Ref ID: 1290


Ulster and the War: the Action of the 16th INST. - Rifleman's Description


Unknown Newspaper - Reproduction of a letter written by Robert Coates to his mother in Belfast, providing a graphic account of a united artillery attack by the Royal Irish Rifles, the Liverpool Scottish and the Royal Scots Fusiliers on German trenches. Coates notes that their assault resulted in them capturing four lines of enemy trenches and approximately five-hundred prisoners.

Life Story

Name: Robert Coates.

Service Number: 8205.

Rank: Rifleman.

Battalion: 2nd Battalion.

Regiment: Royal Irish Rifles.

Born: 1887, Belfast.

Died: 7th July 1917.

Address: 64 Carnan Street, Belfast.

Robert (Bob) Coates, son of William and Margaret Jane Coates, lived at 64 Carnan Street, Shankill Road, Belfast.

The 1901 Ireland Census has Robert living at 48 Riga Street, Shankill Road, Belfast with his father, occupation, Machine Work at Works, his mother and sister Agnes, 12 years of age.

The 1911 Ireland Census has Robert living at 28 James Street, Shankill Road, Belfast with his mother, Winder In Mill, sister Agnes, Winder In Mill, and niece Edith, 3 years of age. Roberts occupation at this time is given as labourer In Iron Works.

His mother later moved to 24 Argyle Street, Shankill Road, Belfast.

At the start of war Robert enlisted into the Royal Irish Rifles.

On the 20th of September 1914 he was posted as part of the British Expeditionary Forces to France.

On the 9th of July 1916 Robert was wounded at Vimy Ridge during Battle of the Somme

Robert, aged 31 years, was a Rifleman in 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles when he was Killed In Action on the 7th of June 1917 at Messines Ridge, Belgium.

A Postcard sent to his family describes Robert as having served his country for 2 years and 10 months and also as being Faithful Unto Death.

A newspaper article states.

Rifleman Coates, Royal Irish Rifles, has been killed in action. His widowed mother lives at 64 Carnan Street, Belfast.

A letter sent to his mother is also replicated within local newspapers and recounts a successful attack that he and Ulster Rugby Player, Lieutenant R A Lloyd who was wounded, were involved in. His graphic account tells of capturing the enemies trenches, taking some 500 prisoners in the process and then being heavily bombarded by the Germans for over 18 hours, sadly resulting in 300 casualties, killed or wounded.

This letter later also featured in Professor Richard Grayson's (2009) book Belfast Boys: How Unionists and Nationalists Fought and Died Together in the First World War.

These newspaper articles are within his profile.

Bob Coates is especially valued by S.A.S.H as he is the first soldier our group came across while reaching out to our community and asking for materials to scan and stories to archive.

Mrs Margaret Hill (Peggy), wife of the late Billy Hill from Crimea Close, Shankill, invited us to her home so that we could scan her old photographs. Amongst her photos were a couple of Bob her great uncle, including one of him in army uniform, sitting on a chair with a Police Officer in an old RIC uniform next to him, an intriguing caption on the back reads simply, Soldier Only, Policeman's Life Taken Away. Another photograph featured Bob just after he was wounded at Vimy Ridge (he sits furthest left on a step outside a hospital with nurses and other wounded soldiers). We also had the pleasure of being able to photograph his medals. Margaret still remembers her mother talking about her Uncle Bob, something that I believe brings Bob back to life and not something from the past or history.

So thank you to Mrs Margaret Hill for your valuable donation to S.A.S.H.

Records show us the Robert served within the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the Royal Irish Rifles, while the engraving at the back of his 1914 Star shows R.I.F also.

Pension application forms show his mother Margaret, born 1849, as claimant.

His Soldiers Effects were also left to his mother.

Robert received the British War Medal, Victory Medal and 1914 Star.

He Is Remembered at Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium.

To Remember Is To Honour



Shankill Roll of Honour






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