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Robert Cecil Lewis was born in 1891 at 14 Frenchay Street in the St George district of Bristol, the elder son of Francis Lewis, a lithographic printer, and his wife, Fanny. By 1901 they were living at Langton Villa, Robertson Road, in the ecclesiastical parish of St Mark, Bristol, where they were still living in 1911. Francis and Fanny by now had another son, six-year-old Leonard; two other children had died in infancy. In the 1911 census, Robert was described as “Student teaching Elementary School, now at Training College”.
Robert then went on to become a teacher at Langport in Somerset, before applying for a job at Badsey in 1914. He was interviewed in February and offered the job of Certificated Teacher at the salary of £90 per annum. He commenced duties at the school on 9th March 1914 as teacher of the First Class.
Robert was at the school for less than a year before he went off to war. The School Log Book of 11th January 1915 noted: “Mr R C Lewis is absent, having enlisted in the 12th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment.” Possibly Robert’s mind was on other things for, two days later, the Head Teacher, Mr Frank Amos, wrote: “The First Class results are generally disappointing. Though much time has been taken in the preparation of the lessons and also in the marking, the discipline has been so weak and the children so inattentive that the work is not at all what it should be. I have been compelled to speak to the Teacher, Mr Lewis, with regard to the lack of discipline and inattention of the class.”
Robert had left by early February. A few days later, Mr Amos himself had enlisted and recorded in the Log Book: “Having been called away on Military Service from today until such time as my services are not required, Miss M A McDonald, Senior Assistant, will be in charge of the school during my absence. The Education Authority has promised to send a supply assistant teacher to help fill the gap caused by the absence of Mr Lewis and my own.”
On 29th May 1918, the school authorities received the sad news that “Mr R C Lewis, Assistant Master of this school, absent on Military Service, has been killed by a shell while fighting in the 12th Glos in France.”
The Parish Magazine of June 1918 gave the following information:
It is with much regret that we learn of the death in action of Cpl R C Lewis, who was assistant master of Badsey Council School. He first came to Badsey in March 1914, and though but a short time here, he had formed a very real affection for the place and school, and when on leave he always made a point of visiting Badsey. In January 1915 he left his life’s work and all that a man holds dear in response to Lord Kitchener’s appeal for volunteers for the defence and honour of our country. He enlisted in the Battalion of the Gloucester Regiment and saw active service in France, and then Italy. On the 25th April 1918, while the battalion was holding part of the Italian front, Cpl Lewis met his death by a shell. Much sympathy is felt for his parents who lose the elder of their two children. A memorial service was held on Wednesday 15th May, in the Parish Church, when many of his old scholars were present, as well as Managers and staff of the school.
The Parish Magazine incorrectly implies that Corporal Lewis died in Italy. This was not the case. His Division had been sent to Italy in late January 1918 and took up positions in the line along the River Piave. But they were recalled to France to assist with the German Advance in late March 1918. Corporal Lewis’ body was not identified, so he is remembered on the Ploegsteert Memorial. Administration of his will was granted to his father.
Robert’s grieving parents remained living in Bristol for the rest of their lives, his father dying in 1932 and his mother in 1935. Their only surviving child, Leonard, pre-deceased them in 1931.