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Robert Bentley

Private 20186 Robert Bentley, 2nd Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment

Robert was born in Acomb, Yorkshire in 1889 the only son of William Bentley and his wife Charlotte (née Mohun). By 1901 the family had moved south, to Great Bedwyn, where William was working as a gardener. In 1907 the family moved to Newbury living at 6 Kew Cottages in Buckingham Road, though William has to work away from home for at least some time, appearing in Limpley Stokes in Wiltshire at the time of the 1911 census. Shortly after the census was taken they moved to 13 Berkeley Road. Charlotte was to live in this house through two world wars, very probably losing her windows when German bombs fell on Northcroft and the allotments behind Berkeley Road in March 1941.
Following his schooling, which would probably have been completed in 1902, when Robert was 13, he became an apprentice with Cooke Bros (painters and plumbers) at 20 Northbrook Street, Newbury.

After war was declared in August 1914 a great many young men rushed to the recruiting offices, enough to create several new Armies for the Western Front and elsewhere. As this initial enthusiasm abated the Government began to think in terms of conscription; before taking this step the Minister for Recruitment, Lord Derby, tried a new form of recruitment officially called the Group Scheme but better known as the Derby Scheme.  Under this scheme men were encouraged to register for future service as and when needed.  The scheme came to an end in December 1915, resulting in a last minute rush from men who could see that they would have more control over where they served by registering for the regiment of their choice rather than wait for the inevitable introduction of conscription (which was introduced in January 1916). 

Berkshire Regiment badge

The regimental badge of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, as used on CWGC headstones.

Robert signed up on 12 December 1915 for service with the Royal Berkshire Regiment - it is not known whether he signed on for immediate service or for the Derby Scheme, which would have delayed his joining the colours for a few months (men of Robert’s age signing up via the Derby Scheme were issued their call-up papers in February 1916).

After training in England, Robert was posted to the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Berks on the Western Front. On 31 July 1917 the British Fifth Army launched the offensive known as the Battle of Pilkem, which was to opening engagement of the 3rd Battle of Ypres, better known as the Battle of Passchendaele (in reality the name of a later phase of the overall offensive).

The Battalion war diary demonstrates the contrasts between plans and reality – the 2nd Royal Berks were planned to go into action six hours after zero hour and to take objectives on a line designated as the ‘green line’.  In reality they moved forward in preparation but soon became aware that units engaged before them were not making the progress anticipated. So the battalion spent most of the day fighting off enemy counter-attacks.   The account of the day’s activities ends: Although the Battalion was not seriously engaged, units carried out all instructions thoroughly and the men were kept together and well in hand. One might be forgiven from reading this and thinking they had a relatively quiet day – until one sees the casualty figures: 16 dead, 112 wounded and 20 missing.

Robert was one of the missing men, his mother would have received notice to this effect.  This notification left families in a dreadful state – not knowing whether their son, brother, father was alive or dead, hoping against hope that word would come from the Red Cross that he was being held in a German POW camp.  Some families heard, with relief, this news; others would soon hear from comrades of their loved one, usually that they had witnessed his death; others, like Charlotte Bentley would hear nothing:

NWN 16 May 1918, p8 – Local War Notes
Private Robert Bentley, son of Mrs Bentley of 13, Berkeley-road, has been missing since July 13[sic], 1917, and up to the present no news whatsoever has been received. He joined up in the Berkshire Regiment in 1915, and was in France 18 months. He served his time as apprentice with Messrs Cooke Bros, and was well liked and popular with his fellow workmen and employer alike.

Robert's name on Newbury War Memorial

Robert's name on Newbury War Memorial (upper middle)

Then the inevitable message arrived from the War Office:

NWN 11 July 1918, p8 – Local War Notes
Mrs Bentley, of 13, Berkley-road, has been informed by the British Red Cross authorities that after constant and careful inquiries, they have not succeeded in hearing anything of her son, Pte Robert Bentley, 2nd Berks, and have come to the conclusion that he must have lost his life at the time when he was reported missing on July 31, 1917, when the 2nd Berks were engaged in fighting, and 14 were missing.

Robert has no known grave, he is remembered on the Menin Gate memorial to the missing in Ieper (Ypres), Belgium.


Locally he is remembered Tablet 6 of the Newbury Town War Memorial.

Thanks to Karen Newbery for her help researching this soldier.

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 Died this day:
01 December 1917
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