Name: Robert Clow Foster
DoB: May 19 1892 Regt: Suffolk Regiment 11th Bn.
DoD: April 10 1918
Academic Career: CGS 1904-7, London University
Robert was born in Carlisle and was of Scottish descent. His paternal grandparents and his father, James Thomson Foster, were from Kilmarnock. The family had moved to Carlisle when James was a boy (his younger sister was born in the city). Robert’s grandfather – also Robert – was a tailor and clothier as was his son James. Robert’s mother was Isabella Margaret Clow. She was born illegitimately to Margaret Clow the daughter of farmers from Middlebie, Scotland. She appears to have died in Newcastle in 1895. We do not know what happened to Robert’s father but in the later 1901 and 1911 Census Robert was living with his uncle and aunt, John Barbour Wallace Foster and Frances (Murray) Foster who were childless. Uncle John was head teacher of St John’s Boys School, Carlisle. It is touching to note that in the announcement of his death in the Cumberland News Robert was described as a “dearly loved nephew“.
The couple seem to have “adopted” a clever boy as their nephew. He attended the Carlisle Grammar School and then went onto King’s College, London University where he achieved his B.A.. He also had some teaching experience at Stanwix Council School (Carlisle) and at a private school (“Cheltonia”) at Eastbourne before going up to the University of London.
Robert joined the London Regiment (the Rangers) in February 1916. According to his medal card index*, Robert was originally a private in the 12th London Regiment. Something significant must have happened as he was then commissioned into the Suffolk Regiment as an Officer in May 1917. This index card also mentioned the name and address of his father J T Foster, living at 12 Woodlands Terrace, South Shields. From information on the 11th Battalion (Cambridge) Suffolk Regiment, he joined this battalion on June 27 1917 and from the date of his death it is assumed he was killed at the Defence of Lys. The 11th Battalion Suffolk Regiment Resources website reports: “Thus the first troops of the 34th Division to enter the general engagement were those who, almost up to that very moment, had formed the corps reserve, a rare tactical anomaly. Terrific fighting followed. On the 10th April the 11th Suffolks, having formed a defensive flank, beat off attack after attack. Twice the Germans broke through, but on one occasion the breach was closed by Captain Rodwell and his company, assisted by Major Wright. At 3:20 p.m. Liut.-Colonel Tuck received orders to withdraw behind the Lys. Speaking on the telephone, the officer commanding the battalion next on the left, which was still in the front line, explained that he could not possibly get clear in less than two hours. Colonel Tuck replied that in these circumstances he would do his best to hold on until five o’clock. He did so; and though the casualties in those two hours were heavy, this noble imposition helped materially to save two brigades.” Robert was recorded as having been killed in action. In the Cumberland News it was written: “He was a young man of great promise, and endeared himself to all who knew him“.
a) Carlisle School Memorial Register 1264-1924
b) Census: 1911; 1901 (RG13/4867); 1891(RG12/4267 & 4285); 1881 (RG11/5157); ScotlandsPeople records from 1881; 1871; 1868; 1861; 1855
c) King’s College Archives Office, University of London
d) Suffolk Archives Office, Bury St Edmunds (*supplied information from his medal card index)
e) The Cumberland News 4 May 1918