Charlie Robbin’s Story
FROME’S CHARLIE ROBBINS WAR MEMORIAL
With Remembrance coming to mind as the poppy boxes are once again being prepared and invitations are going out to encourage and welcome the people of Frome to take part in this annual Act of Remembrance, the Frome RBL thought that it may be interesting to know how the town’s war memorial was transformed last year to mark the centenary of WW1.
Charlie Robbins was a Frome man who worked at JW Singer Foundry. He went off to war and returned, but rarely spoke of his time in France. The foundry was much in demand for memorials after the war and Charlie was chosen to model for one such statue. There is a mystery as to whether the statue was ever commissioned but it remained in the factory, moving as the fortunes of the company that was taken over by Tyco changed.
To mark the Centenary of the beginning of WW1 the Frome Town Council along with other interested parties worked to move Charlie so that he become an integral part of the War Memorial. A Service of Dedication took place on the eve of the anniversary last year, 3rd August 2014, which was attended by hundreds.
The Memorial has become a place of peace and remembrance for the people of Frome and will be centerpiece on Remembrance Sunday. The story is told below. May the thoughts that may be inspired be a reminder of why we should never forget.
Jane Norris, Chairman Frome Branch RBL. 15th October 2015
Charlie Robbins - Our Frome Soldier
Charlie Robbins and his brother James both worked at J. W. Singer & Son’s and both decided to sign up in 1914. Charlie was with the 2nd/5th Battalion of the Gloucester Regiment, serving with ‘D’ Company. Starting off as Lance Corporal no. 22385, he was promoted to Sergeant as the war progressed. Formed in 1914, the ‘Gloucester’s’ were a second line Territorial Battalion, that remained in the same brigade throughout the war and served the Western Front from first landing in France in May 1916 until the Armistice of 1918.
Charlie began his active service in the Laventie sector alongside the newly arrived 5th Australian Division and both took part in the ill-fated attack on Fromelles on the 19-20th July 1916. This saw a huge loss of life, with the 5th Division most badly hit with the loss of 5,533 lives and Charlie’s, 2nd South Midland Division itself suffering 1,547 casualties. As Charlie’s battalion was in reserve they had the hugely difficult task of bringing in and burying the dead. In an unprecedented move, the Germans allowed them to work over four days, in daylight hours, to send stretcher bearers over ‘no mans land’ finding the dead and wounded. This became a legendary act of compassion by the Germans who did not fire a single shot.
The Battalion moved down to the Somme at the end of October 1916 so Charlie was fortunate to miss the disastrous fighting that took place there but arrived in time to witness the German retreat to Hindenburg from March to April 1917. He then served during the Battle of Ypres, Cambrai, the German counter attack and the March 1918 offensive, which during the first two weeks saw the Division suffering 6,000 casualties.
Both Charlie and his brother returned home to Frome after the Armistice, although James suffered a leg wound having been blown from his gun carriage (having served with the Royal Field Artillery) As far as we know, both men resumed their work at J. W. Singer & Son’s and, at some point, Charlie was chosen as the model for the First World War soldier we see here. At a time when the Singers foundry was incredibly busy making memorials, the one that is now our Frome War Memorial was overlooked and did not leave the factory.
Charlie continued to work at Singers up until he retired in the late 1950’s. He was no longer alive when the statue was rediscovered and given pride of place at the Singers entrance on Cork Street. Having lived on Sun Street for 60 years, Charlie died in 1981, aged 89 (followed by his wife Violet two years later) and is remembered by his great nieces as a gentle, kind man who never once spoke about his war time experiences. The family knew he was the model for the statue and when Singers relocated to Handlemaker Road (having been bought by Tyco) they would often remark, “Hello Uncle Charlie,” if ever they were passing.
To mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1, on 4th August 2014, The Frome Town Council, Frome Memorial Theatre, Frome Branch of the Royal British Legion and the Frome Heritage Museum, worked with Tyco and secured a long term loan of the statue and its relocation to the front of the Memorial Theatre.
A Service of Dedication took place on 3rd August. The following day Frome then observed the nationwide events that included a Service of Reflection at St. Johns Church and “Lights Out; One Million Candles to Remember”, a night time observance that saw Charlie silhouetted as the centre piece.
Charlie Robbins statue is not only a very fitting War Memorial for Frome, remembering all those soldiers from this town who were sent far and wide to fight for their country, but also a permanent reminder of J. W. Singer & Sons and the importance of their work, in times of war and peace, and both the men, and women who worked there.
Stephen Thomas, Sue Bucklow & Jane Norris: August 2014