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Robert Winfield Lister was born in Keighley in West Yorkshire on 14 June 1891, the eldest of five children of Alfred Lister who was Treasurer of Keighley Corporation. His mother was Mary Jane Winfield Lister and the family lived at Sunny Mount. He started as an Arts student at Hatfield Hall in Durham University in Epiphany term 1910. He passed his entrance exams well enough but was perhaps too involved on the editorial board of the Durham University Journal as he did not do well with his BA finals in Michaelmas term 1911: he failed papers in Greek Testament, Plato and Suetonius, Ancient History, Evidences, and Education, and left without a degree. He followed his father’s financial career and went to work as a clerk in a bank in Bradford. He emigrated to Canada in 1912, joining the Imperial Bank of Canada in Westmount, Quebec, and then later in Montreal. The Royal Bank of Canada’s Roll of Honour records that he enlisted on 17 August 1914. He was medically examined and passed fit for service the next day at Valcartier Camp, but his attestation papers are dated 21 September. On that date he was attested as a private in the 14th Battalion (Royal Montreal Regiment) as part of the First Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He had served in the OTC in his time in Durham, a fact that he recorded on his attestation. He was 5ft 6½ in tall with a fair complexion, brown eyes and light brown hair. The 1st Regiment Royal Montreal Regiment had been formed in August 1914 from three existing Militia regiments in Montreal and was soon re-designated as the 14th Battalion of the CEF. After training at Valcartier the 14th Battalion departed from Valcartier with the rest of the First Contingent on 23/24 September. The troops sailed from Quebec on 3 October and arrived in Plymouth Sound on 14 October. The winter was spent on Salisbury Plain in muddy cold conditions. In January 1915 the battalion formally became part of 3rd Brigade, 1st Canadian Division. The Division went to France the next month and first went into the line in the Fleurbaix sector, relieving the British 7th Division. In April they were moved into the Ypres Salient. On the afternoon of 22 April 1, 3 and 4 Companies of 14th Battalion were in reserve at St Jean when the Germans launched an attack against the French troops on the Canadian left flank, supported by the use of chlorine gas. This caused the French to give way and the men of the 14th were alarmed to see men of 45th Algerian Division as well as civilians streaming past them. As dusk fell they moved up to Brigade Headquarters at Mouse Trap Farm to occupy the GHQ line behind the rapidly collapsing Allied front and were by now in danger from German infantry on their left flank. The battalion remained in the GHQ line improving the trenches until about midnight on Friday 23 April by which time the pressure had caused the 13th Battalion on their left to change their alignment to face German troops from the west. 14th Battalion conformed to this change which involved more trench digging through the night. At 03.30 on the morning of Saturday 24 April the Germans unleashed a heavy bombardment on the new trenches. This went on for two hours and survivors of the 13th and 14th Battalions were forced to retire to trenches further back where they remained until about 11.00. They retired a further 300 yards and held on there for another hour and a half under heavy artillery and machine gun fire before withdrawing another 200 yards. This position was not entrenched and consisted merely of ditches and folds in the ground. About 16.30 the survivors were ordered to retire behind the GHQ line that they had started from. Shortly afterwards they were able to repel a German attack with rifle and machine gun fire. Later in the evening 1, 3 and 4 Companies were withdrawn to the transport lines although it is probable that Robert Lister was dead by then. He is known to have been killed during the day although the exact circumstances are unclear and his body was never recovered. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres, and the memorials in St Andrew’s church Keighley and Hatfield College Chapel
Place of birth: Sunny Mount, Keighley in West Yorkshire
Place of employment: Imperial Bank of Canada, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Place of employment: Imperial Bank of Canada, Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium
St Andrew's, Keighley, war memorial
Hatfield College Memorial Plaque
Durham University Roll of Service
War Diaries of the 14th Canadian Infantry Battalion, Library and Archives Canada Soldiers of the First World War, Library and Archives Canada
Clive Bowery; Linda Macdonald; Joyce Malcolm
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