2nd Lieutenant Robert Ivan DONCASTER

Lancashire Fusiliers
15th Battalion (1st Salford Pals)
Service Number:
Date of Death:
1 July 1916 - Killed in Action
(1st day Battle of the Somme)
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Number:
VI. V. 8.

Personal History:

Robert was born at 189 Noel Street, Nottingham on 19th December 1896, the eldest son of Robert (Solicitor's Clerk) and Gertrude Louisa Doncaster. In 1901(Census RG 13/3208) the family were living at Bostock's Lane, Sandiacre, Derbyshire. He had two younger brothers, Raymond and Alan Clement.
By 1911 (Census RG 14/20839), still at the same address, Robert was at schol and Robert (Snr) had moved on to be a "Director Of Screw Manufacturing". The family was now employing three domestic servants. Robert went to Nottingham University and was still in the Officer Training Corps when he applied for his Commission on 29th June 1915.

Robert's link to Buxton has not yet been established.

Military History:
Robert was Commissioned as a Temporary 2nd Lieutenant in the 13th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers on the 22nd July 1915 [London Gazette, 27 July 1915]. The history of the 15th Battalion (see below) states that he had transferred to the 1st Salford's (15th Battalion) in May 1916 and Robert's Medal Index Card shows he entered France on 12th May 1916, barely 7 weeks before he was killed in action on the First Day of the Battle of the Somme.

On the 1st July the 1st Salford Pals were in the 96th Brigade, 32nd Division, and were on the left of the Division's attack and arrived in the sector at 1.00 a.m. in front of Thiepval. At zero-hour (7.30 a.m.) the Battalion advance in two lines, 'A' Company on the right of the attacking line with 'C' Company on their left. 'B' and 'D' Companies supported 'A' and C' respectively. The War Diary records that Robert led a platoon of 'C' Company. The Diary goes on to say that all the men got forward some distance and:

"... either fell before or after reaching German lines. Certain Officers, NCOs and men penetrated the line and passed into the third trench probably, where it is almost certain they were seen later by one of our aeroplanes in an isolated position. It is assumed they gave a good account of themselves, and hoped that some were taken prisoner probably after being wounded, and received good treatment."

Robert (Ivan) was one of the 470 men lost as casualties from the 624 who attacked, 273 of whom were killed in action. The few men who did reach the German lines were captured or killed by the Germans but most of the men did not even get that far, they, like Robert, were cut up by machine-gun fire from Thiepval Chateau. At 8.00 p.m. that night 3 Officers and 150 men answered roll-call.

Lieutenant Edgar Lord wrote to Robert's parents with details of his death, gleaned from two men who survived: "Ivan's Company Commander was wounded so Ivan leaped on the parapet in charge of the Company saying 'Come on lads!' A hail of machine gun fire was opened on them but he was unharmed until within 12 yards of the Bosche trench when he was hit in the wrist by a bullet. He sat down to bind it up when he was hit by another through the head and although the two men were about 6 - 8 yards away they never saw him again."

Of the 273 men to be killed on the first day of The Battle of the Somme, Robert is one of just 67 to have a known grave - the others are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. He lies with two other men from the Battalion in Lonsdale Cemetery. This Cemetery was enlarged after the Armistice when graves were brought in from the surrounding battlefields and from other small burial grounds, so it is possible that Robert had originally been buried elsewhere on the Battlefield.

[Capt Geoffrey Yates Heald, of the same Battalion, who commanded 'B' Company, was killed
on the same day and is buried in the same Cemetery. Though not a Buxton man he has a
commemorative cross in Buxton Cemetery on the grave of his sister.]


Thiepval Village
96 Brigade who were to make a direct attack on Thiepval was made up of three pals battalions, along
with Robert's Battalion. The unit on the 1st Salford's right as they attacked Thiepval Village that morning
was the 16th Northumberland Fusiliers - The Tyneside Commercials. Immediately behind them was the
2nd Salford Pals - the 16th Lancashire Fusiliers.

The modern day village gives a false impression as to just how many buildings were here in 1916. Almost a hundred buildings had been turned into fortresses by the Germans, with machine guns covering all the approaches. Positioned around the village were about 30 machine guns - all with perfect views of the open slopes before them. Along this particular section of the front line the artillery bombardment of the previous week had failed to clear the barbed wire.

As the Salford men left their trenches they were hit by a constant stream of machine gun fire. A few managed to survive the wire and entered the village. The commanders on the ground believed that the village was being taken and halted any further artillery action against Thiepval. Far from having been taken the German gunners were now left free to turn their attention to the west where they could see the Ulstermen attacking the Schwaben Redoubt.

The Tyneside Commercials fared no better. The Germans were in such a commanding position they were able to stand on their parapets and put down a blanket of fire on the allied trenches. The Tyneside Commercials never even made it to the German front line but were forced back to their own lines. There they continued to be harassed by German Artillery.

Contrary to the almost accepted idea that all the generals were indifferent to the losses their units sustained, here was a case where the third attacks were never pressed home because commanders realised that further attacks were futile. Even so of 24 officers and 650 men from the 1st Salford Pals who attacked Thiepval, 21 officers and 449 men became casualties.

· I am grateful to the British War Graves for the photo of Robert (Ivan)'s Grave
· "GOD'S OWN - 1st SALFORD PALS 1914-1916" by Neil Drum & Roger Dowson, p. 37
· "Slaughter on The Somme - 1 July 1916" - Martin Mace & John Grehan [ISBN 978-1-84884-770-5] p. 220-1

Commemorated on:

Link to CWGC Record
2/Lt R I Doncaster's Grave
Salford pals Memorial in Poilu
A brick built memorial to the Salford Pals in the village of Poilu.