25223 Lance Corporal Robert Hathaway, 12th Battalion, the South Wales Borderers died of wounds 17 May 1917 and is buried at St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, France.[1]  He was 25 years old and is commemorated on the West Auckland War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, West Auckland Memorial Hall.

Family Details

Robert Hathaway was born 1892 at West Auckland the son of George and Elizabeth Hathaway.  There were 8 children all born at West Auckland:[2]

  • John bc.1889
  • Susan bc.1890
  • Robert born 1892
  • Lancelot bc. 1895
  • Jane bc.1898
  • Fred bc.1900
  • Joseph bc.1903
  • Mary bc.1908

In 1901, the family lived at Staindrop Road where 40 year old George worked as a coal miner (hewer).[3]  By 1911, the family lived at 3 Staindrop Road.  George was still working as a coal miner (hewer).  18 year old Robert worked as a coal miner (putter) and 16 year old Lancelot as a coal miner (driver).[4]  Later, the family lived at 56 Front Street, West Auckland.[5]

Service Details

Robert Hathaway enlisted at Aldershot and initially joined the Cyclist Corps being allocated the regimental number 5293.  He then was transferred to the 12th Battalion, the South Wales Borderers and was given the regimental number 25223.[6]  Lance Corporal Robert Hathaway’s service record has not been researched and the dates when he enlisted, was transferred to the SWB and when he entered France remains unknown.

The 12th (Service) Battalion (3rd Gwent) the South Wales Borderers was formed at Newport in March 1915 by the Welsh National Executive Committee as a Bantam Battalion and in March 1915 came under the orders of the Welsh Bantam Brigade.  In September 1915 it moved to Aldershot where the formation was renamed as 119th Brigade 40th Division.  2 June 1916 it landed at Le Havre, France.[7]

By 1917, the 119th Brigade comprised:

  • 19th, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers
  • 12th, the South Wales Borderers
  • 17th, the Welsh Regiment
  • 18th, the Welsh Regiment
  • 119th Machine Gun Company joined June 1916 moved to 40th MGC March 1918
  • 119th Trench Mortar Battery formed June 1916 [8]

The 40th Division was formed between September and December 1915 and composed some bantam units and others had a mixture of regulation height and shorter men.  Weeding out of very shorter men and unfit men delayed the training programme and it was not until late spring 1916 that the Division was ready to proceed on active service.  The Division moved to France between 2 and 6 June 1916 and concentrated near Lillers.  It then served between June and late October 1916 on the front near Loos.  The 40th Division remained on the Western Front throughout the rest of the war and up until the death of Lance Corporal R. Hathaway took part in the following engagements:[9]


  • The Battle of the Ancre


  • March: The German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line
  • April and early May: the Capture of Fifteen Ravine, Villers Plouich, Beaucamp and La Vacquerie. [10]

Lance Corporal R. Hathaway died of wounds 17 May 1917.[11] It is possible that he was involved in the attack on the village of La Vacquerie on the night of 5/6 May 1917.  La Vacquerie was a village to the north of Gonnelieu and was still in German hands in front of the Hindenburg Line.  The original plan was to capture the village but this was change, possibly because if taken it would create a salient difficult to defend.  It was to be subject to a large scale raid carried out by 119 Brigade, viz. 12th Battalion, the South Wales Borderers and 17th Battalion, the Welsh Regiment in conjunction with a raid by units of the 8th Division against Sonnet Farm just south of La Vacquerie.  The aims of the raid were to:

  • Inflict casualties
  • Gain unit identification
  • Do damage to defences

Each of the 2 assault battalions were to provide 2 companies to go forward, 1 company in support and 1 company in reserve.  The other 2 battalions of the Brigade were to be the brigade support and reserve.  All 16 Vickers machine guns of the Machine Gun Company and 4 Stokes mortars of the Trench Mortar Battery were deployed and the 224 Field Company RE would destroy defences.  Zero Hour was 11pm and the forces were to return 2 hours later.

5 May:  11pm the guns opened fire and the advancing troops encountered wire defences but got through it and entered the village.  The Germans put down effective artillery and mortar fire.  There were relatively few German troops actually stationed in La Vacquerie itself.  Sappers got to work and those mopping up captured a few German prisoners and took them back.  The withdrawal “did not go so well” but even so the operation was regarded as a great success.  [12]

Later research records that between 5 and 7 May 1917, 12/SWB lost 1 Officers and 15 Other Ranks killed in action and died of wounds.  A further 3 other ranks died during the next 10 days including Lance Corporal R. Hathaway.  17/WR lost 0 Officers and 4 Other Ranks in the same period and a further 4 men during the following 10 days.[13]

119 Brigade was awarded 32 awards for the month of May 1917, 120 Brigade received 11 and 121 Brigade got 4.  After the La Vecquerie operation the sector quietened down and a “defensive posture” was taken but this still meant that nightly patrols of No Man’s Land took place. [14]

Details of Lance Corporal R. Hathaway’s medals have not been traced.  He would have received the British War and Victory medals and the 1914-15 Star if he served in France prior to 31 December 1915.


Lance Corporal R. Hathaway is buried at grave reference P.II.O.2B St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, France.  Army camps and hospitals were stationed on the southern outskirts of Rouen.  Almost all of the hospitals at Rouen remained there for practically the whole of the war.  They included 8 general, 5 stationary, 1 British Red Cross and 1 labour hospital and No.2 Convalescent Depot.  A number of the dead from these hospitals were buried in other cemeteries but the great majority were taken to the city cemetery of St. Sever.  The last burial took place in April 1920.  There are 8,348 burials from WW1. [15]


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] 1901 & 1911 census

[3] 1901 census

[4] 1911 census

[5] CWGC

[6] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[7] http://www.1914-1918.net/swb.htm

[8] www.1914-1918.net/40div.htm Note: other units were disbanded and others joined February, May and June 1918

[9] “History of 40th Division” F.E. Whitton provides details.  It has not been consulted.

[10] http://www.1914-1918.net/40div.htm

[11] CWGC

[12] “Broken Sword: the tumultuous life of General Frank Crozier 1897-1939” C. Messenger p.76-79

[13] ODGC & SDGW

[14] “Broken Sword: the tumultuous life of General Frank Crozier 1897-1939” C. Messenger p.76-79

[15] CWGC


St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen

St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen