Robert Harold Anstey, known as Harold, a member of the Chew Magna Ansteys, was born in 1887 in Barton Regis to parents Robert Anstey and Elizabeth Mary Tomkins. He was brother to fellow Anstey Heroes Gilbert Tomkins Anstey, Joseph Anstey, Daniel Anstey and Alfred Tomkins Anstey.
In the 1911 Census, Harold was living with his family at Brynland Avenue Bishopston Bristol; he was a “Warehouseman wholesale drapery” by trade. Within days of the outbreak of World War One Harold, together with two of his brothers, signed up as a Private to the 12th Gloucester Regiment, Bristol’s Own Pals Battalion (Service Number: 15986 – some sources say ‘13986’).
After a period of intermittent training, on 23 June 1915 Harold and the 12th Gloucesters left Bristol to join 95th Brigade at Wensley, North Yorkshire. He landed at Boulogne, France on 21 November 1915 and by 28 November 1915 he was at Ailly-le-Haut-Clocher, north of the River Somme. Harold and the 12th Gloucesters had their first taste of front line warfare on 6 December 1915 when they moved into a section of trenches thick with mud at Maricourt.
Harold fought in the Battle of the Somme, commencing 1 July 1916. At the end of July 1916, he was in the front line near Longueval where he would have experienced heavy shelling, with high explosive, shrapnel and gas. The ‘Gloucester Journal‘ 02 September 1916 reported “Wounded Gloucester Regiment 13986 Lce Corp R. H. Anstey Bristol” and as far as we know the entry “A. Anstey (Svc Nbr: 13986) Lance Corporal with the 12th Gloucesters when he received a gunshot wound to the head and was admitted to 14th Field Ambulance on 24 July 1916” is also Harold, despite the incorrect initial.
Due to the extraordinary depletion of the 12th Gloucester Regiment through injuries and deaths, Harold was promoted to Temporary Second Lieutenant on 13 October 1917. A month later, presumably while on leave, he married Sister Lilly Poole. The ‘Western Daily Press‘ on 15 November 1917 reported “ANSTEY – POOLE: On 12 November 1917 at Horfield Baptist Church by Capt R. C. Griffin C. S. , 2nd Lieut Robert Harold Anstey Glos Regt, son of Mr and Mrs Robert Anstey, to Sister Lilly Poole, Q.A.N.S.B, daughter of Mr Thomas Poole, Bristol“.
However he was soon back in action as the ‘Gloucester Journal‘ 20 April 1918 reported that “Second Lieutenant R. H. Anstey [was] wounded” – though clearly not seriously.
The 12th Gloucesters (Bristol’s Own) were involved in the second Somme offensive (part of the Hundred Days Offensive) which was launched on 20 August 1918 over a 34 mile front retaking Albert and Bapaume. It was on this day that Harold’s heroic actions earned him a Military Cross.
‘The Gazette‘ dated 10 January 1919 gave details of his actions. “Gazette Issue 31119. M.C. The King has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Military Cross to this Officer [Temporary 2nd Lieutenant Robert Harold Anstey attached to the 12th Battalion, Gloucester Regiment] for conspicuous gallantry and dashing leadership during an enemy counter-attack. He was sent forward with a patrol to get information. He got behind the enemy line and charged them from behind, killing a number and causing 180 to surrender. During his advance he had moved across ground swept by machine-gun fire. By his splendid performance he broke up the counter-attack.“
Three days later Harold was in action again. According to Wikipedia “On 23 August 1918, reinforced by two companies of 1st DCLI, the 12th Gloucesters launched an attack at Gonnelieu between the Canal du Nord and the St Quentin Canal at 11.00 behind a creeping barrage to capture the railway line itself. The Germans had numerous machine gun nests along it and caused numerous casualties before they were overrun. Having lost the barrage, the battalion was unable to advance beyond the ridge to Irles, and requested reinforcements. Before they arrived, the neighbouring brigade attacked, so Lt-Col Colt led a charge by the remainder of 12th Gloucesters and the DCLI companies to capture the village, though losses were heavy: 30 men were killed and nine officers and 170 men wounded, including Lt-Col Colt (who was awarded the DSO)“
Harold was seriously wounded during that attack on 23 August 1918, receiving a “Gunshot wound to his left shoulder.” He was taken “from 49th Field Ambulance to No. 32 Ambulance Train“, then on 9 September 1918 it was announced that he was entitled to wear a ‘Wound Stripe‘.
For his services, Harold also received the 1914/15 Star, Victory and British War Medals. At some point after receiving his Military Cross he was promoted to Lieutenant, because the ‘Western Daily Press‘ newspaper on 05 November 1920 reported that during a major ceremony in Bristol “the 12th Battalion colours were carried by Lieut R. H. Anstey M. C. ”
After the war ended, Harold and Lilly moved to Hastings in Sussex and had children Robert Poole Anstey (b 1920, known as Rob); Margaret Anstey (b 1928); and Elizabeth R. Anstey (b 1932). By the time of the 1939 Register, Harold and Lilly were living at 26 Hamilton Road, Harrow – he was a “Civil Servant And Inspector Of Clothing“. He was still a civil servant in Harrow in 1952 when he was co-executor to his father‘s will.
Harold died in Hastings in 1968; he was living at 66 Middle Road in Hastings at the time.
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