Over 90 years after he was killed in action, Private Richard Lancaster of The 2nd Battalion The Lancashire Fusiliers, is re-interred at Prowse Point Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Belgium on Wednesday, 4th July.
Pte Lancaster was born in Lancashire in 1882; he served in the Regular Army from 1901-05, when he married Phoebe Porter in Burnley. The marriage certificate lists them both as weavers. He was mobilised in August 1914 and embarked for France, where he saw action at Le Cateau and Armentières. He was killed in action on 10th November 1914 during a counter-attack south of leper (Ypres), near Ploegsteert Wood, only a few hundred yards from where the Christmas Truce would take place a month later. Pte Lancaster's remains were discovered by archaeologists in 2006 alongside two unknown soldiers who were re-interred during the same ceremony.
The service on 4th July was attended by Pte Lancaster's grand-daughter and other family members. The Honour Guard and Bugiers were found by 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers who accorded Pte Lancaster and his comrades full military honours.
PRIVATE RICHARD LANCASTER
2ND BATTALION THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS KILLED IN ACTION ON 10TH NOVEMBER 1914
Private Richard Lancaster of the 2nd Battalion the Lancashire Fusiliers was killed during a night attack on the 10th November 1914. He left a wife, Phoebe and four children - Richard, William, Rimmer and John.
Born in Lancashire in 1882, Richard Lancaster enlisted into the Regular Army on the 1st March 1901, and served for nearly four years. He left regular service for the reserve in January 1905 and in September of that year he married Phoebe Porter in Burnley. On the marriage certificate they are both listed as weavers.
Following German threats to neutral Belgium, at 4pm on the 4th August 1914, the British Government gave the order for mobilisation. The order was received at the Depot of the Lancashire Fusiliers in Bury at 6pm on that day. Of the 1,752 reservists on the books, 1,454, including Richard Lancaster, reported to the Depot the next day. At the Depot he underwent a medical inspection and was issued with his rifle, clothing and equipment and despatched to the 2nd Battalion stationed at the Citadel Barracks in Dover. Although he was issued with the new compressed fibre identity disks as a reservist he had a pre-war metal identity disk. Luckily he kept the metal identity disk that survived while the compressed fibre disks rotted away. The metal disk, stamped 8372 Lancaster R was found by archaeologists in 2006 and assisted in the identification of the remains.
The 2nd Battalion formed part of the 1st Infantry Brigade itself part of the 4th Division. Initially the division was ordered to cover the deployment of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to France and so at 3am on the fourth day of mobilisation the 2nd Battalion and Richard Lancaster left Dover by train for Cromer. On the 21st the Battalion embarked for France landing at Boulogne on the 23rd August. The 'Old Contemptibles' were regular soldiers or reservists who had served pre-war in the professional British Army and who became the first British soldiers to be sent into France at the beginning of WW1. The name came from a comment made by Kaiser Wilhelm II in the Order of the Day for 19th August 1914 where he encouraged his troops to defeat 'that contemptible little army'.
The first taste of action for the 2nd Battalion and Richard was at Le Cateau. This was rapidly followed by a retreat in the face of overwhelming force. Over a period of 12 days Richard Lancaster marched 146 miles at an average of 12 miles a day concluding with actions at the Marne and on the Aisne.
Eventually room to manoeuvre ran out and both sides settled into trench warfare. By November 1914 following the Battle of Armentières, Richard and the battalion found themselves occupying positions to the south of Ypres on the eastern edge of Ploegsteert Wood. It should be noted that the soldiers had difficulty with the local spelling and pronunciation and the name rapidly changed to Plugstreet Wood.
On the 10th November the Germans broke into the wood and were reinforced by a further German attack on the night of the 9th/10th. Richard Lancaster and The Lancashire Fusiliers were ordered to support the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in a night counter-attack. In the darkness the situation became confused and men became separated. The War Diary reports that the Lancashire Fusiliers seized one trench and a farm occupied by the enemy and bayoneted the occupants. Unfortunately the trench and farm were covered by fire from other German positions and were abandoned. Nevertheless further German advances into the wood were stopped for the rest of the war.
Richard Lancaster and four of his comrades were killed that night and buried hastily close to the front line; they lay undiscovered for 90 years. In 2001 the body of Harry Wilkinson was discovered close to the site of the original action in 1914. In 2006 archaeologists discovered the remains of Richard Lancaster's body only a few metres away. The remains of Privates Brown, Robinson and Sheridan, killed in action on the same night, remain to be found.