Researched and written by Anne Wright
2/Lt R W S Meakins
Honourable Artillery Company
1st Battalion, Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment)
Killed in action, 27.8.1916
Robert William Spencam Meakins moved to Weybridge between 1911 and 1915; he worked at The Gables Pharmacy in Church Street and the address recorded on his medals record is with Miss A Jackson of the Elms on Monument Hill. His birth was registered in early 1892 at Dorking. He was the youngest of nine children born to Thomas and Elizabeth (nee Thomas) Meakins who married in Dorking on 9 May 1868. Robert had four sisters and four brothers: Lily, Fanny, Thomas, Ellen, John, Joseph, Arthur and Jessie. Their home in 1901 was at 60, High Street, Dorking but by 1901 significant changes had taken place; Elizabeth Meakins had died, her husband had retired from his job as a coal merchant and the family had moved to 15, Radnor Park Gardens in Folkestone.
Robert joined the Honourable Artillery Company, the oldest regiment in the British Army, on 17 May 1915. He was discharged on 6 October and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the 1st Battalion, Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment), one of the first units to arrive in France, arriving as they did on 15 August 1914. They served in the 13th Brigade of the 5th Division. Robert’s battalion experienced much hard fighting; even by the end of 1914 they had fought at the Battle of Mons, the stand at Le Cateau, the Battles of the Marne and of the Aisne. In 1916 they faced the Battle of the Somme.
By March 1916 the 5th Division took over a section of the front line reaching to the southern end of Vimy Ridge in front of Arras. Here they had a very active time; trench raids, sniping and mining activities. When the Battle of the Somme began on 1 July the Division was enjoying a rest and re-fit in GHQ Reserves. Their peace was soon shattered. Their focus turned to High Wood (close to Albert) which had the strategic advantage of being on a slight incline. The British entered High Wood on 14 July. They were soon engaged in a vicious pattern of attack and counter-attack. Of an attack on 21 July, Pte MacPherson of the 9th Royal Scots Brigade wrote: ‘The air was heavy with the acrid fumes of cordite; showers of earth and stones from the explosion of the High Explosives landed in the trench, confusion reigned supreme.’ By the end of this day only the southern corner of the Wood remained under British control.
On the night of 22/23 July in partnership with the 14th Royal Warwickshires Robert’s battalion attacked the south-eastern part of the Wood and Wood Lane. The 1st Royal West Kents suffered 420 casualties and no significant gains were made. By the end of July High Wood was still under German control. Robert joined his unit at the beginning of August and further attacks were launched early in the month, and again on the 18 August; some progress had been made by the 24th. Conditions were appalling; Frank Richards in ‘Old Soldiers Never Die’ recalled that: ‘Parts of the parapets of trenches contained the corpses of earlier attacks… [they were] used as human shields.’ Robert was killed in action on 27 August. Given the fighting conditions it is not surprising that his body was never recovered. He had been in France for just 26 days. High Wood was finally taken on 15 September.
Robert is commemorated with over 70,000 others on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme off the main Baupaume to Albert road (Pier & Face 11 C). He is also remembered on the memorial of his home town, Dorking. His parents predeceased him: his mother died in 1900 and his father in 1905.
The British Army in the Great War of 1918-1918, The Long, Long Trail – The Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment), www.longlongtrail.co.uk
British Army, Honourable Artillery Company Records, www.findmypast.co.uk
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration of Birth Index, 1837-1915, www.ancestry.co.uk
Pte MacPherson’s Diary Extract, Somme, July 1917 – Attack on High Wood, http://51hd.co.uk/accounts/macpherson_high_wood
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1856-1966, 1973-1995, www.ancestry.co.uk
Richards, Frank Old Soldiers Never Die (1933)