Petty Officer Robert Wilcocks was born on September 21st 1888, Islington, London. He was the second child of Elizabeth Emma Wilcocks (née White) and John Waddington Wilcocks. His parents, both Londoners, had married in London in 1886. His father worked as a law writer and solicitor’s clerk.
In the 1891 census the couple were living at 29 Henry Street (now called Donegal Street) in the Civil Parish of Clerkenwell with their three children John, Robert and Elizabeth. No trace survives of the Clerkenwell Robert Wilcocks grew up in, yet this was once the core of Pentonville, which formed a neat grid of streets. In some cases not even the streets survive, while most that do have changed their names. In the 1901 census the family were still at Henry Street, with two more girls, Alice and Jessie.
Robert was employed as a french polisher when he signed on for a 12 year Continuous Service engagement in the Royal Navy on August 24th 1904, but his ‘time’ did not officially commence until his 18th birthday on September 21st 1906. He first served as a Boy 2nd Class on the HMS Impregnable and was then drafted to HMS Lion on August 30th 1904 before returning to Impregnable where he remained till 13th September 1905, by which time he was Boy 1st Class.
He was serving on HMS Venus when he became Ordinary Seaman in September 1906 and between then and March 1910 he served on HMS Excellent and HMS Roxburgh.
By the time of the 1911 census Robert’s family had moved just a mile North to 3 Bampton House, 5 Pleasant Place, Islington and he was away from home, stationed on the HMS Duke of Edinburgh where he remained till March 1912.
He was Leading Seaman on the HMS Espiegle from December 1912 till March 1916. By September 1914, it had become clear that Turkey was preparing for war, and would enter the conflict on Germany’s side. Robert Wilcocks was serving on HMS Espiegle when, in 1914, the ship was sent to protect the Abadan Island oil refineries from likely Ottoman and German attacks. He was awarded the Naval General Service Medal with the Clasp for Persian Gulf 1909-1914 for operations against pirates, gun-runners and slavers while posted on the Espiegle.
Robert married Harriett Louise Wager, June 10th 1916 at St Peter de Beauvoir Church, West Hackney. He’d recently been promoted to Petty Officer and was stationed on the HMS Excellent.
Robert and Harriett had a daughter Joyce Louise, born 12th March 1917, Hackney, just a few weeks after her father died on the Laurentic.
Robert Wilcocks’ body was never recovered. He is commemorated on the WW1 memorial in St Peter de Beauvoir Church, West Hackney.
Census Returns of England and Wales 1891 and 1901: The National Archives of the UK.
General Records Office UK
British Newspaper Archive
British Commonwealth War Graves Registers, 1914-1918. London, England: Commonwealth War Graves Commission.