Pte ROBERT ALFRED BARKER
Missing presumed Killed 7 October 1916
Robert was born on 29 September 1893, the third son of Harry Barker and his wife Alice. They were both local people, Harry born in Hammersmith, and Alice in Chiswick. They married in about 1885, and certainly by 1911, they had been living at 9 Bond Street, Chiswick between the High Road and Back Common for at least 25 years. Their first child, Ada had been born in 1886, and the eldest son, also Harry, in 1890 and Arthur had followed in 1892. William was born in 1897. In 1901, Harry Sr. was described as a general labourer, and at the date of Robert’s baptism, 15 January 1894, at St Michael and All Angels Church he was a joiner.
At the Census in 1911, Harry worked as a painter and decorator – all the sons were still living at home, unmarried, and all working locally, the elder two as grocer’s carmen, and Robert and William as shop boys, Robert at a butcher’s shop.
Robert at the age of 21 married at St Peter’s Church, Hammersmith, to Jennie Catherine Caitlin on 4 September 1914, just after the outbreak of the War. They were living at 3 Aspen Place, Hammersmith. It is not known whether Jennie had any children before her husband’s death in late 1916.
It is not clear how soon after his marriage that Robert would have joined the Army. He is recorded as having become a Private in the 7th Battalion, London Regiment. Unfortunately his Service Record did not survive the post-war fire that destroyed a majority of those relating to “Other Ranks”, so we cannot tell whether he volunteered or was conscripted. His low original service number suggests that he joined early on, but his medal card also infers that he did not see active service overseas until 1916 – he did not receive a 1915 Star.
The Battalion formed part of the 140th Brigade, 47th Division and engaged in various actions on the Western Front. In 1916, it saw the German attack Vimy Ridge and then served in the Somme: at High Wood, the Battle of the Transloy Ridges, and the attacks on the Butte de Warlencourt. The unit first moved to the Somme front-line area,around Albert, from about mid-September, being in action near High Wood on the 15th in a 47th Division attack on German front line, with the assistance of tanks, in one of the first occasions when these were being used on the Allied side, when it diverted considerable enemy fire from the assembly line trenches. Forward progress was achieved, though with the cost of about 300 casualties to the Battalion, among over 4000 in the Divison as a whole – a baptism of fire.
Three weeks later the allied line had moved further East towards Bapaume. The 140th Brigade was in action again, before Le Sars and Warlencourt. The German defences there were formidable, the so-called Gird trenches, on the Transloy ridges. The 8th London Battalion led the attack and suffered horrendous casualties in the face of a fierce artillery barrage, and machine guns from the defending trenches. In support, the 7th Londons were cut down by the same fire. The attack failed to carry through to the Butte though was able to consolidate on the Flers – Le Sers line. Further attacks by other Divisions followed in the last few weeks of the Somme campaign, without achieving further success. Robert was one of the 113 killed or missing in the action.
Robert’s body was never recovered. He is commemorated at the Thiepval Memorial for those with no known grave: Pier and Face 9 D 9 C 13 C and 12 C.