Research and text by Brian Roote
Robert was born in 1891 to Robert and Clara Bryant. He was baptised in St Mary’s Church Caterham on 7 June 1891. His father ran a grocer’s shop in Westway which also sold ironmongery and was the local cycle repair shop. On the outbreak of war Robert tried to enlist, but was rejected three times because of poor eye sight. This had been caused by an accident at the engineering works where he had been apprenticed. He married Florence Roberts in Purley on 19 October 1913 and they had Marjorie 1914, Eric 1915 and Joan in 1918.
Robert was determined to serve King and Country and applied for the fourth time and was accepted into the Royal Army Service Corps for Home Duty, as a Mechanic Staff Sergeant. They stationed him at Camberwell which enabled him to travel home at the weekends. On Sunday 12 January 1919 he spent the day with the family at Chaldon Road and on the following Tuesday evening went to visit a friend in the Royal Navy who was on board a ship in Victoria Docks London. The night was dark and the weather bad. He arrived at the dock and tried to find his way alongside by feeling a series of posts and chains. His poor eyesight would not have helped and it seems to have reached a point where the chain was broken and he stumbled into the river. His shouts were heard by men on a nearby vessel who got a lamp and threw him a lifebuoy. Sadly he drowned, his body recovered, and taken to the nearby Seaman’s Hospital to await an inquest. This eventually reached a verdict of ‘accidental death’ and was accepted as death on 14 January 1919. His body was taken home and buried in St Mary’s Churchyard Caterham on 22 January. It seems Florence did not tell the authorities where his plot was and there is a letter on file from her telling them the details Florence was awarded a pension of 15/’ weekly.
Roberts grave stone carries the poignant message ‘I hope to see you face to face when I have crost the bar’ This is from the last stanza of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s elegiac poem ‘Crossing the Bar’