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Born: 27 January 1995
Died: 1 July 1916, Somme
Address: Police Station, 22 Bromet Place, Eccleshill
Parents: John & Emma
Siblings: Alfred, John, Fred, Lillian, Arthur, Evelyn, Edwin, Frank
Occupation: Parcels Office, Bradford Tramways
Rank: Signaller
Rolls of Honour: Eccleshill, Park & St Luke’s; Thiepval Memorial
Regiment: 1/6 West Yorkshire
Robert Helliwell
On 14 May, 1915, The Shipley Times & Express published a story which read: Police Sgt Helliwell of Bromet Place, Eccleshill received a letter from his son Robert who is signaller in the 6th West Yorkshire on the front line. ‘I suppose you will know by now that we have been in the trenches. I was just behind the real firing line at headquarters in a dug-out, working the phone, which is a pretty safe job unless a wire gets broken. ‘Now the worst thing about being at headquarters is that they are generally shelled by the enemy. As soon the first shell dropped in the
yard of the farmhouse where we were stationed we got into the dug-outs or “funk holes” as they are called. ‘Once inside you are fairly safe for rifle shots seem to be nothing after shelling. ‘Though the Germans were only about 150 yards away, we hardly ever saw one all the time but we were only in the trenches for 24 hours. ‘I have seen one or two of the tramway drivers since I came out here and they were surprised to know that the 6th were on the field. ‘We can purchase papers two days after publication but they
charge three times the ordinary price for them. ‘The weather out here has been lovely and you may guess how warm it is when I tell you we have all had to cut our trousers just above the knee. That has proved a very good idea. ‘We were soon dubbed the
We learn more about Robert in a feature in November 1915 about his father, who had volunteered to give up retirement from the police force because so many young policemen were at war. ‘Signaller Robert Helliwell is at the Front and is attached to the 1/6 West Yorks. He was formerly in the band of the same regiment as a clarionette (sic) player, but on obtaining a situation in the parcels depart of the Bradford City Tramways, abandoned his instrument and took up signalling. ‘He had been in the Territorials two years when the war commence and was sent to the trenches in April of the present year.’
“Bradford Scottish” so we gave our christeners exhibitions of the sword dance. The novelty soon grew stale and no one seems to note the difference now. ‘As things are now there seems to be a good prospect of getting back to the old spot safe and sound.’
A further report, published on 11 February 1916, gives a vivid picture of life on the front line: Signaller Robert Helliwell, who has been with the 1/6 West Yorks at the Front for 10 months, has now completed his enlistment term as a “Terrier.” He has volunteered again and is now at home on a month’s leave before rejoining his regiment. In relating some of his experiences to an Express representative, he said his regiment was sent to the Front on April 15th of last year. On one occasion four of them were wading through mud and water to get back to their billets and when they had reached dry land once more they made the discovery that the last one of the party had disappeared. The three went back to see what had happened and they found him stuck in the mud at the bottom of the trench. They tried to release him but it took nine of them over an
hour to get him out and even then his long- legged boots and socks had to be left still sticking in the bottom of the trench. One of their men was buried three times by the parapet of the trench being blown in by shells but each time he was dug out with all speed and was able to resume his duties. The aeroplane duels provide them with excitement. Once a British machine was being pursued by a German Taube. They darted up and down in the air like swallows and as the machines were coming nearer and nearer to the German lines it looked as if the British machine was coming to grief. When the hostile aeroplane was just behind the other, the British pilot let of a stream of gas or liquid which caught the pursuing pilot full in the face and the British machine made good its escape amid the ringing cheers of the excited Tommies who had watched the contest.
The pluck of a Bradford surgeon is worthy of note. One of the men had received terrible injury to one of his legs by the bursting of a shell and to save his life an operation was necessary immediately. A surgeon was telephoned for and on arriving performed the operation under shell fire and was awarded the military cross for his bravery. A member of the 1/6 West Yorks had the proud record of being the first in the 49th Division to earn the D.C.M. and now the battalion have the additional honour of one of its members being the first to be awarded the V.C. There are at least ten men belonging to this battalion who have been decorated with the Distinguished Conduct Badge. His most dangerous work was that of having to repair the broken telephone wire while a bombardment was in progress.
Two months later, another article appears and with hindsight we know that Robert was talking about the preparations for the Battle of the Somme: After acknowledging his grateful thanks for a parcel, L Cpl Robert Helliwell, who is with the 1/6 West Yorks at the Front, says: “We are all out of the trenches at present and are going through some very severe training to be ready for open warfare. Before long we shall be having another go at them.
“It is just a year ago today since we left England. Since then we have been to many places which we had little knowledge of before the war began. “What strikes me most are all the fresh faces that are to be seen on parade now, for they are almost entirely different from those which left Gainsboro. “Alas! This is the price of war. I am glad to say that my brother and I are going on very nicely.”
But Robert’s luck was to run out on the first day of the Somme, one of 19,240 British soldiers to die that die. The news was broken to his parents in a letter from his brother Alfred: ‘Our regiment has had some terrible fighting this last few days and we have had to so a lot of bayonet fighting. ‘You will perhaps have guessed now what I am trying to tell you. I got with our Bob in the fight and I
saw him kill three Germans and then we got the order to retire. We were just getting into our own lines when Bob was hit. He had no pain. ‘He said; “Tell mother and father not to take it too much to heart for the sake of the others. I have done my duty.” He was buried by the Rev R Whincup of Windhill.’ Within six weeks, Alfred was dead too.
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