The grand daughter said, ‘Invisible Man,
I know that you fought in the war.
But Private 241351,
It’s hard to find out more.
Creating the Centena.
I’ve been searching for Private Robert Nuttall Lofthouse, 6th Lancashire Fusiliers, 241351 since the 1970s when Gran was still alive. She showed me the postcards Robert had sent from the front – though I wasn’t allowed to read any of the messages. When I asked about him, like many of her generation, she was very reticent, as was my Great Aunty Mary.
Dad never talked about Robert, neither did his sisters. I’ve never seen any pictures of Robert with my Dad or his siblings. Apart from the photo with Gran (which Aunty Theresa thinks is of the wedding day in June 1917), in all other pictures he’s with mates who survived the First World War.
Before the war, Robert was a brick labourer, but the mustard gas he encountered in the trenches put paid to that; his inability to work meant Gran was the breadwinner – perhaps another reason he wasn’t talked about.
I thought knowing Robert’s number as a Private and his regiment would make a search – with all the advances in technology, the digitalising of records – much simpler and easier. How wrong I was.
I searched the Lancashire Fusiliers’ website and via their forum asked for help/advice; they couldn’t locate Robert, but suggested The National Archives’ Medal Pages. This has several Robert Lofthouses, none of whom is Granddad. A suggestion via IWM led me to Away from the Western Front; I knew from a diary on the Lancashire Fusilier website that soldiers enlisting in Rochdale were sent to Egypt and Gallipoli. On the site is a picture of Fusiliers waiting to disembark. If Robert was at that campaign, and it’s likely, what a catastrophe he faced.
The diary I discovered, details time in France in 1917. Ancestry.com revealed a medical record of Robert in hospital in Oct 1917 (two years younger than on the marriage certificate) for “bronchitis”, a euphemism for mustard gas? So he could have been in France, and perhaps the marriage date was because he knew it was where he was heading.
The diary also details time in 1918 St Quentin, The Somme, Rosieres and transfers to the 199th Brigade. Away from the Western Front is leading a project in conjunction with the Lancashire Infantry Museum (LIM) but I haven’t had information back from my queries about Robert.
Robert’s ghost has haunted our family, and his ‘absence’ had a profound effect on his children. They hardly knew him as he was away so often from the house (Aunty Theresa’s memories) and upbringing was left to Gran, who was very Victorian in her outlook. As we grand-children found out when we lived there.
Being illegitimate only adds to Robert’s ‘absence’, Lofthouse being the maternal surname. Robert died in 1937 aged forty-six. The impact on Dad meant that two years after Robert died, he enlisted with the Navy ‘to get away from that bloody house’ – but he never did.
But Robert peeps still, from my brothers’ eyes.
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