Norwich – Earlham Cemetery (Robert Love Gracie)

This is the war grave of Robert Love Gracie, buried in the older military graves area of Earlham Cemetery. Robert was a Canadian who born on 9 March 1893, the son of Elizabeth Gracie. The real story behind this post is though the excellent state of the Canadian archives, all freely accessible and with substantial documentation retained for members of their armed forces. Robert’s war records are 78 pages long and contain more information about his medical condition than anyone could perhaps ever need to know.

Robert was single and he worked as a clerk at Eaton’s department stores, living at 124 Hogarth Avenue in Toronto, a property which is still there, and he had a brother and two sisters. We know from his sign-up medical that he was 5’8″, had a dark complexion, had brown eyes, black hair and declared his religious belief to be Presbyterian. Robert was given the service number 404091 and he joined the 14th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry.

On 4 June 1915, Robert sailed from Montreal to the UK on the SS Metagama, a new cruise ship which the Canadian military had requisitioned as a troop carrier. He remained in the UK until 20 January 1916, when he sailed to Le Havre and from there he was sent to the front line with his unit on 2 February 1916.

I wonder when writing these wills what the soldiers thought, as Canada at this stage didn’t have conscription, so Robert signed up voluntarily. Robert was placed on the front line for the first time on 2 February 1916, but on 9 March 1916, he was seriously injured with shrapnel wounds to his right hand and his right leg.

He was taken to a field hospital on 9 March and an operation was undertaken and x-rays were also taken, which has survived in the archive. I don’t know what I’m looking at here to be honest, but on 13 March it was decided that Robert needed to be returned to a hospital in England.

The above is his temperature chart for the time that he was at the field hospital.

The hospital that Robert was sent to was the Norfolk War Hospital in Thorpe (St. Andrew’s Hospital) and on 15 March he was seen by the doctors there. It was noted that a shell had blown off some of his fingers and the stump of his hand had gone septic. His knee and leg were very swollen and there was a penetrating wound to the upper part of his calf.

On 16 March, the doctors noted that Robert’s leg remained very swollen, but by 19 March, although the swelling was going down, he remained in a poor condition. However, on 20 March, Robert suffered from a secondary haemorrhage and his leg was amputated at the thigh, where it was discovered that his thigh muscles were riddled with pus. Unfortunately, at 10:45 on the 20 March 1916, Robert died at the age of 23.

The authorities seemed to take care of providing a suitable burial, checking if his next of kin wanted his body returning to Canada. He was buried at Earlham Cemetery, a long way from home, at 14:30 on Friday 24 March 1916, with a contingent from the military and a bugler present.

And it’s not often that there are photos available of those who died in the First World War, but this is Robert. I don’t know why he wanted to serve in the army, whether it was because he felt it was his patriotic duty or whether he wanted adventure. But, he joined at a time when it was clear that the war wasn’t going to be over quickly and he would have been aware of the loss of lives that was taking place. Either way, he seems like a hero to me.