HOBSON Robert William 1891 – 1918


A/202744 Rifleman Robert William Hobson, 18th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps was killed in action 28 March 1918, aged 27.  He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, France,[1] Witton Park and Coxhoe war memorials.[2]

Family Details

Robert Hobson was born 1891[3] at Woodside near Witton Park, the son of George and Julia Hobson.  There were 7 children, all born at Woodside near Witton Park, Bishop Auckland:[4]

  • Charlotte bc.1883
  • Robert William born 1891
  • George born 1893
  • Margaret bc.1896
  • Charles bc.1897
  • Walter bc.1902
  • Lily bc.1904

In 1901, the family lived at 16 Cement Row, Woodside where father George worked as a “coke drawer.” [5] By 1911, the family lived at 3 Cement Row, Woodside and 53 years old George still worked as a “coke drawer.”  19 years old Robert was a “leveller” at the coke ovens and 17 years old George was described as a “pit lad, helping-up.” [6]

In 1913, Robert W. Hobson married Ann Neesham, registered in Sedgefield, County Durham. [7] A daughter Annie was born 2 May 1914.[8] They family lived at Coxhoe.  Robert’s widow, Ann was recorded as living at Vicarage Terrace, Blackgate, Coxhoe, County Durham.[9]

Robert’s brother George serving as 14667 Private George Hobson 14th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry died of wounds 23 April 1917 and is buried at Bethune Town Cemetery.[10]  He was 23 years old and is commemorated on the Etherley War Memorial, the Roll of Honour in St. Cuthbert’s Church and Witton Park War Memorial.

Military Details

Robert W. Hobson enlisted into the Army Service Corps (ASC) and was given the service number TS/6239.  The prefix TS means that the man was specially enlisted for his trade – in other words, he came from civilian employment in a trade that was of direct value to work in the Horse Transport.[11] There is no indication in the census records of any particular trade.

1 April 1915:  R.W Hobson entered France with the ASC.[12] Later, he was transferred to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, number A/202744.  Sources record both the 21st Battalion[13] and the 18th Battalion.[14]  His service records have not been researched and the date of his transfer is unknown.  Private R.W. Hobson may well have served with both the 18th and 21st Battalions, Kings’ Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC).  The 21st (Service) Battalion (Yeoman Rifles) was formed in September 1915 from volunteers from the farming communities of Yorkshire, Northumberland and Durham by the Northern Command.  It moved to Duncombe Park at Helmsley, North Yorkshire then Aldershot in January 1916.  It moved to France 4 May 1916.  Being a Durham man and being a miner he would have been familiar with working with horses therefore it is entirely possible that he was transferred from the ASC to 21/KRRC.  

The CWGC records that, at the time of his death, he served with 18/KRRC therefore at some time, he was transferred from 21/KRRC to 18/KRRC.  For the purposes of this work, the 18/KRRC will be used to provide background details surrounding Rifleman R.W. Hobson’s death.

The 18th (Service) Battalion, (Arts & Crafts) Kings Royal Rifle Corps was formed in London 4 June 1915 and in October 1915 moved to Witley.[15]  It came under the orders of 122nd Brigade 41st Division.  The 122 Brigade comprised the following units:[16]

  • 12Bn., the East Surrey Regiment
  • 15th Bn., the Hampshire Regiment
  • 11th Bn., the Royal West Kent Regiment
  • 18th Bn., the Kings’ Royal Rifle Corps
  • 122 Machine Gun Company formed May 1916 moved to 41st Bn., MGC March 1918
  • 122nd Trench Mortar Battery, joined June 1916

The Division entered France in May 1916 and remained on the Western Front until October 1917 when it was transferred to Italy and by 18 November, all units had concentrated north west of Mantua.  The Division took over a sector of line behind the River Piave, north west of Treviso.  With the expected German attack in the Spring of 1918, the Division moved back to France and by 9 March it had completed concentration near Doullens and Mondicourt.

The German Offensive, Spring 1918: an overview [17]

3 March, Soviet Russia made peace with Germany and her allies by virtue of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.  As a result, Germany could now transfer troops from the Eastern Front to the Western Front.  More importantly, these Divisions included the original elite of the German Army – the Guards, Jaegers, Prussians, Swabians and the best of the Bavarians. In all, 192 Divisions could be deployed in the West.  The Allies could field 178 Divisions.  A single division numbered about 19,000 men.  Ludendorff could call upon about 3,650,000 men as opposed to the Allies 3,380,000.  Thus, the Germans now held superiority in numbers.  

The German High Command needed victory to be gained before the American Forces arrived in Europe in huge numbers.  America entered the war 6 April 1917 and in the July, Pershing General of the Armies of the United States asked for an army of 3 million men.  The first of her troops arrived in France 26 June 1917.  The training and build-up of troops obviously took time but eventually by June 1918, the Americans were receiving about 250,000 men a month in France.  This amounted to 25 divisions in or behind the battle zone and another 55 in the United States ready to join the action.

Elsewhere in the Alliance, the French were able to draw on a new annual class of conscripts after a year of inactivity but the British were worn down by continuous fighting during the summer of 1917 with major offensives at Arras, Messines, Passchendaele and Cambrai.  The strength of the British infantry had fallen from 754,000 in July 1917 to 543,000 in June 1918 producing a manpower crisis.

21 March 1918:  the German Offensive was launched.  There were 5 phases:

  • 21 March – 5 April: Operation Michael, against the British, the Battle of Picardy (otherwise known as the First Battle of the Somme 1918)
  • 9 – 11 April: Operation Georgette, against the British, the Battle of Lys sector near Armentieres
  • 27 April: Operation Blucher-Yorck, against the French sector along Chemin des Dames, the Third Battle of Aisne
  • 9 June: Operation Gneisenau, against the French sector between Noyan and Montdider, the Battle of the Matz
  • 15 – 17 July: Operation Marne-Rheims, the final phase known as the Second Battle of the Marne.

The Germans enjoyed spectacular territorial gains particularly during the initial phases of the offensive.  23 March, the Kaiser declared a “victory holiday” for German schoolchildren. 

The cost in manpower was enormous:

  • Between 21 March and 10 April the 3 main assaulting armies had lost 303,450 men – 1/5th of their original strength.
  • The April offensive against the British in Flanders was eventually computed to have cost 120,000 men out of a total of 800,000.

The German High Command calculated that it required 200,000 replacements each month but only 300,000 recruits stood available taking into account the next annual class of 18-year olds.  There were 70,000 convalescents available from hospitals each month but even counting them, the strength of the German Army had fallen from 5.1 million to 4.2 million men in the 6 months of the offensive.  It could not be increased on the estimated scale required. 

In June 1918, the first outbreak of “Spanish Flu” laid low nearly 500,000 German soldiers.  This epidemic was to reoccur in the autumn and wreak havoc throughout Europe and the wider world.  Added to this the poor diet of the German troops, battle fatigue, discontentment with the military leadership, social unrest at home and a general realisation that their great effort was beginning to wane, the Allies counter attack in mid-July began to seize the initiative. 

Sweeping victories over demoralised German forces, what became known as the “Hundred Days” or the “Advance to Victory”.  The term “Hundred Days” is a British one and refers to the period between the Battle of Amiens on 8 August and the Arnistice on 11 November 1918, a total of 95 days. Between 18 July and 11 November the Allies sustained upwards of 700,000 casualies while the Germans lost at least another 760,000 men. [18] It eventually led to the resignation of Ludendorff 27 October, the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm 9 November and the signing of the Armistice 11 November 1918. 

The 41st Division

The 41st Division defended positions in what was to become known as the First Battles of the Somme 1918, part of the German offensive in Picardy.  It was heavily involved: [19]

  • 21 – 23 March: The Battle of St. Quentin
  • 24 – 25 March: The Battle of Bapaume
  • 28 March: The First Battle of Arras 

The 18th Battalion, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps War Diary for March provides the following details: [20]

15 March, the strength of the battalion was 40 officers and 898 other ranks.  Lieut. Col. R. Pennell DSO was the commanding officer, Major T.W.M. Fuge was second in command. 

21 March, 18/KRRC entrained at Mondicourt, en-route for Albert.  Owing to heavy enemy attacks the battalion was diverted to the Bapaume area.  It detrained at Achiet le Grand at 1am, 22 March. The battalion had just left the station when the Germans shelled it.  They arrived at Savoy Camp, south east of Bihucourt at about 3am.  At 11am, the battalion was moved to a position between Faureuil and Sapignies.  A line was dug near Beugnatre.  To date, there had been no casualties.

23 March, the digging continued.  The enemy shelled Beugnatre and the aerodrome throughout the day.  At 11pm orders were received that the 18/KRRC was to move up into the line, west of Beugny.  5 other ranks were wounded. 

24 March, at about 10am, Lieut. Col. R. Pennell DSO was wounded by a sniper and evacuated from the field.  Major W.P. Bustow (?) took over command. At 3pm, the enemy attacked, particularly against the right, where troops withdrew, then troops to the left were seen to be withdrawing.  Wire was to the rear which prevented an orderly withdrawal.  All companies were heavily engaged with the enemy who installed a machine gun on the railway line east of Fremicourt, resulting in enfilading fire.  A heavy artillery barrage was put down behind the battalion’s front line and the enemy infantry advanced behind it.  Troops on the left and right withdrew and the battalion was forced to leave its position.

On the night 24/25, men were collected and occupied positions on the outskirts of Bapaume.  The war diary estimated casualties to be 15 officers and 475 other ranks.

25 March, the line was deemed to be untenable with the enemy occupying a position between Biefvillers and Favreuil so the battalion fell back to a position along the Albert to Achiet-le-Grand railway.  At about 9pm, the remains of the division were relieved by the 62nd Division and the remnants of the battalion concentrated at Essarts.

26 March, the men made for Gommecourt and during the night were withdrawn to Bienvillers.   

A note in the War Dairy records 15 officer casualties for 24 March – 1 officer, Captain W.A.J. Willans was killed in action, 5 officers were wounded and 9 officers were missing.  Amongst the estimated 475 casualties in the ranks, was Rifleman R.W. Hobson presumed to be killed in action sometime between 24 and 28 March 1918.[21]  Later research confirms that between 21 and 31 March 1918, 18/KRRC lost 2 Officers and 67 Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds. [22] 

Awards and Medals

Rifleman R.W. Hobson was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the Victory and British war medals.[23]


Effects and Pension

Robert Hobson’s widow Ann received his effects,[24] pension and was the beneficiary of his probate enquiry.[25]


Rifleman R.W. Hobson has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, and locally on the Coxhoe and Witton Park war memorials.



Robert William Hobson was born at Woodside, lived and worked in the Witton Park area until he married in 1913 and moved to Coxhoe.  He initially served with the Army Service Corps entering France in April 1915 before being transferred to the 18th Battalion, The Kings’ Royal Rifle Corps.  Aged 27, Rifleman R.W. Hobson was killed in action sometime between the 24th and 28th March 1918 during the German Spring offensive of 1918.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, France.  He left a widow and 1 daughter.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] http://www.newmp.org.uk/search_results.php

[3] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.235 Auckland 1891 Q3

[4] 1901 & 1911 census

[5] 1901 census

[6] 1911 census

[7] England & Wales Marriage Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.297 Sedgefield 1913 Q2

[8] Pension Claimants card index

[9] CWGC & Pension Claimants card index

[10] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[11] http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/soldiers/a-soldiers-life-1914-1918/letter-prefixes-to-british-soldiers-numbers-in-the-first-world-war/

[12] Medal Roll card index

[13] Roll of Individuals entitled to Victory and British War medals dated 12 March 1920

[14] CWGC

[15] https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-british-infantry-regiments-of-1914-1918/kings-royal-rifle-corps/

[16] http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/41st-division/

[17] Various sources including www.firstworldwar.net/timeline, www.1914-1918.net/batt22.htm, “The First World War” Keegan J. 1999, “First World War” Gilbert M. 1994

[18] “Hundred Days: the end of the Great War”2013 Nick Lloyd Preface xxx

[19] http://www.warpath.orbat.com/battles_ff/1918_pt1.htm

[20] National Archives reference WO-95-2635-4, The 18th Battalion, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps War Diary for March 1918

[21] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901 – 1929 Record No.941556

[22] Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War

[23] Medal Roll card index, Roll of Individuals entitled to Victory and British War medals dated 12 March 1920

[24] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901 – 1929 Record No.941556

[25] England & Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations) 1858-1995