Name: Robert Abram
DoB: September 21 1891
Regt: Captain 3rd Border Regiment
DoD: October 26 1917
Academic Career: 1904-11
Other: CC Minor Scholar Tutor in Private Choir School
Family Background: Robert’s family history shows evidence of social mobility in the C19th and early C20th. Robert was a Grammar School boy who became a captain in the Border Regiment. His father, Thomas, was a locomotive engine driver. The railways were an organisation that rewarded the hard work and dedication of sober and responsible men. Thomas had begun as a labourer on the railways and had risen to being a stoker and then a driver. His own father, also Robert, is recorded as being in Brampton Union Workhouse, aged five, in 1841. His mother (we presume) Ann Abrams (sic), aged 25, and brother John (aged two) were also in the workhouse. Robert and John may have been together in the infants room (at least until Robert turned seven) but they would have been separated from their mother. Workhouses, after the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, had been made deliberately harsh to ensure only the most destitute applied, so families were split up. We can only imagine what young Robert endured. At least by the age of 16 he was working as a servant for a farmer of 160 acres and later he became a railway guard. He died in 1895, without seeing the success of his son. Thomas and his wife Mary Jane Hamilton had seven children: Robert was the second child and only he and younger brother Henry attended the Grammar School.
The Cumberland News reported that at the time of Robert’s death three brothers were also on active service and his youngest brother and sisters were engaged in war work.
Robert received his early education at Bishop Goodwin School where “he showed promise of a brilliant career” (The Cumberland News). In 1903 he was awarded the Bishop of Hereford’s Prize at the examination held under the George Moore Education Trust and the next year he was awarded City and County Scholarship to the value of £36 each (though one was relinquished, as he could not hold both).
At the Grammar School, Robert was good at sport. He captained the Rugby XV in 1910 having played in the team in 1908 (“A light but hard working forward. Is especially good as a front rank man in the scrum. Follows up well.”) and 1909 (“The hardest worker in the scrum, and one of the keenest at practices. With a little more originality in the open he would become a really good forward.”). As captain he was described as “energetic”. He was academic, winning a form prize in 1908, and prizes for English, Greek and geography in 1909. In 1911 the school medal for good character and proficiency was awarded to him. He was also a keen member of the debating society and was secretary by 1909. One of the debates in 1909 concerned whether Britain should fear a German invasion. Robert thought not. In 1910 his favourite author was Thackeray. He opened a debate on the abolition of the House of Lords and spoke with “great vehemence”. He preferred football to cricket; town life to country; and was against aviation! In 1911 he spoke against women’s suffrage; and military conscription!
War Service: Robert obtained his commission in the Border Regiment in 1916 and crossed over to France in January 1917. He took part in much fighting on the Western Front and was twice recommended for a decoration. He was killed in the Battle of Passchendaele in October 1917 and as his body was not recovered he is commemorated at Tyne Cot Cemetery outside Ypres.
His officer wrote to the family: “Your son was killed whilst leading his company in the last attack. He was shot through the head and died immediately…I had seen the way he handled his men and gained the confidence and respect of all who knew him. His men would follow him anywhere…In the action a few days before he was killed he did extraordinary good work and I recommended him for a decoration. I am only too sorry he did not get it as had been well earned.” Another officer wrote: “He always took the keenest interest in the welfare of his men and seemed to have no thought for his own safety. Throughout the whole time he showed splendid courage, determination and spirit. I was near him during the whole attack and he worked like a nigger (sic) the whole time.” October 26 had been a day of heavy losses for the Border Regiment and Captain Abram’s death is reported in Col Wylly’s account of the Regiment in the Great War: “the men got stuck in mud up to their waists and were almost entirely wiped out by machine-gun fire”; “Practically the whole of this company fell…” It was a sorry end to his short life.
Other: The Carliol Magazine reports Robert’s marriage at St Mary’s Church, Walney Island, on January 17, 1917, to Nellie, daughter of Thomas Bushby, of Carlisle. During the war Nellie worked as a VAD nurse in Oxford.
In the Nicoll family archive there are a few letters from Theodore Walrond (the music master from 1906-11) to the brothers in which various ‘OC’s’ are mentioned.
Walrond to JS Nicoll, 12.6. 17 ‘Then last Friday I had Abram and his wife. I thought she would like to see the last of him before his return to France so I told him to bring her. Abram had to leave Victoria at the indecent hour of 7.50 am on Saturday. But his wife, like a sensible woman remained in Ealing and had breakfast at a more civilised hour before returning to her nursing duties in Oxford.’ idem, 15.8.17 ‘…otherwise I have seen naught of OCs: though I have had a letter from Bert Abram who is at present at some kind of training school behind the lines. I also saw his wife last week in Oxford, and gathered that she has a pretty cheerful account of him.’
Sources: a) Carlisle School Memorial Register 1264-1924 b) Census: 1911RG14PN 31315RG78PN1796RD5745D2ED12SN211; 1901 RG13/4865; 1891 RG12/4287 & RG 12/4289; 1881 RG11/5156; 1851 HO107/2427; 1841 HO107/167/14 c) Col HC Wylly: “The Border Regiment in the Great War” 1924 d) The Carliol 1908; 1909; 1917 e) The Cumberland News 17 November 1917