The son of Thomas and Elizabeth Metcalfe, Bob was born at Rishton in 1896. Shortly after celebrating his 19th birthday, he left his work as a labourer at Foxhill Bank Print Works in Oswaldtwistle to enlist in the army on 24th June 1915. Bob was unmarried at the time, and was living with his mother at 376 Manchester Road, Baxenden. Posted to the 11th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment (Accrington Pals) with the number 20997, Bob was sent first to join the battalion's depot (reserve) at Chadderton Camp, near Oldham.
On 30th November, Bob was posted to join the main body of the Accrington Pals, which by this time was stationed at Hurdcott Camp, near Salisbury. Less than three weeks later, the battalion embarked at Devonport for the voyage to Egypt, where the Pals spent three months building up the Suez Canal defences before moving to France to take part in the opening day of the Somme Offensive at Serre. Bob survived the fateful day unscathed, and was promoted to Acting Lance Corporal two weeks later as the battalion returned to the trenches in the Neuve Chapelle sector. It was from here that Bob was invalided home after being wounded in both arms by shrapnel on 14th August. From remarks made in the regimental history, it seems likely that he was caught in the explosion of a trench-mortar bomb:
"The defensive system of this sector, at this time, consisted chiefly of sand-bagged parapets, generally without parados, dug-outs were non-existent and the only overhead cover was merely splinter-proof and afforded no protection from hostile activity which took the form of frequent trench-mortar bombardments."
Five days after being wounded, Bob was hospitalized at Colchester in Essex.
On returning to service in November 1916, Bob was posted to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment at Plymouth, and remained with them until the spring of 1918.
The severity of Bob's wounds is evident from his transfer to the 25th (Garrison Guard) Battalion, The King's (Liverpool Regiment) on 24th April 1918, the battalion being largely composed of men who were considered unfit for active service either because of age or owing to poor health. In the wake of the German offensives of spring 1918, these men too were needed on the Western Front; on 6th May 1918, the battalion's 37 officers and 1,062 other ranks embarked at Dover for France.
The battalion was first sent to Estrée-Cauchy, 10½ miles (17km) north-west of Arras where it remained - "mainly digging" according to the regimental history - for five weeks. By now the decision had been taken to use the 25th King's to help reconstitute 59th (2nd North Midland) Division, a task for which just two weeks training in a quiet part of the front was considered to be sufficient. On 16th June, the battalion moved to Laires to form part of 176th Brigade (59th Division). A fever epidemic broke out on arrival which afflicted practically the whole battalion, and it was 3rd July before training could be resumed. Six days later, the 25th King's moved 7 miles (11km) to Hestrus, and it was during its stay here that 'Garrison Guard' was dropped from the battalion's title.
The 25th King's moved up to the trenches for the first time as a full battalion in the late evening of 25th July at Bretencourt, 5 miles (8.5km) south-west of Arras. The battalion suffered its first casualty in action when one man was wounded by shellfire on the way up to the line. On the 28th, the 25th King's made its first contact with the enemy during a patrol into No Man's Land. This first tour in the trenches was followed by a quiet spell which lasted until early August.
The month of August saw the 25th King's engaged in relatively uneventful tours of duty in the line in the Mercatel Sector, south of Arras. At the end of the month, the battalion moved to St. Floris where it began to play its part in one of the British Army's outstanding achievements, the 'Hundred Days' advance to victory.
On 3rd September, the 25th King's moved into the front line at Lestrem, pushing forward over the following two days to reach the hamlet of le Tilleloy, east of Laventie, on the 5th. The regimental history records that over the three days before the battalion was relieved on the 7th, it suffered casualties of 3 officers wounded, 8 other ranks killed and 31 other ranks wounded or missing. After a spell in Divisional Reserve at la Gorgue, the 25th King's returned to the line east of Laventie on the 29th, taking part in a successful minor operation on 2nd October which resulted in the capture of Two Trees Farm; 1 officer and 2 other ranks were killed in the action, with a further 6 officers and 32 other ranks wounded. The battalion was relieved on the 3rd, and moved to Erquinghem where it remained until the 17th.
In the few remaining weeks of the war, the 25th King's joined the rapid advance eastwards. Leaving Chapelle d'Armentières at dawn on 18th October, the battalion reached St. André at 1pm, and Wasquehal at 6pm. By dawn the following day, the battalion had marched to Hem where it formed the advance guard to 176th Brigade. On the 20th, the not-inconsiderable barrier of the Schelde (Escaut) river was reached. The Official History describes how the river was crossed by the 25th King's on the 21st:
"The leading troops of the 57th and 59th Divisions, already close to the Schelde, met with very determined opposition, and, although well supported by divisional artillery and by some counter-battery work, could make little progress, owing to fire from a convent, over which the Red Cross flag was flying, and its enclosures. In the 59th Division three men of the 36/Northumberland Fusiliers (178th Bde) managed to cross by the destroyed bridge at Pont à Chin, but a passage by daylight in any strength was out of the question. An officer of the 11/R. Scots Fusiliers (178th Bde) also crossed by the ruins of the bridge and fastened a strong telephone wire to an enemy floating bridge lying alongside the eastern bank, fifty yards upstream. It was gradually pulled into position and several men crossed by it; but an enemy light signal soon brought down heavy artillery fire on Pont à Chin. A chain lying between steps on each bank of the river was discovered at Esquelmes and a ferry was rigged up with a pontoon; but the men of the 25/King's (176th Bde) who crossed could not proceed far over the marshy ground on the eastern bank, in which they were waist deep in water."
In crossing the river, the 25th King's suffered casualties of 2 officers wounded - one of whom died of his wounds two days later - 1 other rank killed, and 25 other ranks wounded.
The battalion was relieved on the 22nd and went back to billets in Toufflers before rejoining the advance. On 11th November, the 25th King's received word at Velaines that the war was over.
Corporal Bob Metcalfe was discharged from the 25th King's (Liverpool Regiment) on 20th February 1919. He married Dora Farrar in 1922, and lived to the age of 72 before his death in 1968.
Andrew C Jackson 2003
Compiled from the army service record of Robert Metcalfe (TNA document WO363/M1749), "The History of the King's Regiment (Liverpool) Volume III 1917-1919" by Edward Wyrall, "Military Operations France and Belgium 1918 Vol III" compiled by Brig.-Gen. Sir James E. Edmonds, "Military Operations France and Belgium 1918 Vol V" compiled by Brig.-Gen. Sir James E. Edmonds & Lt.-Col. R. Maxwell-Hyslop,
and with the kind help of Bob Metcalfe's grand-daughter Cathy Sharp.