Robert William Franklin was born on 9th March 1894, one of four children to Alfred and Annie Franklin. Alfred was Australian, who had settled in England in his teens and settled in Woolwich, London, to marry and raise his family. It was not long, however, before the family upped and moved to Greenock, Scotland.
There is little information available about Robert’s early life, but in 1913 he enlisted in the Royal Navy, and served for three years. His enrolment papers show that he was 5ft 4.5ins (1.64m) tall, had auburn hair and brown eyes. He was also noted has having a scar on his abdomen and had been working as an appliance fitter.
Details of his initial service are not readily available, although a later newspaper report suggests that he “was with the Naval Division at the siege of Antwerp [October 1914] and served through the Gallipoli campaign” [Daily Record: Saturday 8th September 1917].
Able Seaman Franklin was transferred to the Royal Naval Reserve in April 1916, and was based at HMS President – the London shore-based establishment. However, he had moved to The Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent – also known as HMS Pembroke – by the end of July 1917.
The Dockyard was particularly busy that summer, and the large number of extra servicemen meant that Robert was billeted in temporary accommodation in Chatham Drill Hall.
On the 3rd September 1917, the first night air raid carried out by the German Air Force bombarded the town, and scored a direct hit on the Drill Hall; Leading Seaman Franklin was among those killed instantly. He was just 23 years of age.
Robert William Franklin was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham.