From Cricket Field To Battle Field and back again – a long hard road

When you remember the fallen on Remembrance Day, spare a thought also for the survivors and the horrors they faced and had to live with for the rest of their lives.

In the summer of 1914, Robert Hammond was just a young man, in his early twenties. Together with his older brother Harold, he was a dedicated member of the congregation at St. John the Baptist, Gannow, and obviously enjoyed the social life of the Church, singing in concerts and in their comic musical “Cupid and the Ogre”.

After several seasons playing cricket for St. John’s, in 1913 he started playing for Lowerhouse, mostly in the 2nd XI. He helped to organise the hugely successful Bazaar in April 1914.  Then came the outbreak of war in August 1914.

When in November 1914 a popular local doctor, Captain, later Lieutenant Colonel Callam of the Royal Army Medical Corps appealed for about 200 local recruits to form the new 2nd (Reserve) East Lancashire Field Ambulance Robert Hammond was one of those who responded.  The winter was spent in Southport, where Robert probably joined in the popular concerts which the unit staged under the leadership of Harry Dent, a well-known Burnley musician. In spring 1915 they were sent for final training, and then to Sussex, where in July 1915 they were informed that some of the unit were to be sent abroad. As all were keen, the lucky 70, Robert Hammond among them, were chosen by ballot, and on 30th July 1915, they   embarked from Devonport on the “Royal Edward” heading for the battlefields of Gallipoli. Harry Dent and those of his concert party who were on board, sang lustily as they sailed away.  The “Royal Edward” sailed via Malta and Alexandria and on 11th August set sail for the Island of Lemnos for trans-shipment to Gallipoli carrying a total of about 1600 officers, men and crew,.

On the morning of Friday 13th August 1915 “Royal Edward” received a direct hit from a German submarine torpedo and sank within six minutes.

One of the first rescue vessels to arrive was the British hospital ship “Soudan” which fortunately picked up more than 400 survivors.  With the help of various other vessels, eventually a total of 600 men were rescued, some having spent 6 hours in the water.

News of the disaster reached Burnley, but details of survivors and casualties were painfully slow to arrive. However, as men reached safety they wrote home, and it was eventually confirmed that 36 men of the East Lancs. Field Ambulance had perished, along with two Burnley men from other regiments. The choirmaster Harry Dent was one of those lost.  Robert Hammond of St. John’s Gannow and Lowerhouse C.C did survive.

However, once that ordeal was over, and assuming he was re-united with the 2nd/2nd ELFA he and his pals will have experienced the hell of France and then the Somme in 1917 and 1918.  “The 2nd/2nd East Lancashire Ambulance were involved in all the 66th Division’s actions and although not involved in the fighting were involved in the Front Line collecting wounded and taking them for evacuation “down the line” via regimental aid stations and Casualty Clearing Stations to Base Hospitals.” **

According to club records, Robert was back playing for Lowerhouse 2nds in 1921, and also played a few games in 1922, but his Lowerhouse playing days seem to have ended there.   Let’s hope he then had a long and happy life.

Anne Cochrane 9 11 2017

**Grateful Acknowledgement:

Having only recently come across  old newspaper reports of the Royal Edward disaster, about which I knew nothing, I bought a copy  via  the British Legion of  “Burnley and the Royal Edward Disaster, The Story of Callam’s Own”,  by Dennis Otter and Andrew Mackay. My thanks to Andrew for his help.  This contains every possible detail about the event, including contemporary accounts, photographs, casualty lists etc. and is a superb resource.  It forms the basis for this brief summary, all errors are however my own.

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