Robert John Pearce Anstey, a member of the Bradninch Ansteys, was born in Thorverton in 1892 to parents Henry Thomas Stone Anstey and Harriet Hannah Pearce. He was younger brother to fellow Anstey Heroes Sydney Robert Henry Anstey and Bertie Stone Anstey.
Robert grew up in Thorverton and later Topsham after his father died in 1897, living at Fore Street, Topsham in the 1901 Census. We cannot locate him in the 1911 Census but in 1912 he became a postman in Newton Abbot. A year later in 1913 he married Daisy Willcocks in Bickington – the ‘Western Times‘ on 17 April 1913 reported “A pretty wedding was solemnised at St Mary’s Church, Bickington on Saturday last between Miss Daisy Willcocks, daughter of Mr and Mrs J. Willcocks of the Post Office, Bickington, and Mr R. J. P. Anstey, youngest son of the late Mr and Mrs H. Anstey of Topsham. The bride wore a charming dress of cream cloth with hat to match, trimmed with orange blossom. Mr Willcocks, father of the bride, gave her away…“
Robert signed up for active service right at the outset of World War One, in July 1914 with the Royal Army Medical Corps (Service Number: 2220). Even though we cannot locate any of his Service Records, we can get a very good idea of his war story from newspaper reports in which he is mentioned, including a letter he wrote to his wife from the front line.
In the ‘Western Times‘ newspaper on 1 January 1915 appears “In a letter – written on Christmas Day – to his wife at Newton Abbot, Pte. R. J. Anstey, of the R.A.M. Corps, who is with the Expeditionary Force in France, says he is in the pink of condition, despite all hardships. He relates an exciting incident. ‘A short while since the Germans bombarded the town of B—- and for two hours it simply rained ‘Jack Johnsons.’ The writer was standing near the hospital when a shell burst against the wall, knocking a big portion of the building down. He was ordered to take some wounded men into the cellar of a house close by and dress their wounds. A little later a shell knocked the corner of this house away, blowing men, who were standing there, to pieces. Picks and spades were handed down to them in the cellar so that, in the event of the house being knocked down, they might have the chance of digging themselves out. ‘We were like rats in a cage waiting for death,’ wrote Private Anstey. But the house was not hit again. The town was partly destroyed including the church. Many civilians were killed. They were now in dugouts and as happy as mudlarks, although they had been blown out of several places. All were in the best of spirits.“
Then in the ‘Western Times‘ on 19 May 1915 appears “Private R. J. Anstey R. A. M. C 1st Somerset Light Infantry, was slightly wounded in the left hand by shrapnel on the 28th of April, after being in the firing line for over nine months and was sent back to a base hospital. He has just recovered from his wound and is being sent back for duty on an ambulance train. He has only a scar left which in writing home to his wife at Bickington he says is a scar of honour. He also informs her that he had several narrow escapes with his life during the nine months he has been at the front. His many friends wish him a safe return“. The ‘Exeter and Plymouth Gazette‘, reporting the same incident, added that he was “youngest son of Mrs H. Anstey Club House, Fore Street” and the wound occurred “in the Battle of Ypres“.
We also know that for his services, Robert was awarded the 1914 Star “with clasp of Roses“, as well as the Victory and British War Medals.
So it is clear from the above that Robert was one of the very earliest soldiers fighting in France with the British Expeditionary Force, certainly “serving under fire or operating within range of enemy mobile artillery in France during the period between 5 August and 22 November 1914“ (because of the 1914 Star clasp), which confirms that he very likely took part in the First Battle of Ypres in early November 1914. Robert was then slightly wounded during the early days of the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915 (where was seen the first mass use of poison gas by Germany on Allied soldiers), having already survived numerous life threatening situations.
After the war was over, Robert returned to live in Bickington. In 1919 Robert and Daisy had a daughter Doreen D. Anstey, born in Newton Abbot; to our knowledge this was their only child. In 1926, Robert was the executor of the will of Henry George Pearce. In 1930 the family were living at 8 Prince Cottage, Bickington, and by the time of the 1939 Register they were living at 2 Princes Cottages, Bickington – Robert was by now an “assistant inspector of postmen“.
Robert died in 1950 at the National Hospital, Queen Square, Holborn, London – he was living at 2 Princes Cottages, Bickington at the time of his death. Probate was in 1951 to his widow Daisy Anstey. The ‘Western Times‘ on 15 December 1950 reported “PASSED ON: Mr Robert J. Anstey aged 58 of Princes Cottage, Bickerton, Newton Abbot, has died in a London hospital. Mr Anstey was a Post Office inspector, former member of the British Legion, and a school manager.”
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