Robert Featherstone Forrest was born on 16th June 1882 in Leicester, the only son and eldest child of Matthew Adey Forrest (1853-1928) and Mary Elizabeth Featherstone (1859-1929). He was baptised at the Wesleyan Chapel, Stamford, where his parents were married, on 16 July 1882. The following year sister Ethel Mary (1883-1975) was born, and then followed two more sisters, Gladys Margaret (1885-1922) and Dorothy Constance Betty (1894-1922). Robert attended Wyggeston Boys’ School from September 1891.
From at least 1882 until around 1894 Matthew was a coal merchant. The family were very respectable: By 1887 the family lived at The Grange, Humberstone, and Matthew was recommended by Josiah Gimson for the board of Humberstone School. Two years later he was appointed overseer of the parish. Between 1895 and 1899 Matthew was the manager of Humberstone Brick Company, and living at 6 Saint Peter’s Road, but by 1901 Robert and the rest of the family had moved to Gwendolen Road and Matthew was working as a coal merchant’s manager. Matthew was also elected sidesman at St Martin’s in 1905, remaining such throughout the First World War and beyond.
By the age of 19 Robert was working as a manufacturing chemist’s clerk. Either work or interest took him to Africa for the first time in 1911. While the rest of his family were living at 38 Glenfield Road, Robert set sail from Liverpool to Lagos, Nigeria. Again in 1912 Robert travelled from England to Nigeria, this time to Forcados.
When war broke out Robert’s local knowledge and experience made him ideal for military service in Africa. He joined the Nigeria Regiment and served with the 1st Battalion, 1st West African Frontier Force (known locally as the West African Service Brigade), as lieutenant. He served in Cameroon between May 1915 and May 1916 and then returned to England. He sailed from Liverpool with a handful of other officers bound of Lagos on 6th September 1916. In September 1917 Robert was granted the temporary rank of Captain and the command of a company. On 31st July 1918 he was to make the final journey from Liverpool to Lagos, travelling first class as always. Within six months he was invalided out of the army due to Malaria contracted whilst on active service and he died, in Nigeria, on 14th January 1919 of a complication, Malarial Hemoglobinuria. He is commemorated at Zania European Cemetery.
An article was printed in the Bucks Herald on 22nd March 1919, which read:
The following article from the “West Africa Newspaper”, March 8, will interest the wide circle of friends in this neighbourhood who knew the late Mr R F Forrest, nephew of Rev J R C Forrest , vicar of Swanbourne: News of the death of Lieut Robert F Forrest, 2nd Nigeria Regiment, from backwater fever, while on demobilisation leave at Zaria, has been received with the greatest grief by his relatives and friends at home. This promising young officer was well-known on the coast before the war, notably at Ibadan and Logoja, where he worked for the British Cotton Growing Association. At these places he was loved by a wide circle of friends, to whom news of his death at Zaria came at a great shock. He was regarded as a worker of the finest type on the coast, to which he was greatly attached, and he had a firm belief in the future of West Africa. Lieut Forrest…..was among the first in West Africa to volunteer in the Nigeria Regiment, immediately war broke out and before volunteers were called for. He served actively for four years with the Nigerans in the Cameroons’ campaign and then in East Africa, and was demobilised on 31 December last year. He was ready to take up his work again with the BCGA at the time of his death.
Meanwhile, by 1919 the Forrest family moved to 19 Sandown Road (Robert gave this as his home address). Matthew worked as a timber importer’s agent and Robert’s two older sisters worked as teachers. By the time Robert’s medals were sent to Matthew and Mary Elizabeth in 1922 they had lost three of their four children – Robert in 1919, Gladys and Dorothy both in 1922. Only Ethel was to outlive her parents, dying unmarried in 1975. Matthew and Mary Elizabeth lived on at Sandown Road until 1928 and 1929 respectively. It was presumably Ethel who organised the gravestone for her parents at Welford Road Cemetery.