Private 306908 2/5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment)
Killed in Action on Thursday 21st March 1918
Commemorated on Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, Bay 7
Robert Mitchell was born on September 21st 1880 and baptised at the parish church of St. James the Less on November 7th of the same year, the youngest son of Frederick and Sarah Mitchell. At the time of the 1911 census he was still single, and living with his parents at North Road Cottages, Lancing, while working as a market garden labourer.
Robert Mitchell did not enlist until the first half of 1916; many of the market gardens were badly affected by losing so many of their workers to the military forces, and often tried to prevent them from being called up, attending local tribunals to plead their case. But by the summer of 1916 he had joined the Sherwood Foresters, enlisting in Worthing. As part of 59th Division, the battalion were in Ireland from April 1916 until January 1917, and the following month they left for France and the Western Front. The German Spring Offensive of 1918 was a disastrous time for the men of Lancing, and few battalions were more badly affected by the events of March 21st than the 2/5th Sherwood Foresters. Many soldiers all along the British front line were killed and injured by the earth shattering five hour artillery bombardment which preceded the attack, and many of those uninjured were left numb and frightened by the time the German advance started that morning. The battalion war diary did not survive that German advance, but a retrospective account of the events is held at The National Archives [WO95/3025] - the first paragraph sums up thus:
In writing the account of the above action, difficulty is at once encountered, owing to the fact that all records including War Diary, Defence schemes and Operation Orders were lost. Indeed the only information available is that afforded by messages sent to the Brigade HQs during the action, and the statements of the four men who were the only survivors.
The total casualties laid out in the document show that 31 officers and 624 other ranks were unaccounted for at the end of the day, including the Commanding Officer, Lt. Colonel H. R. Gadd, MC, with just four 'survivors' to answer roll call. 'Soldiers Died in the Great War' CD shows that in fact 4 officers and 104 other ranks died on that day, the remaining men either wounded, taken prisoner, or having lost temporarily lost touch with their unit. Also among the dead was their chaplain, the Reverend Alan Judd. Colonel Gadd survived as a prisoner of war, and months later was able to give more information about the day's events. Robert Mitchell was not so lucky; the Sussex Daily News reported on 20th May 1918:
LANCING MAN IS MISSING - Private R. Mitchell, Sherwood Foresters, son of Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell, North Road, Lancing, is officially posted missing on the Western Front. His parents have not heard from him since the first week in March. He has been in the service about two years, and was in the employ of a market gardener on joining up.
Robert Mitchell has no known grave and is commemorated on Arras Memorial, Faubourg-d'Amiens Cemetery, Arras, and is also remembered on his parents' grave at St. James the Less, Lancing.