Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hospital Way author KiA - Robert Mearns Hobbs


6850 Private Robert Mearns Hobbs of the 1/5th Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) was not from Chailey but he was a patient at Beechlands and left two entries in Nurse Oliver’s album. One is a drawing in crayons which depicts a blind girl standing against a rock on the shoreline. It is signed “RM Hobbs, 5th S.R. With Good Wishes”. The second entry is a poem entitled The Hospital Way (below).


Unfortunately, I know little about Robert Hobbs. He was born in Maryhill, Glasgow about 1895 and was the son of John & Ann Hobbs of 24 Campbell St, Maryhill, Glasgow. The 1901 Scottish census shows Robert (aged 5), his brother David (aged 7) and infant brother John (aged 1) living at 186 Church Street, Maryhill, Glasgow. His father is recorded as a 34-year-old policeman, born in England; his mother his noted as a 30-year-old native of Huntly, Aberdeenshire. All three children were born in Glasgow. It must have had a tough job for John Hobbs working the streets of Glasgow; bad enough to be a policeman, let alone an English one in Maryhill.

Robert was a territorial soldier who had enlisted in Glasgow before the war and was serving with the 1/5th Cameronians. He arrived in France with the battalion on 5th November 1914 and remained with it certainly until 5th October 1917 when he wrote his will. His medal index card (reproduced above) shows his entitlement to the 1914 Star as well as the British War and Victory Medals.

Rifleman Hobbs was probably wounded in one of the Somme battles in 1916 but obviously recovered sufficiently to be posted back to his battalion. When the Territorial Force was renumbered in February 1917 he was given a new number: 200362. This number falls within the block of numbers (200001-240000) allocated to the 5th Scottish Rifles.

I am guessing that Robert Hobbs wrote his will in England just prior to being sent abroad again and at some point shortly thereafter he was posted to A Company of the 1st Scottish Rifles. It was whilst serving with this regular battalion (in the 19th Brigade of the 33rd Infantry Division) that he was killed in action on 28th November 1917. He is buried in White House Farm Cemetery, Ypres grave ref: II D 3.

In November 1917 the battalion was in the line in the Warneton (Messines) sector. It left by bus for Ypres on the 14th and then marched to Menin Road area. A temporary camp was established there but due to heavy shelling, the battalion moved to a new camp in the Potijze area.

On the 24th, the battalion moved into the Passchendaele sector where enemy shelling was reported as heavy around Crest Farm and Passchendaele. On the 27th, a wet day, the battalion diarist reported that shelling was again heavy and the ground bad. The battalion was relieved by the 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers and went back to support. Three companies were at Hamburg Trench and one at Abraham Heights.

On the 28th, the enemy shelled Hamburg Trench early in the morning and this was presumably when Robert was killed. He was one of three 1st Cameronians men killed on this day. The following day the battalion was relieved by the 16th King’s Royal Rifle Corps and went back to camp at St Jean.

White House Farm is located north east of Ypres. The Commonwealth War Graves’ Commission’s website has this to say about it:

White House Cemetery was begun in March 1915 and used until April 1918 by units holding this part of the line. It was enlarged after the Armistice when graves were brought in from the battlefields around Ypres (now Ieper) and from a number of small burial grounds in the area. There are now 1,163 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in this cemetery. 323 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to 16 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials record the names of 28 casualties who were buried in other cemeteries but whose graves could not be found on concentration. The cemetery also contains eight Second World War burials, all dating from May 1940. The cemetery was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield.

Robert Hobbs’ last resting place is a peaceful plot situated towards the rear of the cemetery. Two artillerymen lie next to him. The words on his tombstone read:

200362 PRIVATE
R M HOBBS
THE CAMERONIANS (SCO RIF)
28TH NOVEMBER 1917 AGE 22

NEARER MY GOD TO THEE

Medal index card courtesy of Ancestry.

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