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John William Robinson

Date of birth: 1885
Area: Brotherton
Regiment: Royal Engineers
Family information: Married to Harriet Hannah Robinson nee Webster.
Rank: Sapper
Service number: 150461

War Service

On 19/1/1916 John William enlisted as a Sapper in The Inland Water Transport Corps of the Royal Engineers – service number 150461.
On his attestation form it stated that he had previously served in a branch of ‘His Majesties Forces’ but no details were shown or have been found to date. Also on enlistment it was noted that he was 5’4” tall, had a chest measurement of 39” and weighed 151 pounds.
Perhaps because of his previous experience and the fact that he was a ‘Qualified Boatman’ John was quickly posted and on 26/4/1916 embarked for France joining up with his unit for service on the same day. This qualification must have been gained in the period after 1911 when he was still employed as a labourer.
Although the dates are unclear he was granted leave back to the UK in 1917 and it was probably during this period that he married Harriet Hannah Webster on 6/11/1916 in Leeds. His address after marriage was registered as 7 Hesketh Avenue, Kirkstall, Leeds.
During his time in the army it would seem that he suffered no injury or illness and was never reprimanded.
On 3/12/1917 he was appointed Lance Corporal and on 10/9/1918 he was promoted to 2nd Corporal.
He was finally posted back to the UK on 23/10/1919.
Although there are no indications as to exactly where John was operating or the precise nature of his work a general idea can be had.
In 1915 the Inland Water Transport section of the Royal Engineers was formed mainly to operate barges on the canals of France and Belgium. Many men involved in river transport or fishing were enlisted as they were already skilled in many aspects of boatmanship required to help with the war effort.
The value of the service became so apparent that in the summer of 1915, it was extended to the River Somme, and in September 1916, to the Seine. In July 1917, it was extended to the River Scarpe and eventually to a coastal service between Dunkirk and Le Havre, and a cross-channel service between Calais and Richborough.
There were many different types of craft in use, ranging from tugs, to standard barges, both dumb and self-propelled, to many specialised barges, including Ambulance Barges.
In addition to actually handling their craft, the IWT also did pumping, filtering and salvage work, and had a Constructional Section which repaired and improved the waterways.
Barges, because of their shallow draught, were practically immune from torpedo attack; and the loss of a barge from enemy action or any other cause would be less serious than the loss of a ship.

Family Life

John William (2nd) was born on 28/7/1885 and baptised in St Edward’s Church, Brotherton on 30/8/1885.
His parents were John William (1) who was born in Knottingley about 1858 and Hannah Pesterfield (1858) who came from Gedney, between Spalding and King’s Lynn, Lincolnshire. The couple had married in Pontefract in 1879.
Pesterfield is a relatively uncommon name and mostly found in Lincolnshire and Sussex. Hannah’s mother was Alice Pesterfield (1829) who, in 1861, was described as an ‘Unmarried Ag. Lab’. Her parents were Leon (1802) and Mary and one of her siblings was John who in 1871 was employed as a ‘Carter’ and lived at Pontefract Park Farm, thus providing the connection that resulted in Hannah moving to the area.
In 1891 John William (1) and Hannah were living in Brotherton with 6 children.
These were Alice A (aged 11), Sarah A (10), John (5), Mary L (3), Hannah (2) and Martha (5 months). Alice had been born in Knottingley but the rest were born in Brotherton putting the time they came into the village about 1881. In all, according to census information, the couple had 12 children of which only 6 survived.
By 1901 the family were living in Lock House, Brotherton with 5 children. The two eldest girls were no longer with the family but this may have been because they were working elsewhere. Also missing was the youngest - Martha. In addition there was George Asquith (6) and Rowland Pesterfield (2). John William (1) was employed as a ‘General Labourer’.
Ten years later in 1911 they were still resident at Brotherton Lock. Both John William (1st) and (2nd) along with George were ‘Labourers’. Other members of the family had left the household but still present was 12 year old Rowland, although contrary to the last census he was described as a grandson. A further grandchild was Sarah Ann who may have been the daughter of Hannah (22) who was also still at home.
After the War nothing is known of what happened to John - whether he returned to Brotherton or went to Leeds – after leaving the army However, in 1923 a John William Robinsons’ birth was registered in Pontefract and the maiden name of his mother was Webster.

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