Robert Nelson Jones was born in Newtown, Montgomeryshire on 21st December 1884 to Robert Jones and Elizabeth Ann Jones [née Alvey].
He was educated at Wellington College at the beginning of the 20th century after which he attended Borough Road College1 in Osterley, west of London for three years. During his time here Robert was made a prefect and later graduated as a Triarian with a BSc in 1907. After completing his education he became an assistant master at Marling School, Stroud and subsequently taught at Kettering Grammar School between the years 1913-15. He was due to take up another appointment but this never came to fruition due to his war service.
Robert joined the Inns of Court Officers Training Corps [OTC] in London on 5th July 1915, initially on Home Service Duties, before signing the Imperial and General Service obligation two months later, thus paving the way for overseas service. It was at about this time that Robert married Hilda Rose Hoile in Leicester whilst on leave.
On 12th November 1915 Robert was commissioned as a probationary Second-Lieutenant in 3/4th Battalion, The Northamptonshire Regiment who at the time were based at Halton Park.
In October 1916 Robert was seconded to the 56th Machine Gun Company [MGC], 56 Brigade, 19 (Western) Division in Belgium where he continued to serve until the end of his life. His rank of Second-Lieutenant was confirmed on 23rd March 1917 and he was appointed temporary First-Lieutenant on 1st June 1917: just in time for the forthcoming ‘Battle of Messines’.
The offensive at Messines was designed to relieve pressure on the French armies thus forcing the Germans to move reserves to Flanders from the Arras and Aisne fronts. The overall tactical objective of the attack was to capture the German defences on the ridge, which ran from Ploegsteert (Plugstreet) Wood, through Messines, Mt. Sorrel and so deprive the enemy of the high ground south of Ypres.
Zero hour was fixed for 3:10am on 7th June 1917, when it was expected that visibility would be approximately 100 yards. There was a thunderstorm during the evening of 6th June but the sky cleared and at about 2.00am British aircraft flew over the German lines, so as to camouflage the sound of tanks moving up to the start line. By 3.00am the vast bulk of the attacking force had reached their jumping-off positions unnoticed. The British artillery stopped firing around thirty minutes before dawn; to be replaced by the dawn chorus of the birds!
At zero hour precisely the British mines were detonated in sequence, followed by artillery fire at the maximum possible rate in a creeping barrage, whilst other battery groups bombarded the enemy artillery positions with gas shells. The two sections of 56th MGC advanced alongside their allotted infantry support with Robert in No.1 section. Not long after they had reached their objectives the No.1 section commander was wounded and Robert took command. Just prior to the attack the day before, his Company Commander had written “Send Lt Jones ‘out’ after lunch so he can have a decent night tonight: he will probably have to go over the top.” Robert remained in command of his section of Machine Guns in the line until they were all relieved on the night of 15th June.
Passchendaele2: a small town in Northern Belgium which reluctantly gave its name to one of the most controversial, costly and savage campaigns of The First World War which claimed over 240,000 British and 400,000 German casualties. It was into this cauldron of death and destruction that Robert was next to see offensive action in July 1917: the opening day of the ‘Battle of Pilkem Ridge’, the beginning of Passchendaele.
By 5.00pm on 29th July Robert, now i/c No.3 section, had arrived at SIEGE FARM and the following day moved into the assembly positions alongside their affiliate infantry battalions, which in his case was 7th (Service) Battalion, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. His orders were to cover the infantry consolidation on their portion of the BLUE LINE and repel any counter attack by the enemy, but in a location where his machine gunners could bring heavy sustained fire across the objective.
On the morning of Tuesday 31st July 1917 First-Lieutenant Robert Nelson Jones, i/c No.3 section, 56th Machine Gun Company, 19th (Western) Division, was shot and killed by a sniper whilst leading an attack. He was aged 32 and was survived by his widow Hilda3.
In addition another 56th MG officer was wounded with a further 4 deaths amongst the ranks, 4 wounded, plus the destruction of 3 machine guns. In the aftermath of the days fighting Robert’s body was never found and so he is commemorated on the Ypres, (Menin Gate) Memorial in Belgium.
The Machine Gun Corps was created by Royal Warrant on 14th October 1915 and remained in existence until its disbandment in 1922. A total of 170,500 officers and men served in its ranks, of which over 62,000 were killed, wounded or missing. The magnificent memorial to the men of the Corps stands at Hyde Park Corner in London.
The Northamptonshire Regiment is perpetuated today in The 2nd Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment.