In the footsteps® of
Private Charles Robson
19th (Service) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry
Stephanie and Daphne at Charles Robson’s grave in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery. [© Ian R Gumm, 2008]
This is the story of Private 24403 Charles Robson, the Great Uncle of Mrs Stephanie Bone who we took on
tour to the Ypres Salient following in his footsteps with her mother Mrs Daphne Holmes.
The 19th (Service) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry [19 DLI] was formed in Durham on 13 January 1915 by the Durham Parliamentary Recruiting Committee as a Bantam Battalion. They moved to Cocken Hall in May 1915, before moving to Masham in June 1915 when they were assigned to the 106th Brigade in 35th Division. From Masham they moved to Perham Down in July 1915 for their final training prior to being sent overseas.
On 1 February 1916 the 19 DLI was sent to France landing at La Havre. In January 1917 the Battalion ceased to be a Bantam Battalion and on 8 February 1918 transferred to 104th Brigade in same Division. In all, 594 all ranks of the Battalion died on active service in the First World War in France and Flanders.
The 19 DLI went to France 1 February 1916 where they stayed until 16 October 1917 when they moved to Belgium. They remained in Belgium until 23 March 1918 when they moved back to France to an area just North of the Somme. They fought throughout France until the end of June 1918 when the once again returned to Belgium arriving on 1 July 1918. Here they fought for the remainder of the War and they returned to the United Kingdom on 16 December 1918.
Research into Charles Robson confirmed that he served the greater part of his First World War service in the 19 DLI. From this research we know Charles Robson entered France on 4 August 1915, but that the 19 DLI did not arrive until the 1 February 1916, and so he must have served with another Battalion before joining them. The date of the 4 August 1915 does not fit with the dates of entry of any of the DLI battalions and therefore it is probable that he joined one of the other DLI battalions already serving in France as a replacement. We do not know his date of joining the 19 DLI, but it is likely to have been around January 1917 when they ceased to be a Bantam Battalion. We know that Charles Robson died of wounds on 2 October 1918 and that he is buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery near Poperinge. It is likely that he died of his wounds in one of the nearby Casualty Clearing Stations at Remy Siding. At the time that Charles Robson died the 19 DLI was in Belgium taking part in the British Advance of the Last Hundred Days.
Private Charles Robson and the rest of the 19 DLI arrived by train at St Omar at 08:00 hrs on 1 July 1918 where they detrained and marched to billets in Tilques. On the 2nd they were picked up by buses of the Army Service Corps and driven to Watou, about 5 miles due west of Poperinge, where they encamped before moving into reserve in the Locre Sector. For the next 26 days the Battalion rotated through the lines from support to the front line and then back to reserve.
The first record of any action during this phase of the 19 DLI’s war took place on the night of the 27 July 1918 at Locre Hospice when the Battalion carried out a trench raid. The raiding force consisted of two parties one from X Company and the other from Z Company. The X Company’s party consisted of 28 men commanded by Captain Kingsley Smith MC and Captain John Ryall and Z Company’s party consisted of 32 men led by Second Lieutenant William Dyer and Second Lieutenant Harold Jordan.
At 23:30 hrs the objective was shelled by accurate stokes mortar fire and two gaps were blown in the enemy wire using Bangalore torpedos. X Company entered the enemy trench using the left gap and Z Company the right. The enemy were present in the trench in unusually large numbers, they were either preparing for a raid of their own or a relief was taking place. As a result, the fighting in the trench was fierce and about 20 German soldiers were killed. The party from X Company on the left rushed an enemy machine gun post killing the crew. Captain Ryall led this action and, although badly wounded, he carried the machine gun back to the British lines with the aid of his batman. In addition to the captured gun four German prisoners were taken, though two of them were shot during a struggle when they tried to escape.
The party from Z Company on the right was led forward to attack the enemy by Second Lieutenant William Dyre. They attacked the enemy posts three time before they were able to dislodge them. For his actions during the raid on 27 July 1918 Second Lieutenant William Gilbert Dyre was awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in action. He led his platoon forward three time to the attack, and with the help of the platoons on his flanks finally managed to dislodge the enemy. Later, when in command of two platoons he rendered valuable service in defence of a village and with the help of a corporal handled a Lewis gun with great effect causing heavy casualties on the enemy.”
In addition to Captain Ryall, the two subalterns and twenty men were wounded during the raid. Most of the wounds were caused by shrapnel from the bombs that they had thrown themselves. During the raid the Battalion learned that the Germans in the line opposing them were mainly Saxons from the 103rd Reserve Infantry Regiment of the 58th Division.
During the morning after the raid, 28 July 1918, the 19 DLI received the message “Well done Durham’s” from the Brigade Commander and the following day they were relieved by the 18th Battalion, the Lancashire Fusiliers [18 LANC FUS]. They moved back into Brigade Reserve where two days later on the 30 July 1918 they were relieved by the 27th Canadian Infantry Battalion and the 19 DLI moved further back to become part of the Corps Reserve.
On 4 August 1918 the 19 DLI was back in the front line in the Locre Sector relieving the 17th Battalion, the Lancashire Fusiliers [17 LANC FUS]. The line was quiet and the Germans were believed to be in the process of withdrawing. The Battalion received orders to send out patrols to determine what was happening within their sector and one patrol from each of the forward Companies were sent out. On the left Second Lieutenant R Shields went forward with 20 men and tried to enter the German line, but were held up by machine gun fire. On the right the patrol led by Second Lieutenant W Reid, which consisted of 14 men, entered the German trench and managed to work their way along a communications trench for over 80 yards behind the front line. Second Lieutenant Reid discovered that the Germans had retired to the ridge behind their line.
Two days later the Battalion was relieved and moved back to a camp at Terdeghem. Here they spent two weeks training before moving to ranges at Colembert for four days musketry practice. During their time at Colembert the Battalion was billeted at Henneveux. They returned to Terdeghem to continue training for the remainder of August.
On 2 September 1918 the 19 DLI left Terdeghem and marched to Herzeele where they were billeted for two days. They then marched forward to Poperinge where they entrained at Croix Rouge and were brought forward on the light rail system to Red Farm. At Red Farm they detrained and marched to St Lawrence and Erie Camps where they became the Divisional Reserve. They remained in these camps for a further three days.
On 8 September 1918 they relieved the 15th Battalion, the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) in the support trenches of the Canal Sector of the Ypres Salient. Here they were billeted in the remains of some old farm buildings to the south east of Vlamertinghe with Battalion Headquarters at Road Camp. During the relief one man was wounded. The 19 DLI remained in the support trenches for a further three days.
On 12 September 1918 the 19 DLI relieved the 17 LANC FUS in the front line of the Canal Sector. The relief was completed without incident and the situation in their area remained quiet. The 19 DLI settled into the line throughout the day and at dawn the following morning, 13 September 1918, an enemy patrol was detected approaching one of their advanced posts. They were observed about 200 yards away from the post and Lance Corporal William Cranney, the post commander, told his men to hold their fire. When the Germans were just 30 yards away Lance Corporal Cranney and two other men rushed forward surprising the enemy who surrendered; a Corporal and four men were taken prisoner. For his actions on 13 September 1918 Lance Corporal William Cranney was awarded the Military Medal.
During the 14 September 1918 the 35th Division ordered that the front line was to be pushed forward and 19 DLI and 18 LANC FUS were ordered to advance under cover of an artillery barrage to seize a line about 1,000 yards to their front. The section allocated to the 19 DLI was from Blauwe Poort Farm and Manor Halt to the embankment at map reference I.22a.7.0. south east of Zillebeke Lake. The four platoons of Y Company were to be the attacking force and one platoon of X Company was to be on standby for support.
Second Lieutenant George Leach’s platoon was to advance along the edge of Zillebeke Lake, Lieutenant Dales’ platoon was to use the Ypres – Menin Railway as a guide and advance to Manor Halt, Second Lieutenant Herbert Shepley’s platoon was to use the Ypres – Hollebeke Road as a guide and advance to the crossroads at map reference I.28.a15.90, and Second Lieutenant Reid’s platoon was to take Blauwe Poort Farm. Y Company formed up in a line running north-easterly with each platoon in a diamond formation and each section in file. H-Hr was set for 22.28 hrs on the 15 September 1918.
On time at 22.28 hrs the artillery barrage landed on the German positions and Y Company began their advance. Second Lieutenant Leach’s platoon met with no opposition at all as the enemy simply ran away as they advanced. They were soon at their objective and began digging-in to consolidate their position. They took one prisoner the following morning when a patrol was sent out and found him hiding in the bank of a nearby stream. After consolidating their position Second Lieutenant Leach led an attack on the nearby enemy post bringing in eight prisoners and two machine guns. Throughout the operation he had led his men with dash and daring and his conduct was an example to all ranks. Prior to the advance he had reconnoitred the ground thoroughly and this undoubtedly was a major factor in his platoon’s success. For his actions on 15 September 1918 Second Lieutenant George Stanley Leach was awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads:
“This officer was in command of the platoon on the left of the attack south of Zillebeke Lake on 15 September 1918. He had previously reconnoitred the ground most thoroughly and during the operation led his men over most difficult ground to the final objective. After consolidating his line he personally attacked the enemy’s post and brought in eight prisoners and two machine guns. Throughout the engagement he had led his men with great daring and dash and his conduct was a stirring example to all ranks.”
Lieutenant Dale’s platoon to the right of Second Lieutenant Leach’s platoon advanced towards their objective Manor Farm. They too met with practically no opposition and were able to dig-in to consolidate their position.
To their right, however, Second Lieutenant Herbert Shepley’s platoon met with considerable opposition. Their initial assault forced back the defending Germans, but they quickly counterattacked to regain the position. Second Lieutenant Herbert Shepley led his men forward again and took their objective a second time. In the fierce fighting several of the enemy were killed and a number taken prisoner. Second Lieutenant Shepley led his men with initiative and showed great courage throughout the attack and it was through his fine example that the position was taken. With the enemy’s posts taken his men set about consolidating their position and a Lewis Gun Section from X Company was sent forward to reinforce them. For his actions on 15 September 1918 Second lieutenant Herbert Shepley was awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads:
“This officer took part in the attack south of Zillebeke Lake on 15 September 1918. In a previous reconnoitre he led his platoon in the attack with great courage and was ever in the forefront of the fight. He took the enemy’s posts and consolidated them. The enemy, afterwards counter-attacked but were driven off and the line was completely established owing chiefly to his initiative, dash and cheerful influences. Throughout the whole engagement he set a fine example to his men.”
On the right flank of the 19 DLI’s front Second Lieutenant Reid’s platoon assaulted against an enemy that had manned a series of small posts well forward of Blauwe Poort Farm. These posts had not been there the previous night when Second Lieutenant Reid had carried out his reconnaissance and when they opened fire his platoon were taken completely by surprise. During the action that ensued Second Lieutenant Reid was hit whilst in the process of throwing a bomb and killed. The platoon continued its attack, but lacking their officer they lost direction and took up a position near a building that they thought was their objective. During the attack Lieutenant Reid’s platoon captured over 25 prisoners, but Lieutenant Reid and four men were killed. That night they were reinforced by Second Lieutenant William Dyre MC and ten men from X Company.
The next day, 16 September 1918, the 17th Battalion, the Royal Scots relieved the 19 DLI who moved back to St Lawrence and Erie Camps. Here they remained until the 22 September 1918 when they moved forward to support positions near Vlamertinghe with Battalion Headquarters in Vancouver Farm.
On the 24 September 1918 the 19 DLI once again moved forward to take over the line in the left sub-sector of the Commines Canal from the 17 LANC FUS. As they did so the Germans shelled the area with artillery fire which wounded 12 other ranks of the Battalion. The relief was completed by 23:55 hrs that night and during the next three days the 19 DLI’s sector of the front line remained quiet with little to report. On 27 September 1918 they received orders to take part in a British advance the following day.
At 05:25 hrs on 28 September 1918 a heavy artillery barrage rained down on the German positions in the vicinity of Hill 60 and Canada Tunnels heralding the beginning of another British advance on the Flanders Front. The 19 DLI moved forward in the wake of the barrage as part of this assault to capture Hill 60 and push on towards Klien Zillebeke. As the 19th Durham’s advanced into Klien Zillebeke they were fired upon by German Snipers, which held up their advance. Company Sergeant Major W G Walker, who was commanding one of the platoons crawled forward to kill one of the snipers and capture the other. For his actions on 28 September 1918 Company Sergeant Major W G Walker was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. His citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and fine work in the attack from Zillebeke Lake on 28 September 1918. When a platoon was held up by snipers at Klien Zillebeke, he crawled forward and killed one and captured another. He then led his platoon to its objective and consolidated. His conduct throughout was a splendid example to all ranks.”
Second Lieutenant Francis Blake led his platoon forward to capture the objective before pushing forward in Jehovah Trench. Here Lieutenant Blake’s platoon captured a German Machine Gun post and a German Sergeant Major, and played a large part in the capture of a further 46 Germans including six officers. For his actions on 28 September 1918 Second Lieutenant Francis William Blake was awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty September 28th to October 2nd, 1918 during the attack from Zillebeke Lake. Although gassed prior to the commencement of operations, he led his men with great spirit and endurance. Having reached the final objective he immediately reorganized his platoon and rushed forward with patrols to Jehovah Trench, where he took a machine gun and enemy Sergeant Major. He was also largely instrumental in capturing six officers and forty other ranks on reaching the same line. Throughout he set a splendid example to all ranks.”
Elsewhere within the 19 DLI’s area of responsibility Sergeant R Stoddart rushed another German machine gun position when his platoon became pinned down. He charged alone to kill three of the crew and capture the remainder. After securing his objective Sergeant Stoddart’s platoon assisted in bring in the wounded under heavy German artillery fire. For his actions on 28 September 1918 Sergeant R Stoddart was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. His citation reads:
“For consistent gallantry and devotion to duty from 28 September to 2 October 1918 during the attack from Zillebeke Lake. He commanded a platoon throughout the whole operation in a most able manner. Also, he alone rushed a machine gun post, killing three of the crew and capturing the remainder and the gun. Subsequently, he helped to get in wounded under exceptionally heavy artillery.”
The Adjutant, Captain E A Parke, pushed forward during the assault to get information and determine what was going on. Whilst doing so he had the foresight to arrange the setting up of dumps for munitions and material to ensure the timely resupply of the Battalion.
By 09:45 hrs all of the 19 DLI’s objectives were secure and the 17 LANC FUS passed through them to continue the advance. The 17 LANC FUS pushed on towards Zandvoorde, but were held up by machine gun fire at Basseville Beek. Lieutenant J Sharp of the 19 DLI took forward some of his Company to act as flank guard for the 17 LANC FUS which he continued to do for the next two days.
In the late afternoon of 30 September 1918 the 19 DLI passed through America Cabaret on their way forward to their jumping off positions in readiness for the assault on the Gheluwe Switch scheduled to commence that evening. Here they entered the communication trenches along which they walked to take up their positions. This was to be the last attack in which Private Charles Robson was to take part. It began at 19:00 hrs on the night of the 30th when the men of the 19 DLI moved out into no-man’s-land. The 18 LANC FUS were once again on their right and they launched their attack in coordination with the 19 DLI.
Shortly after going over the top both Battalions were held up by uncut wire. As they tried to negotiate the wire obstacles the German machine gunners opened up reaping their grim harvest. The British soldiers dug-in where they were to get as much cover as possible and wait out the night. At dawn on the 1 October 1918 the 19 DLI and 18 LANC FUS rose up from their hastily dug positions to attack again. Nearby the German pillboxes and machine gun nests once more poured their deadly fire into the advancing British ranks. The German artillery joined in bringing down a heavy barrage on the advancing British soldiers. Some enemy posts were captured, but the Gheluwe Switch was still in German hands when the attack faltered. Some 200 yards of no-man’s-land had been captured, but at the cost of countless British dead and wounded.
On the 2 October 1918 the 19 DLI was relieved by the 5th Battalion, the Kings Own Scottish Borderers and moved back initially to Kruiseke in reserve. The Battalion then moved back to Zillebeke on the 3rd for rest and recuperation before going to Becelaere on the 5th October 1918.
Among those wounded during the attack against the Gheluwe Switch was Private 24403 Charles Robson. He had probably spent the night in no-man’s-land waiting and hoping that when the assault recommenced at dawn he would come through unscathed, but that was not to be and he may well have been cut down during the assault by the murderous enemy machine gun fire. Whatever happened, Private Charles Robson was carried off the field and taken back up the line to one of the Remy Sidings casualty clearing stations close to where the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery is now located. There he died on 2 October 1918 and his final resting place is grave XXIV.F.25A.
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Page last updated: 25 October 2020.