Mystery of Pte Callister’s Great War medal solved

Private Robert Callister

Private Robert Callister

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The mystery of a First World War medal has been solved.

An appeal to trace the relatives of Private Robert Callister, killed during a German offensive on the Somme in 1918, was launched after his medal was dropped off at the Manx Aviation and Military Museum.

First World War medal issued to Private Robert Callister of Baldine which has been donated to the Manx Aivation and Military Museum

First World War medal issued to Private Robert Callister of Baldine which has been donated to the Manx Aivation and Military Museum

Museum director Ivor Ramsden said: ‘Thanks to the article which appeared in the Manx Independent the lady who donated the mystery medal telephoned me. She is Mrs Frances Crellin of Crosby. Unfortunately she couldn’t tell me much. She found the medal amongst her late mother’s effects some years ago. She knew it belonged to her mother’s uncle but that was all.

‘The media coverage resulted in my being contacted by two other relatives of Robert. One, Elizabeth Humphries, lives here and the other, her cousin Margaret Crellin, lives in the Wirral and sent me a photo of him. They told me that he was one of 11 children, originally from Onchan but later living in Baldrine.’

Ivor’s own research at the i-Museum found that Robert had worked for farmer John Kelly of Baldromma before joining the army either in late 1915 or early 1916. He might have been a milk roundsman because his employer was advertising for a young man to do this job late in 1915 and it may be that this was due to Robert’s joining up.

He was in France with the Cheshire Regiment early in 1916, was wounded in June 1917 and came home to the island on leave over new year 1917-1918.

Private Callister was killed on March 21 1918 which was the first day of a major German assault in an attempt to force a hole in the British lines. This was at the town of St Quentin near the Somme river where, in 1916, terrible loss of life had occurred.

The German advance in March 1918 was the start of a second series of battles in the Somme area which lasted until the summer in which some 15,000 British troops died. Of these, many have no known grave.

Robert was initially posted as missing but his body was found at some later stage and he was identified and buried.

Ivor said: ‘He may have been killed outright, or possibly wounded and captured, later dying of his wounds – we shall probably never know. After the war many soldiers who had been buried in isolated graves on the battlefields were collected together and he was moved to a small cemetery at Assevilers, a small village near Peronne, where he is with some 800 of his comrades. Some 40 per cent of these men are unidentified.’

He added: ‘For me, two good things have come out of this. Firstly we have brought Robert back to the attention of people for the first time in nearly a century and second, I was able to tell Robert’s great-niece Margaret Crellin (I think that’s her relationship) that he had a grave. She had previously thought that he had no grave but now she is planning to visit him.

‘Like most soldiers who served at the front, Robert was awarded the victory medal and the war medal. His mother would also have received a bronze plaque marked with his name. A round metal commemorative disc from his grateful country, given in exchange for a life. It’s not much, is it?

‘I would love to know what happened to his silver war medal and the commemorative plaque, and to be able to get them all together once again. Even if I can’t, we will be telling Robert’s story in our First World War exhibition at the museum next August.’

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