must feel his loss keenly, as I am certain he was a good husband.Please accept my very deepest sympathy- I am yours sincerely R.K.Pearson, 2nd Lieut."

The Siege Batteries deployed 9.2 inch howitzers, capable of firing a 300 lb shell about 6 miles (132 Kgm to 10 Km). The large box in front of the gun here contains 10 ton of soil to anchor the gun. It was not a gun to be moved quickly or often, without the earth in the box, the unit still weighed over 12 ton. Back behind the lines it still had to be concealed as far as possible as of course, once it's position was discovered it was a nice steady target for the enemy's equivalent batteries.

© Roy Beardsworth

Robert is buried in Godewaersvelde British Cemetery, France..ref..1:P:9
and is commemorated (as John Neal) on the Beck Row memorial and as Robert on the Kenny Hill memorial

click here to go to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website for full cemetery/memorial details