GIBBON Robert John 1898 – 1916


1944 Serjeant Robert John Gibbon, 1/6th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 1 October 1916, aged 18.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, France[1] and the Escomb War Memorial.

Family Details

Robert John Gibbon was born 1896[2] at Binchester near Bishop Auckland, the son of Anthony and Alice Gibbon.  There were 4 children:  [3]

  • Robert John born 1896 at Binchester
  • Joseph Anthony bc.1899 at Barnard Castle
  • David William born 1901 at Escomb
  • George Edward bc.1904 at Escomb

In 1901, the family lived at Escomb where 38 years old Anthony worked as a, “Colliery boiler fireman”.  By 1911, the family lived at Caifornia, Witton Park.  Anthony was still employed as a colliery fireman and 14 years old Robert worked as a, “Colliery Labourer”, above ground.

Military Details

The service records of Serjeant Robert James Gibbon have not been traced.  He was a member of the Territorial Force, the 6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry, (DLI), service number 1944.  It was the intention that the Territorial Force would be required only for service at home and protection of the country against invasion.  At the outbreak of war, the DLI Territorials were at annual camp and were mobilized.  In August 1914, he would have been “embodied” into the 1/6th Battalion, DLI and at some time later, he would have signed the agreement to serve overseas.  The military situation in France and Belgium was serious and the losses of the Regular Army, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) were heavy and causing concern.  This necessitated the mobilization of the Territorial Force and troops from the Empire and Dominions, particularly India, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

DLI Cap Badge

The 1/6th Battalion was formed in Bishop Auckland in August 1914 as part of the Durham Light Infantry Brigade, Northumbrian Division.[4]  In May 1915, the battalion came under the orders of the 151st Brigade of the 50th Division. The Division moved to France 16 April 1915 and served with distinction on the Western Front throughout the war.  Other battalions were:

  • 1/7th Battalion, D.L.I
  • 1/8th Battalion, D.L.I.
  • 1/9th Battalion, D.L.I.
  • 1/5th Battalion, the Loyal North Lancs. joined June 1915

Following heavy casualties in June 1915 the battalion merged with the 1/8th to become the 6/8th then it returned to its original identity 11 August 1915 and was then joined by:

  • 1/5th (Cumberland) Battalion, the Border Regiment joined December 1915
  • 151st Machine Gun Company formed 6 February 1916
  • 150th Trench Mortar Battery formed 18 June 1916

Serjeant Robert J. Gibbon did not enter France until 30 October 1915.[5]  British soldiers were not permitted to serve abroad until they reached the age of 18.  Robert was not 18 until October 1915.  

Between 16 April 1915 and the 1 October 1916, the date of the death of Serjeant R.J. Gibbon, the 50th Division took part in the following engagements on the Western Front:

  • The Second Battle of Ypres (from 24 April – 25 May 1915)
  • The Battle of Flers-Courcelette (6th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916)
  • The Battle of Morval (7th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916)
  • The Battle of Le Transloy (8th  phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916) [6]

The following section will examine the circumstances surrounding Serjeant Robert J. Gibbon’s death – in the same action, on the same date, other local men such as Privates R.W. Baker from St. Helens, Privates R.W. Wallace, J.C. Lee and J. Holliday from Cockfield, Private J.A. Wardle from nearby Lands and Lance Corporal C. Lowther from Butterknowle were also killed in action.  Private F.M. Britton from Evenwood and Private O. Rushford from Wind Mill were awarded the Military Medal.  Most famously, their commanding officer Lieut.-Col. R. B. Bradford, was awarded the Victoria Cross. 

1 July – 18 November 1916: The Battle of the Somme – an overview [7]

The Battle of the Somme was viewed as a breakthrough battle, as a means of getting through the formidable German trench lines and into a war of movement and decision.  Political considerations and the demands of the French High Command influenced the timing of the battle.  They demanded British diversionary action to occupy the German Army to relieve the hard pressed French troops at Verdun, to the south. 

General Sir Douglas Haig, appointed Commander-in-Chief in December 1915, was responsible for the overall conduct of British Army operations in France and Belgium.  This action was to be the British Army’s first major offensive on the Western Front in 1916 and it was entrusted to General Rawlinson’s Fourth Army to deliver the resounding victory.  The British Army included thousands of citizen volunteers, keen to take part in what was expected to be a great victory.

The main line of assault ran nearly 14 miles from Maricourt in the south to Serre to the north, with a diversionary attack at Gommecourt 2 miles further to the north.  The first objective was to establish a new advanced line on the Montauban to Polizieres Ridge.   

The first day, 1 July, was preceded by a week-long artillery bombardment of the German positions.  Just prior to zero-hour, the storm of British shells increased and merged with huge mine explosions to herald the infantry attack – at 7.30am on a clear midsummer’s morning the British Infantry emerged from their trenches and advanced in extended lines at a slow steady pace over the grassy expanse of a No Man’s Land.  They were met with a hail of machine gun fire and rifle fire from the surviving German defenders.  Accurate German artillery barrages smashed into the infantry in No Man’s Land and the crowded assembly trenches – the British suffered enormous casualties:

  • Officers killed 993
  • Other Ranks killed: 18,247
  • Total Killed: 19,240
  • Total casualties (killed, wounded and missing): 57,470

In popular imagination, the title, “Battle of the Somme” has become a byword for military disaster.  In the calamitous opening 24 hours the British Army suffered its highest number of casualties in a single day.  The loss of great numbers of men from the same towns and villages had a profound impact on those at home. The first day was an abject failure and the following weeks and months of conflict assumed the nature of wearing-down warfare, a war of attrition, by the end of which both the attackers and defenders were totally exhausted.     

The Battle of the Somme can be broken down into 12 offensive operations:

  • Albert: 1 – 13 July
  • Bazantin Ridge: 14 – 17 July
  • Delville Wood: 15 July – 13 September
  • Pozieres Ridge: 15 July – 3 September
  • Guillemont: 23 July – 3 September
  • Ginchy: 9 September
  • Courcelette: 15 – 22 September
  • Morval: 25 – 28 September
  • Thiepval: 25 – 28 September
  • Le Transloy: 1 – 18 October
  • Ancre Heights: 1 October – 11 November
  • Ancre: 13 – 18 November

Adverse weather conditions i.e. the autumn rains and early winter sleet and snow turned the battlefield into morass of mud.  Such intolerable physical conditions helped to bring to an end Allied offensive operations after four and a half months of slaughter.  The fighting brought no significant breakthrough.  Territorial gain was a strip of land approximately 20 miles wide by 6 miles deep, at enormous cost.  British and Commonwealth forces were calculated to have 419,654 casualties (dead, wounded and missing) of which some 131,000 were dead.  French casualties amounted to 204,253.  German casualties were estimated between 450,000 to 600,000.  In the spring of 1917, the German forces fell back to their newly prepared defences, the Hindenburg Line, and there were no further significant engagements in the Somme sector until the Germans mounted their major offensive in March 1918.

The Battle of Le Transloy, the 8th Phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916. [8]

This action, part of the Battle of the Somme, commenced 1 October 1916.  The village of Eaucourt L’Abbaye was captured and the attack is famous for the action of Lieut.-Col. R. B. Bradford who was awarded the V.C.  The following extract describes operations:

“By dawn all preparations, including the alteration of watches to winter time, were completed for the attack, which had been ordered for the 1st October.

The preliminary bombardment commenced at 7.00am and continued till zero hour (3.15pm) when it changed to a barrage.  Unfortunately, there were some casualties from shells falling short, the total casualties for the day being about 40, including the Commanding Officer wounded.  Lieut.-Col. R. B. Bradford, now commanding the 9th Battalion, asked for and was given permission to take command of the 2 Battalions and for his subsequent work that day was awarded the V. C.  He arrived at Battalion H.Q. at zero and at once went up to the front line.

The attack commenced at 3.15pm but partly on account of the failure of the 47th Division on the right and partly owing to the wire not being properly cut, the attackers were held up by machine gun fire and suffered heavy casualties.  After considerable fighting with bombs and rifles 3 Lewis gun teams of X Company, under 2nd Lieut. T. Little and 2nd Lieut. C.L. Tyerman and one team of W Company under 2nd Lieut. Barnett succeeded in getting a footing in the first objective.  During these operations Lieut.-Col. Bradford arrived on the scene and immediately took charge of the situation and under his direction and leadership the whole of the first objective was gained.  A Company of the 9th Battalion then came up and using the new position as a starting point advanced and took the final objective after dark.

About dusk a counter-attack was attempted by the enemy on the front right.  Advancing in extended order, about 20 of the enemy were challenged and they all cheered, shouting “Hooray”.  As they showed no further friendly signs they were fired on and driven off.  During the night a further counter attack developed from the valley on the right but this was also repulsed.

The following day, by organised bombing, the whole of the final objective was captured and held and communication trenches were dug back to North Durham Street.

The casualties during the 2 days had been very heavy and included amongst the officers, in addition to those already mentioned 2nd Lieut. Peacock killed and 2nd Lieut. Lean, Capt. Peberdy, Lieut. Cotching, 2nd Lieut. Barnett and 2nd Lieut. Appleby wounded.  Amongst the decorations gained were Military Medals awarded to Corporal Dixon and Privates Rushford and Atkinson, all signallers, and Private Turnbull of X Company.  Good work was also done by Sergeants Gowland and Winslow.

On the night of the 2nd October Lieut.-Col. Bradford handed over the command of the Battalion to Lieut. Ebsworth, and it was relieved by the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers the night after.” 

The 6/DLI War Diary for October 1916 (Vol. 19) is brief on detail:[9]

“Somme 1916 Oct.1 At 1am summer time altered back to normal by putting clock back 1 hour, this is to 12 midnight. 2Lieut Yaldwyn (Sniping Officer) attached to Y Company for duty.  Commanding Officer saw all Company Commanders at 3am to talk over details of the attack.  Completed jumping off trenches about dawn and occupied them in battle order by 6am.  60 men (draft and details) brought up from the Transport Lines to act as Carrying Party for the battalion.  Artillery bombardment of German trenches from 7am to 3.15pm. 2Lieut. Yaldwyn wounded about noon.  The Commanding Officer Major Wilkinson wounded about 1.30pm.  Lt. Colonel Bradford of the 9th Durham L.I. took over command of the Battalion for the period of the operations.

3.15pm Assault delivered. 1st objective gained ? on the left later on the right also. 2nd Lieuts ? Cotching, Barnett & Appleby wounded.

Considerable amount of hostile Machine Gun fire from the right during the attack.  German trenches not much damaged by Artillery fire.  Block established on the right as troops on the right had not obtained their objective.  1 Company of the Durham L.I. sent up to re-inforce.  About midnight 2nd objective was gained by combined assault.

2 German bombing attack on our 2nd line right repulsed in the early morning.  Fairly quiet day but wet.  During the night of the 2/3rd 6 Durham L.I. and 9 Durham L.I. relieved by 7 Northumberland Fusiliers.

3 Relief completed about 4-30am.  Lt. Colonel Bradford ceased to be in command and Lieut. Ebworth assumed command of the battalion.  Battalion moved to Starfish Line.  At 1pm Battalion moved off by platoons at 150 paces interval to BECOURT wood where it took up quarters it had previously occupied there

4 Wet morning – spent in packing up.  Battalion moved at 11-45am by platoons to HENENCOURT WOOD, arriving about 4pm, having had dinners en route.  Good camp.  All battalion in tents.”

There is no summary of casualties for the month of October.  Later research records that between 1 and 3 October 1916, 1/6 DLI lost 2 Officers and 63 Other Ranks, killed in action or died of wounds. [10]

2 officers killed in action:

  • 1 October – 2/Lt William Little
  • 2 October – 2/Lt David Ronald Peacock

63 Other Ranks:

  • 1 October – 48 other ranks killed in action, 1 OR died of wounds
  • 2 October – 8 ORs killed in action, 5 ORs died of wounds
  • 3 October – 1 OR died of wounds

Serjeant Robert J. Gibbon was killed in action 1 October 1916.

Awards and Medals

Serjeant Robert J. Gibbon was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the Victory and British War medals.[11]

Medal Roll card index

Pension and Effects

Serjeant Robert J. Gibbon’s father Anthony received his effects[12]and pension.[13]

Commemorations The Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme: 

Serjeant Robert J. Gibbon has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial which bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the UK and South African forces who died in the Somme sector and who have no known grave.  Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916, the duration of what we now call the Battle of the Somme.  The memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was built between 1928 and 1932 and unveiled by the Prince of Wales, in the presence of the President of France, on 31 July 1932.  [14]

The Thiepval Memorial


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.208 Auckland 1896 Q4

[3] 1901 & 1911 census


[5] Medal Roll card index


[7] Various sources including, Peter Hart “The Somme”, Keegan “The First World War”

[8] “The 6th Battalion DLI in the Great War” Capt. Ainsworth “The Faithfull Sixth” 1995 H. Moses

[9] The 6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry War Diary October 1916 National Archives catalogue reference WO/95/2840

[10] Officers Died in the Great War & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[11] Medal Roll card index and Rolls dated 4 October 1919 & 25 March 1920

[12] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929 Record No.392869

[13] Dependant’s Pension card index

[14] Commonwealth War Graves Commission