BICKFORD, Robert John

Service Number: 1518
Enlisted: 8 April 1915
Last Rank: Corporal
Last Unit: 21st Infantry Battalion
Born: Redesdale, Victoria, Australia, May 1884
Home Town: Ravenswood, Greater Bendigo, Victoria
Schooling: Ravenswood State School, Victoria, Australia
Occupation: Labourer
Died: Wounds, 1st Anzac Medical Dressing Station in Becordel-Becourt, France, 12 January 1917
Cemetery: Dartmoor Cemetery
Plot I, Row F, Grave 2, Dartmoor Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt, Picardie, France
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Ravenswood State School Honour Roll
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World War 1 Service

8 Apr 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 1518, 21st Infantry Battalion
28 Jun 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 1518, 21st Infantry Battalion, HMAT A35 Berrima
17 Aug 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 1518, 21st Infantry Battalion, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli
23 Aug 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 1518, 21st Infantry Battalion, Mouquet Farm
1 Sep 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Corporal, 21st Infantry Battalion
15 Sep 1916: Honoured Mention in Dispatches, Mouquet Farm, For excellent work as Lewis Gunner during the operations of the Bde in France since March 1916. Also conspicuous gallantry under heavy fire at Mouquet Farm.
12 Jan 1917: Wounded AIF WW1, Corporal, SN 1518, 21st Infantry Battalion, Trones Wood, France. SW to groin & abdomen. Died of wounds later the same day at 1st Anzac Dressing Station. Unit diary simply states "Enemy artillery action".

Help us honour Robert John Bickford's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Faithe Jones

Son of George and Hannah Jane BICKFORD


Biography contributed by Robert Wight

Brother of:

SN 1519 Pte Edward Bickford, 21st Btn (KIA 26 Aug 1916);

SN 815 William Bickford 14th Btn (KIA 11 Apr 1917) &

SN 716 Lce Cpl Nicholas Bickford 6th Btn (RTA 1919).

Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From François Berthout

Cpl 1518 Robert John Bickford
21st Australian Infantry Battalion,
6th Brigade, 2nd Australian Division
In the silent fields of the Somme which sway in peaceful waves of poppies among which stand millions of white graves, rest in peace millions of young boys, a whole generation of men who, side by side, in the muddy trenches of a world at war, served with honor and pride for the men by their side, with loyalty and bravery for their country and who, for the peace and freedom in which we live today, gave their lives and their youth but who , in the white and eternal cities of the Somme, their last resting places, still stand proudly where they fell to remind us who they were and what they did for us who, in the Somme, will always watch over them with respect and care to keep their stories strong and alive, so that their courage, dedication and sacrifice are never forgotten, so that their names, through the flame of remembrance and in our hearts live forever.

Today, it is with the deepest respect and eternal gratitude that I would like to honor the memory of one of these young men, one of my boys of the Somme who, for us, paid the supreme sacrifice on the soil of a friendly country that will never forget him.I would like to pay a very respectful tribute to Corporal number 1518 Robert John Bickford who fought in the 21st Australian Infantry Battalion, 6th Brigade, 2nd Australian Division, and who died of his wounds 106 years ago, on January 12, 1917 at the age of 32 on the Somme front.

Robert John Bickford was born in May 1884 in Redesdale, Victoria, Australia, and was the son of Robert George and Hannah Jane Bickford, of Ravenswood, Greater Bendigo, Victoria. Robert was educated at Ravenswood State School, Victoria, and before the outbreak of the war worked as a labourer.
Robert enlisted on April 8, 1915 at Bendigo, Victoria, as a Private in the 21st Australian Infantry Battalion, 1st Reinforcement, and after a two month training period at Broadmeadows Camp, Victoria, he embarked with his unit from Melbourne, Victoria, on board HMAT A35 Berrima on June 28, 1915 then proceeded to join the MEF (Mediterranean Expeditionary Force) in Gallipoli.

On August 29, 1915, Robert and the 21st Australian Infantry Battalion were disembarked on the Gallipoli peninsula, at ANZAC Cove,too late to take part in the final stages of the failed August Offensive intended to achieve the longed-for breakout from ANZAC.The 21st Battalion had a relatively quiet time at Gallipoli, and like the rest of the troops there the greatest source of casualties was Enteric Fever (typhoid) and dysentery and were evacuated from the peninsula in December.
After being evacuated from Gallipoli on board "Ascanius", Robert and the 21st Battalion were sent to Egypt and were disembarked in Alexandria on January 7, 1916. A little over two weeks later, on January 20, Robert was admitted to the 5th Australian Field Ambulance in Tel-El-Kebir suffering from mumps then to the 4th Auxiliary Hospital in Abbassia and after recovering, he was sent to the Overseas Base in Ghiza on February 9 and joined the 21st Battalion in Moascar on March 7 then joined, with his unit, the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) in Alexandria on March 19 and proceeded overseas for France.

On March 26, 1916, Robert arrived in France and was disembarked in Marseilles then on April 1, with the 21st Battalion, was sent to Glomenchen and marched through Haverskerque, Sailly, Wye Farm and arrived at Fleurbaix on April 14 and relieved the 22nd Australian Infantry Battalion on April 19 in the rain then were relieved on April 25 by the 22nd Battalion and marched for the "Jesus Farm" where they were billeted until May 31.

On June 1, 1916, the 21st Battalion left Jesus Farm and rejoined their new billets at Rue Marle, near Fleurbaix and entered support trenches in this sector and faced artillery and machine guns until they were relieved by the 2nd New Zealand Brigade on July 4 and marched through Steenwerke, Merris, Ebblinghem, St Omer, and arrived at Longueau, in the Somme on July 11.

After arriving at Longueau, Robert and the men of the 21st Battalion marched for Saint-Sauveur where they were billeted until July 16 then marched through Villers-Bocage, Puchevillers, Varennes, arrived at "Brickfields, near Albert and bivouacked in the trenches of Sausage Valley on July 26 then joined the trenches of Pozieres on July 28 where the battaillon was engaged mainly on carrying duties in the first phase of the Battle, but suffered its heaviest casualties of the war during the fighting around Mouquet Farm in late August.

For his courage during the Battle of Pozieres and Mouquet Farm, Robert was promoted to the rank of Cpl on September 1, 1916 and was recommended for the Military Medal on September 15 with the following citation:
"For excellent work as Lewis Gunner during the operations of the Brigade in France since March 1916. Also conspicuous gallantry under heavy fire at Pozieres."

After terrible fighting and very heavy losses at Pozieres, the 21st battalion was sent to Toronto Camp in Belgium on September 21, 1916 where the battalion reorganized and was reinforced then the men followed an intense period of training, alternating between physical exercises and sports exercises, fatigue work and trench warfare until October 14th then orders were received to return to the Somme front and on October 25, they arrived at l'Etoile, near Amiens.

After arriving at l'Etoile, Robert and the 21st Australian Infantry Battalion marched to Heilly and reached Buire on October 28 where they followed a short new period of training which ended on November 2 and bivouacked at Mametz Wood the next day and on November 4, near Flers, relieved the 30th Australian Infantry Battalion and entered a trench known as "Carlton Trench", and played a supporting role during the Australian attack to capture a German trench known as "Bayonet Trench" on November 5, an enemy trench that was part of an extremely well-fortified trench complex known as "The Maze".

By this time the Somme battlefield had been deluged with rain and the attacks were made in atrocious conditions. The attacking waves of troops were sucked down by the cloying mud and thus, unable to keep up with their creeping artillery barrage, became easy targets for German machine-gunners and riflemen. However, on November 5, 1916, Australian troops managed to achieve some of their objectives during the attack on "The Maze" but were forced to retreat to their positions.Three days later, on November 8, Robert fell ill and was admitted to the 5th Australian Field Ambulance suffering from Odema feet then was evacuated to the 1st Australian General Hospital in Rouen on November 10 then to the 2nd Convalescent Depot in Rouen on November 14 and after recovering, was sent to the 2nd Australian Divisional Base Depot in Etaples on November 18th and joined the 21st Battalion on November 22nd at Dernancourt in the Somme where they were billeted until December 1.

On December 2, 1916, Robert and his battalion marched for Flesselles, a few kilometers from Amiens where they followed a last period of training before returning to the front line then on December 18 they left Flesselles and marched through Ribemont, Fricourt and on December 21 arrived at Trones Wood where they relieved the 57th Australian Infantry Battalion and occupied several trenches including the "'Needle Trench", "Cow Trench", "Blighty Trench", "Spectrum Trench", "Spring Trench" and "Zenith Trench".

Unfortunately, it was at Trones Wood that less than a month later Robert met his fate. On January 12, 1917, while in the "Blighty Trench", this position was heavily shelled by German artillery and Robert was seriously wounded in the groin, abdomen and arm and was immediately evacuated to the 1st Anzac Medical Dressing Station in Becordel-Becourt where he died later the same day, he was 32 years old.

Today,Corporal Robert John Bickford rests in peace with his friends, comrades and brothers in arms at Dartmoor Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt, Somme, and his grave bears the following inscription: "Thy will be done."

Robert John Bickford had three brothers who served bravely during the great war, the first of them was Private number 1519 Edward Bickford who fought in the 21st Australian Infantry Battalion. Unfortunately he was killed in action at Mouquet Farm on August 26, 1916 at the age of 27 and his body was never found but his name is remembered and honored at the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, Somme.

The second of them was Corporal number 815 William Bickford who fought in the 14th Australian Infantry Battalion but unfortunately he was killed in action at Bullecourt on April 11, 1917 at the age of 25.He now rests in peace alongside his brothers in arms at Queant Road Cemetery, Buissy, and his grave bears the following inscription:"Thy will be done."

The last of them was Lance Corporal number 1716 Nicholas Bickford who fought in the 6th Australian Infantry Battalion. Nicholas survived the war and returned to Australia on January 2, 1919 and died of natural causes in Bendigo on November 24, 1975 in the age 80 and rest in peace at Kangaroo Flat cemetery, Victoria.

Robert, Edward, William, Nicholas, brothers of blood and heart, it is in the prime of life that together, without fear and without hesitation but with determination and courage that you responded to the call of duty under the flag of Australia to do what for you was right, to do your bit on the battlefields of the great war on which a whole generation gathered to carry high and proud the banner of mankind and with a heavy heart, with tears in their eyes, they left the warmth of their homes, the softness of the arms of their loved ones and the love of their families and joined their comrades and the boats that would carry them to the front, they turned their eyes one last time towards their nation not knowing that many of them would never come back from the trenches and sailed singing looking towards the horizon, towards what they thought would be the greatest adventure of their lives but when they were disembarked on the sand of Gallipoli and the mud of the fields of northern France, of the Somme, their hopes of a short war were swept away by storms of steel and fire and found only death, desolation and the madness of war in which they sacrificed their youth and through torrential bullets, in bloodbaths, lost their innocence but never their courage. Together, united in the finest spirit of brotherhood, mateship and courage, they faced the horrors of war with their knees deep in the thick, sticky mud in which flowed a sea of blood, the blood of an entire generation which, taken under machine-gun fire, crushed by shells, were mown down without any mercy coming from the brutal monster that was their war, that was the great war but in the face of fire and death, in the face of their fears, these young boys who became men faster than they would have hoped showed unfailing determination and exemplary courage through what were the slaughterhouses of the Somme which transformed peaceful and green landscapes into execution fields on which men and horses were buried alive while going through no man's land and fell at an insane rate. Day and night, standing behind the parapets, in the darkness and cold of the trenches, they endured the endless bombardment of the enemy artillery, they lived hearing their best friends who lay unable to move beyond the barbed wire and who, in terrible howls expressed their sufferings, their pains, the burns of the metal in the flesh and which, under the gray clouds awaited death and the next day, in an endless circle, their comrades, friends, brothers and fathers went over the top in brave waves whose metal baionettes reflected in the sun and were smashed by machine guns but never backed down, never gave up and fought to their last breath in terrible hand-to-hand combat.From Pozieres to Mouquet Farm, from Flers to Villers-Bretonneux, from Amiens to final peace, these young sons and daughters of Australia served and fought with pride and honor but thousands of them never had the chance to return home and after the horrors they endured, they found here, in the shroud of the poppies of the Somme, the silence and the peace of their last resting places where nothing will condemn them and standing behind the rows of their white graves on which are written their lives, their memories, their stories, they will always be remembered with the respect they deserve and I would always stand in front of them to express my gratitude to them, to bring them back to life,so that they are never forgotten, and for that, I would dedicate my life to them.Thank you so much Robert, Edward, William and  Nicholas for everything. At the going down of the sun and in the morning,we will remember them.