Friends of the Somme - Mid Ulster Branch  
8016   Lance Corporal Robert Lawless
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Dated added: 30/12/2015   Last updated: 01/05/2020
Personal Details
Regiment/Service: 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (British Army)
Died: 16/05/1915 (Killed in Action)
Age: 30
Robert Lawless was the son of John and Margaret Lawless. He was one of four children from his father’s first marriage. Robert’s mother died when he was six. His father remarried. The family lived in Church Street, Cookstown. Robert was a butler for a time. His father was a mechanic. Lance Corporal Robert Lawless was serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers when he was killed in action on Sunday 16th May 1915 on the first night of the Battle of Festubert.
Further Information
Robert Lawless was the second son of John and Margaret Lawless. John Lawless married Margaret Sloan on 15th July 1883 in the district of Cookstown.
Robert Lawless was born in Cookstown about 1886. He was one of four children from his father’s first marriage.
Family 1: John Lawless, Margaret Lawless, John Lawless (born 11th May 1884), Robert Lawless (born about 1886), Bridget Lawless (born 21st October 1887), George Lawless (born 19th March 1890, died 15th March 1891).
Robert’s mother, Margaret Lawless, died on 30th October 1892 in Cookstown, age 30. Robert was about six years old.
Robert’s father remarried. John Lawless married Mary Swinerton / Livingston on 7th January 1893 in the district of Cookstown. They went on to have four more children.
Family 2: John Lawless, Mary Lawless, Joseph Lawless (born 20th January 1894), Mary Elizabeth Lawless (born 10th January 1896), Alice Maud Lawless (born 10th February 1897), Patrick Lawless (born 24th June 1900).
The 1901 census lists Robert as age 15, living with the family at 48 Church Street, Cookstown. Robert was working as a carder in a mill. His father was a factory engineer.
Church Street, Cookstown
The 1911 census lists Robert as age 25, living with the family at 78 Church Street. Robert was a butler. His father was a mechanic.
Robert Lawless was a leading member of Cookstown Whites Football Club.
Robert was working and living in Belfast and enlisted in Cookstown at the outbreak of war.
Medal card
Robert Lawless was a close friend of Private John McCaffrey and was often referred to in Private McCaffrey’s letters.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 29th May 1915: Cookstown Footballer’s Halloweve
Lance Corporal Robert Lawless, Inniskilling Fusiliers, a leading member of Cookstown Whites F.C., writing to a chum on 13th May, says:-
‘I received your letter with the greatest pleasure, also a parcel of cigarettes, which were gratefully appreciated. You refer to my gallant deeds. I have done my share as fat as lay in my power, thank God. I was once very nearly in the hands of the brutes – as everyone calls them. On Halloweve day we got orders to advance to take the village of Messines, supported by the London Scottish, who, as you may have read, got the full praise. My company ( c ) where ordered to drive the enemy out of their trenches, which we did up to 9pm. My officer then ordered me to take my section and take a trench occupied by the Huns on our left front. As we advanced I heard great shouting coming from the trench to which we were advancing. I was not feeling happy, advancing with only twelve men, but was surprised and delighted to find only dead Huns in the trench, and the noise being made by two of our own native troops ‘Sioux’, who had been wounded. On had a bad wound in the leg and the other a bayonet trust in his breast. We threw the dead out of the trench and prepared to occupy it ourselves, but an order came for us to retire again to the village of Messines, which was only 100 yards back. We left the London Scottish in possession of the village and surroundings, for which they got the praise, but it was the old ‘Skins who paved the way for them. Most of the regiment were employed bringing up the wounded Huns and native troops into the village. I and three men were left in charge of the wounded Germans until the Medical corps could get them away. There were many wounded and the ambulance had to come up three or four times to get them all away. They left two on my hands at the last, and has daylight had come the ambulance could not come up again, and I had got orders to join my company again before daylight. They were lying on the right of the village where they had slipped into a better position during the night. My men and the two wounded prisoners were having a meal in a house when I heard the sound of running feet. It was the London Scottish tearing through the village with a whole horde of Huns on their heels. When the men, the prisoners and I came out, I was frightened to see so many of the enemy only fifty yards distant and coming towards us. I was sure all of us would be captured, bout owing to our having treated the prisoners well, we escaped. The prisoners shouted something to the advancing Huns, who did not fire at us, although they could easily have riddled the lot of us. As you know I can run fairly well on the football field, but I never ran as I did that morning. I could have beaten the one-time Willie Roy. Still, it was three hours before I rejoined my company. Soon after, the Huns were driven back again through the village by other troops, I think French, as we were relieved that day. That’s how I cracked my nuts on Halloweve; not exactly as I wanted them cracked.
If I come across a handy souvenir I will send it home to you. They are easily got when we are advancing, but at present we are at a standstill. But before long, and with the help of Carson’s Army, we should surely shift them. There is great fighting going on here at present, but I cannot say where. If the people of Ireland saw how the chapels are smashed to the ground as I have seen them. Where we are at present there is a little chapel and graveyard and it is a pitiful sight. I saw a grave yesterday where a child of 20 months old was buried in a vault. A ‘Jack Johnston’ blew up the vault, grave and all the remains of the child were scattered all about. The chapel is like the ruins of some old building of long ages ago. The statues of our Lord are lying about with legs and arms smashed to atoms. You speak of the poison gas by the Huns. It is terrible to behold the sight of men lying dead with not a mark on them. Let your letter be thrice as long as the last. Go on the Whites!’
Lance Corporal Robert Lawless was serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers when he was killed in action on Sunday 16th May 1915 on the first night of the Battle of Festubert.
Private James Shields, who took part in the attack, was home on leave soon after and told Robert’s family that he had seen him fall in action but had not seen or heard from him since.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 3rd July 1915: Cookstown Casualties
Mr John Lawless, Church Street, has received official information from the War Office that his son, 8016 Lance Corporal Robert Lawless, 2nd Battalion Inniskilling Fusiliers, is reported missing since 16th May. Private Shields, who was in the same engagement, and who is at present home on furlough, says that he saw Lawless fall, but neither saw nor heard of him afterwards.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 25th September 1915:
The war trophies on view in our office this week include the white metal badge from the helmet of a Bavarian officer who ventured too near the British lines and was shot by Corporal Lawless of the 2nd Inniskillings, who was on picket duty. He secured the badge and sent it home to his father, Mr John Lawless, of Church Street, Cookstown, who has lent it in order that the townspeople may see it and perhaps some of them will be inspired to do likewise. Another new exhibit this week consists of two fifteen pounder Boer shells which were used in 1899 during the Boer campaign. They were brought here by Sergeant Henry Devlin, Coagh Street, of the Royal Field Artillery, who has been out in France and is at present home on holidays and had very narrow escapes. He has also left on view a clip of five live cartridges as used in the Lee-Metford service rifle.
Lance Corporal Robert Lawless has no known grave and is commemorated on Le Touret Memorial in France.
Lance Corporal Robert Lawless is also commemorated on Cookstown Cenotaph.
The CWGC record Lance Corporal Robert Lawless as the son of John Lawless of Church Street, Cookstown, County Tyrone.
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Relevant Cookstown Area Locations
No Location Region Location Notes Longtitude Latitude
1 Church Street Cookstown South Census listing in Church Street 54.636708 -6.743427
References and Links
No Link Reference Map Doc
1 1901 Census lists Lawless family 1901 census lists Robert as age 15, living with the family at 48 Church Street, Cookstown
2 1911 Census lists Lawless family 1911 census lists Robert as age 25, living with the family at 78 Church Street
3 National Archives UK Medal card can be purchased here
4 Private John McCaffrey Friend of Lance Corporal Robert Lawless
Cookstown District's War Dead Acknowledgements 2010-2020