Robert Anderson was born on 4th September 1889, one of ten children – of whom tragically only three survived – to James and Emily Anderson. James was a storekeeper from Belfast, who had moved his family to Preston, Lancashire, but who had subsequently moved them back to Northern Ireland after Robert had been born.
In 1911, while working as a town labourer, Robert had met and married Rebecca Barkley; the couple went on to have to children, Mary and Agnes.
War was coming to Europe, however, and Robert was keen to play his part. He enlisted in the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles and, according to a subsequent newspaper report, saw action at Mons and the Marne early in the conflict.
The Belfast Evening Telegraph reported that “He completed his time, and instead of re-enlisting in the Army, he joined the Navy.” [Thursday 4th October 1917] Given that Robert enlisted in the Royal Navy in the autumn of 1915, this raises the question of how he left the army at the height of the conflict, particularly given that the same report suggests that he had come through the major battles “unscathed“.
Either way, Private Anderson made the move to Stoker 2nd Class on 10th November 1915. He record show that he stood 5ft 5.5ins (1.66m) tall, had fair hair, brown eyes and a fresh complexion. On his arms he sported a number of tattoos; a lady, crossed flags and a ship on his right, and his initials on the left.
Robert’s first posting was HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham, Kent, where he received a couple of months’ training. He was then assigned to HMS Egremont, also known as Fort St Angelo in Birgu, Malta, where he spent a couple of months. Stoker Anderson then returned to England, serving at HMS Victory, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth, and gaining a promotion to Stoker 1st Class in the process.
By August 1917, he had returned to HMS Pembroke. 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; Stoker 1st Class Anderson was among those killed instantly. He was a day short of his 28th birthday.
Robert Anderson was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham.