Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Robert Wilfred Balleine

Robert Wilfred Balleine : Photograph of Robert in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.  Reference: MR4/23/91/273

Photograph of Robert in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR4/23/91/273

Robert Wilfred Balleine : (L to R) Military Cross; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal

(L to R) Military Cross; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal

Robert was born in late January or early February 1881 in Bletchington, Oxfordshire. His father's name was George Orange and his mother was Florence. He had 3 older siblings; George Reginald, Estelle Margaret and Hilda Catherine, and two younger; Cuthbert Francis and Austin Humphrey. They were members of the Church of England.

George was Rector, or parish priest, of Bletchington when Robert was born, and the family lived at The Rectory in the village. By the time Robert was 10 George had been moved to the Channel Island of Jersey; he was now the Dean of Jersey and Rector of the capital St Helier. The family home was again provided by the Church, they lived in The Deanery in St Helier.

Robert was educated at Victoria College in Jersey before attending Pembroke College, Oxford as an Exhibitioner in 1898 to study Mathematics. He was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (BA) with 1st Class Honours in 1900. He then transferred to Wycliffe College to study Theology, gaining 2nd Class Honours in 1902.

Robert began his work for the Church of England as a Curate at St Paul's Church in Chorlton on Medlock, Manchester. He held this position from 1904 to 1906. He began as a Deacon, but in 1905 was ordained as a Priest by the Bishop of Manchester, Edmund Knox.

As he was a graduate of Oxford University Robert became eligible for the title Master of Arts (MA) in 1906. This was the same year that he became a Curate at St Paul's Church in Astley Bridge, near Bolton in Lancashire. Robert only worked here for one year; he was appointed Domestic Chaplain to the Bishop of Manchester, still Edmund Knox, in 1907.

Robert's job now was to support the Bishop in his work, both as a priest and as an assistant. He held this position for 3 years, and Robert must have made a good impression on Edmund Knox, because he was made an Honorary Chaplain for the rest of Knox's time in office.

In 1910 Robert became the Diocesan Inspector of Schools in the Manchester Diocese. He did not inspect schools educational standards, his job was to decide how effective they were as church schools, and to make sure a Christian ethos was maintained. He held this job until the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. Robert lived with his sister Estelle at 'Breeze Mount' on Holden Street in Kersal, Manchester during this period.

In the early months of the First World War the Army expanded massively. The Army would need more than the 117 Chaplains on its strength at the outbreak of war. Ultimately almost 3500 Chaplains would serve in the Army, and Robert would be one of them. He was appointed as an Acting Chaplain to the Forces 4th Class (equivalent to the rank of Captain) on Saturday 12th September 1914. During this time Manchester was raising its 'Pals' Battalions, and Robert was appointed Chaplain to the 1st City Brigade, made up of the 1st - 4th City Battalions. These would later become the 90th Infantry Brigade and the 16th - 19th Battalions of the Manchester Regiment.

Robert trained with the Brigade at Heaton Park in Manchester until April 1915; Belton Park near Grantham, Lincolnshire until September and at Larkhill, Wiltshire until the Brigade was ordered to sail for France on the 9th November 1915. Despite being the Senior Chaplain to the Forces in the 30th Division Robert had not impressed all of his new comrades during their time in the UK. Lieutenant Thomas Nash of the 16th Battalion thought he had 'seemed rather a wash-out'. As a Chaplain Robert was only engaged by the Army for 12 months at a time. He signed a contract just before he sailed to France; then again in September 1916, 1917 and 1918.

Once the 16th Battalion took its place in the trenches in December Thomas quickly changed his opinion of Robert: 'Day after day he went round the front line sniped at and shelled like the rest of us but never turning a hair. His pockets bulged with packets of cigarettes for the troops and he had a cheery word for everyone'. Other than his position as a religious leader, this sort of friendship and morale- enhancing support was the main role of a Chaplain in the front line.

On the 1st July 1916 the 16th Battalion took part in the first day of the Somme Offensive. They attacked towards the village of Montauban, and captured it, taking heavy casualties. Robert had moved forwards behind the infantry to help recover casualties with Doctor Fletcher, the Battalion Medical Officer. The 16th Battalion held off German counter attacks and at the end of the 2nd July it was relieved and returned to the British lines. Thomas Nash recorded what happened next: 'the Padre (Chaplain) said: 'Boys - I know you are fagged out, but there are still many wounded lying out. I want some of you to help me to get them in'. And they stood up to a man'.

Robert stayed with the 16th Battalion throughout the fierce fighting of the rest of the Battle of the Somme, which ended in November 1916, and then into 1917. On the 11th May he wrote to Thomas Nash, who had been sent back to the UK for treatment, telling him about the attack the Battalion had just engaged in. They both mourned their lost friends and comrades; in Robert's words it was 'heartrending to see one after another of the links with the original days disappear...'

Robert's own turn to disappear came in July, when a letter from Wilfrith Elstob to Hubert Worthington noted that 'Balleine is leaving us'. (Both men's medals are in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection). He was sent to the II Corps School. We don't know what Robert's job was in this role, but the fundamentals would have been the same as when he served with the 16th Battalion.

In Thomas Nash's opinion Robert had 'again and again' proven himself to be 'one of the bravest men in the Battalion', and on the 1st January 1918 this bravery was recognised when Robert was awarded the Military Cross. There is no citation recording that the medal was awarded for a specific act of bravery, but Robert's obituary in the Regimental Gazette states that it was for his gallantry on the Somme.

At some point after this time Robert was promoted to Chaplain to the Forces 3rd Class, equivalent to the rank of Major. This may have been connected to Robert's new position as Senior Chaplain to the Forces (SCF) for the 9th Division, which he took on the 24th October 1918. The Division did not see any fighting before the war ended on the 11th November, but it then crossed into Germany and formed part of the occupation force. By February 1919 Robert had impressed his superiors. The Assistant Chaplain General of the 2nd Army reported that he was 'A capable chaplain. Has rendered good services as SCF 9th Division in face of difficulties'.

Robert returned to the UK on the 21st April 1919 and left the Army on the 8th November. He remained an Honorary Chaplain to the Forces. We don't know many details about Robert's life after the war. His first post-war job was as Rector of Heaton Mersey, near Stockport, Manchester. He held this job until 1924 when he became the Incumbent vicar of St Crispin's in Withington, Manchester. After 6 years Robert said goodbye to St Crispin's and Manchester when he became the Vicar and master of Temple Balsall Hospital in Solihull, near Birmingham. He held this position between 1931 and 1936 when he moved further south and east to become Vicar of the small village of Hemingford Abbotts in what was then Huntingdonshire and is now Cambridgeshire.

Robert reached the age of 65 in 1946, and in this year he left Hemingford Abbotts, so it is very likely he retired. His address in 1949 was Crosby Cottage, St Helen's, Isle of Wight, but we believe he had been living there from 1947, when he received permission to officiate in the Diocese of Portsmouth.

Robert never married and died on the 20th August 1951 in Finsbury, London. He was 70 years old. His medals were presented to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in 1973.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council