Welcome to the Carlisle and Stanwix Branch of The Royal British Legion
GRID REF: NY32860 59117 CA5 6AW
Inside St Michaels Church, Burgh-by-Sands
St Michael’s Church. Burgh by Sands
This ancient place has, in its long history, seen considerable violence. The Roman fort here, and the adjacent settlement, was once a key part of the Roman presence in the region. And in later centuries its strategic position on the southern shore of the Solway Firth would see it heavily involved in the various periods of conflict between England and Scotland. Its impressive defensive tower, built into the fabric of the Church, is clear evidence of its importance in Reiver times.
This village, today so quiet and peaceful, was to have its share of tragedy and grief in those fateful years of 1914-1918 as the young men of the district answered the call of King and Country to risk their lives in faraway lands.
The War Memorial in the nearby cemetery tells us of those who did not return. (See Memorial 29).
Within the Church we learn the story of one of those brave souls who lie in the soil of a “foreign field”.
Robert Mayson Calvert was born on 1st March 1896. He was the youngest of four children born to Robert and Fanny Maria, nee Blaylock. His father Robert was a Sea Captain. Both families, the Blaylocks and Calverts, were Cumbrian. The Blaylock family had farmed in the Burgh by Sands area for generations so with her husband regularly away at sea his wife and children lived for much of their time there to be near the support of her relatives.
Robert attended Carlisle Grammar School. He was very academic, winning the school Latin and French prizes three years running. He also came 2nd in the 100 yd dash. He won a scholarship to St.Bees School, and went on to become a Hastings Exhibitioner at Queen's College, Oxford.
He was appointed temporary Second Lieutenant in the 17th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, (2nd Pals Battalion and his regiment of choice), on the 8th April 1915. In March 1916 he joined his regiment in France. He died on 9th July 1916 at the age of 20, in the battle for Trones Wood, during the Somme Offensive. The 17th Battalion, which had been fighting in the sector since 1st July, had received orders the night before to attack at 5.30am. They moved off in good order. The War Diary tells us the battalion entered the wood at 6.40am under “fearful shelling”, but were forced to withdraw at 3pm as losses mounted. One hundred and ninety six Other Ranks and ten officers of the 17th Bn died that day
On receipt of the official notification his father Robert was prompted to write to the War Office asking about the manner of his death. The reply included the narrative of Rupert Carline, also of the 17th Manchester Regt, who had reported from his bed in Killingbeck Hospital Leeds that "on the 9th July at Trones Wood, he'd seen Lieutenant Calvert lying dead on the field".
In the War Diary Box at the National Archives there is a small sheet of paper which lists the casualties of the battle. On it, next to Robert's name, are the words "before Trones Wood". It may be assumed therefore that he died early in the attack. His obituary in St. Bees School Roll of Honour tells us "He was killed leading his men into action on July 9, 1916, when the battalion attacked and took Trones Wood."
The diary of a fellow-officer, now held in the IWM, tells us a little of this young man. Lt Kenneth MacArdle says, "Calvert – a student of classics lately from St Bees in Cumberland, with bored looking wrinkles on his forehead and an inability to pronounce his “R”s, which he substitutes with “W”s. He was meant for the Civil Service but makes a good enough soldier and is as comic as a clown with a tired resentful expression.”
Robert’s family presented a brass memorial plaque to the parish church at Burgh-by-Sands; it is next to the memorial dedicated to his great grandparents George and Elizabeth Blaylock. It reads
“To the beloved memory of Robert Mayson Calvert, 2nd Lieutenant 17th Manchester Regt. Hastings Exhibitioner at Queen’s College Oxford, youngest son of Robert Calvert of Burgh by Sands b 1.Mar 1896 killed in action in Trones Wood France, 9th July 1916 during the battle of the Somme”
Robert is interred in Serre Road Cemetery No 2, Beaumont Hamel, Somme Region, His burial place was unknown until, following exhumation during concentration of graves in July 1929, of a burial bearing the words "Known unto God", he was identified from personal effects. His grave is xxix.E.2.
Commemorated within the churchyard of Burgh by Sands are two young men whose families may not have had the wherewithal or desire for a more public display. Just within the churchyard gate is the private headstone of the Fitch family. It tells a sombre story of an unfortunate family. The Reverend Edward Fitch was Vicar of the church for 13 years. His wife Margaret died at thirty-three; two of their children died in early childhood. The headstone tells us that Rev Fitch’s surviving son LCpl Carruthers Fitch, was reported Killed in Action, on 11th April 1917 at the age of 39. It further tells us (from 2nd Tim) that Carruthers was “A workman that needeth not be ashamed”.
Another private headstone, that of the family of Pattinson and Jane Elliot, tells us that their son Private Joseph Elliot, of 1st Bn Border Regiment, was “Killed in Action” on 24th May 1917 at the age of 20 and is interred in France.
Interred in this churchyard under a CWGC headstone is Private Mason Story, who died on 12th Feb 1919, probably from wounds. He was serving with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers at the time of his death but had originally enlisted in 11th Bn Border Regiment. He was the son of Thomas and Fanny Story, of Cumwhinton, Carlisle.
All four are named on the War Memorial within the adjacent cemetery; Memorial 29 in this series.
With thanks to Trinity School and the publishers of "The Stars of Night" for permission to use the story of Robert Mayson Calvert and other material.