The family left Crook for Accrington in 1896 or 1897, perhaps prompted by Vincent's death at the age of just 7 months. Tragedy followed the family to East Lancashire, however, for in October 1897 Margaret died in giving birth to her eighth child, Annabel Mary. Faced with raising a large family alone, William Robb turned for help to Margaret's cousin, Jessie Hay. The arrangement was clearly a happy one for, in time, William Robb and Jessie were married. The couple's first child, James Hay, sadly saw only a few weeks of life, dying in 1904. By the time of the family photograph in 1906, however, William Robb must have foreseen a future filled with promise.
John duly followed in his father's footsteps by studying medicine at Edinburgh University before establishing his own practice at Willow House on Blackburn Road. Perhaps looking to extend the family's medical skills, Arnold chose to study dentistry at Manchester University from where he graduated in 1911. Returning to Accrington, he began to practise dentistry from a surgery on Avenue Parade.
In the months preceding the outbreak of war in 1914, the family felt joy at John's marriage to Theresa Annie Ross, but also grief at the death after a long illness of William Alexander.
The Accrington Pals, raised at the initiative of the Mayor, Capt. John Harwood, in the early weeks of the war, was intended to be a battalion of local men led by local men. As a young and prominent member of the community, Arnold Tough was an obvious candidate to serve as an officer and on 17th September 1914 he was duly commissioned into the battalion with the rank of Lieutenant.
Before the battalion embarked for Egypt in December 1915, Arnold was able to share in the family's delight at the birth of a daughter, Margaret, to John and Theresa. After spending less than 3 months in Egypt, the battalion was ordered to France in preparation for the summer offensive on the Somme.
Two days before the Pals' fateful attack on Serre, Arnold wrote his last letter home. If he harboured any misgivings as to the outcome, he was careful not to reveal them. Arnold was given the responsibility of leading the first wave of the attack, comprising two platoons each of "W" and "X" Companies. At around 3am on 1st July 1916, the four platoons assembled in the shellfire-damaged front lines between Matthew and Mark Copses. At 7.20am, Arnold blew on his whistle, called out a few words of encouragement, and led his men out of the trenches. Despite being wounded almost immediately, Arnold brought his men 100 yds into No Man's Land where they lay down on the ground waiting for the British artillery bombardment to lift from the German front line. At 7.30am, the men rose and advanced into a hail of machine gun and artillery fire. Moments later, Arnold was wounded a second time. Still leading his men forward, he was finally killed by a shot to the head.
Arnold's brother, John, and his sisters, Peg, Chris and Gert, all became actively involved in the war effort. John was commissioned into the R.A.M.C. in May 1917. The three sisters all drove ambulances at some time during the war. Peg served in the W.R.A.C., organizing the canteen in a midlands munitions factory. Chris was one of the first Wrens serving at Granton Naval Base to become an intelligence officer.
William Robb turned 65 in 1917 and looked forward to the day when he could hand the Parkside practice over to John, his last surviving son. In the final weeks of the war, his hopes for the future were cruelly shattered. After serving in India and Italy, John was posted to the Western Front where he joined 5th Field Ambulance at Flesquieres on 5th October 1918. Two nights later, while attending to the wounded, he was killed by the explosion of a bomb dropped from an enemy aircraft. News of John's death reached his family on Sunday 13th October in a letter written by his colleague, Capt. A. T. Bowman. The Accrington Observer & Times of the following Tuesday reported that "the news of Captain Tough's death was received with the greatest regret throughout the town, and numerous messages of sympathy were forwarded to the family yesterday."
With John's death, the devastated family left Accrington. Theresa returned to Scotland with her daughter, while William Robb retired to Southport where he died in 1925.
© Alyson and Andrew C Jackson 1998-2000
Compiled from TNA documents WO95/1337, WO95/2366 and WO339/15857, the Accrington Observer & Times of 11th July 1916, 15th July 1916 and 15th October 1918, and with the kind help of Mrs. Marjorie Lloyd-Jones, Mrs. Margaret Ritchie and Mrs. Grace Oliver.