Robert John Rae: Revisited

In a LittleKnownLeaves first, I am actively revisiting an ancestor I have already learned and blogged about. Fear not, I have very good reason to! This coming week, I am visiting my great-aunt so have been reviewing my tree and searching for any missing clues on Ancestry that I can pass on to her. In particular, I looked at Robert John Rae as he was my great-aunt’s father.

Robert, like his father before him, was a ploughman. When World War in broke out in 1914, he was around 18 years old. His age meant he was required to sign up to the army to aid British war efforts, however his job was one of the few that meant he could apply to stay at home to continue working since farming the land was still necessary to provide food for those who remained at home. Robert, for whatever reason, decided not to apply for exemption and signed up. This was all the information I learned from his daughter, my great-aunt, earlier this year. Having previously searched Ancestry for any war records for him, I accepted that was all I may ever really know. I already knew from the fact that I am here today he came home, married, had a family, and continued in a job he apparently enjoyed. Really, what more could I ask for? I thought I’d have another cheeky look on Ancestry just to double-check what I had and ta-da – a little dancing leaf! (On Ancestry, a little leaf appears beside a relative’s name when Ancestry has a hint for users to review. The hint may be a record or link to another family tree to add to your own tree.) There it was – Robert’s war enlistment record, along with several pages of notes about where he served, furlough granted and other relevant notes regarding his service. It made for some very interesting and some very proud reading.

Robert enlisted in November 1915, a month shy of his 20th birthday and just a week before eldest brother died, as a driver for what appears to be his local artillery regiment. Already it is clear that Robert was facing a difficult time. Just over a year after enlisting, Robert was promoted. He would be promoted twice more during his military service. He was posted within the UK and France and in 1918, the final year of the war, he joined his comrades in Dunkirk for the final push for victory. While in Dunkirk, his younger brother, William, died from wounds sustained during war. With no furlough noted, I can assume he was unable to return home to mourn his brother’s passing with his family. Finally, Robert was in Germany for a short time before being fully demobilised in May 1919, almost 4 years after he first signed up.

Robert John Rae WW1

Robert volunteered to serve. I have to remind myself that he showed incredible bravery and actively volunteered to serve his country. One year after returning home, Robert married my great-grandmother Margaret. Less than a year later, their first child, a son, was born. They named him William, after Robert’s fallen brother. It is only when I see all the little pieces of his life together I realise how amazing Robert must have been. His hard work translated into ploughing medals and multiple military promotions. When rewarded after war with his family, he honoured the brother he lost so close to the end of war. Looking past numbers and records is exactly why I began this blogging project. I want to know my ancestors stories and understanding Robert’s story makes me incredibly proud to be part of his family tree.


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