200789 Corporal Robert Henry Thompson, 1/5th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 27 October 1917 and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.[1]  He was 21 years old and is commemorated on the West Auckland War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, West Auckland Memorial Hall.

Family Details

Robert Henry was born 1896 [2] the son of Henry and Margaret Thompson.  There were 8 children:[3]

  • Lawrence bc.1894 at West Auckland
  • Henry born.1896 at West Auckland
  • Gladys bc.1899 at Darlington
  • Evelyn bc.1903 at St. Helen’s Auckland
  • Joseph bc.1906 at West Auckland
  • Stanley bc.1907 at West Auckland
  • Anthony bc.1909 at West Auckland
  • John bc.1910 at West Auckland

In 1901, the family lived at St. Helens where 26 year old Henry worked as a miller’s carter.[4]  By 1911, the family lived at Front Street, St. Helens and 38 year old Henry worked as a coal miner, overman.  17 year old Lawrence and 15 year old Henry both worked as coal miners (drivers).[5]

Military Details

Robert Henry Thompson enlisted at Bishop Auckland into the Territorial Force, the 1/5th Battalion the Durham Light Infantry[6] and was given the regimental number 4183 then later 200789.[7] The 1/5th Battalion DLI was formed in August 1914 at Stockton-on-Tees as part of the York & Durham Brigade, Northumbrian Division.  It landed in France 18 April 1915 and in May 1915 it became part of the 150th Brigade, 50th (Northumbrian) Division.[8]  Units within the 150th Brigade were: [9]

  • 1/4th, the East Yorkshire Regiment
  • 1/4th, the Yorkshire Regiment
  • 1/5th, the Yorkshire Regiment
  • 1/5th, DLI
  • 150th Machine Gun Company formed February 1916
  • 150th Trench Mortar Battery formed June 1916

The service records of Corporal R.H. Thompson have not been researched therefore the date he was promoted to Corporal and the date he entered France are unknown.  He did not enter France before 31 December 1915.[10]  The 50th Division was involved in the following battles and engagements during 1916:[11]

  • 15 – 22 September: the Battle of Flers-Courcelette
  • 25 – 28 September: the Battle of Morval
  • 1 – 18 October: the Battle of Le Transloy

And 1917: [12]

  • 9 – 14 April: the First Battle of the Scarpe including the capture of Wancourt Ridge by the 50th Division
  • 23 – 24 April: the Second Battle of the Scarpe
  • 26 – 10 November: the Second Battle of Passchendaele

The Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) 31 July – 10 November 1917 – an overview

The offensive had 8 distinctive phases:

  • Battle of Pilckem, 31 July to 2 August
  • Battle of Langemarck, 16 to 18 August
  • Battle of the Menin Road, 20 to 25 September
  • Battle of Polygon Wood, 26 September to 3 October
  • Battle of Broodseinde, 4 October
  • Battle of Poelcapelle, 9 October
  • First Battle of Passchendaele, 12 October
  • Second Battle of Passchendaele, 26 October to 10 November

Many Divisions visited the Ypres Salient during the Third Battle of Ypres and on more than one occasion.  A total of 54 Divisions were thrown into battle.  The offensive cost the British nearly 310,000 casualties, the Germans slightly less and it consumed all of the available reserves.

6 November 1917:  the village of Passchendaele was entered and the whole campaign ended a few days later when more of the ridge was taken.  It achieved none of its objectives although the Germans could no longer look down on the Ypres Salient which had been deepened by about 5 miles and they had been prevented from attacking the French when its army was in disarray following the failure of the Nivelle Offensive.

From the outset, it was obvious to the German Fourth Army that a new attack was being prepared and the previous year they had begun to strengthen their defences.  The British did not force home their initial advantage and it was not until 11 July that an air offensive began.

18 July:  a massive artillery bombardment commenced.

31 July:  the attack commenced when the British Fifth Army attacked north-east from the Ypres salient.  Initially, good progress was made but a strong counter-attack resulted in only a 2 mile advance.  Heavy rain fell on the first night flooding the swampy ground whose drainage system had been totally destroyed by the 10 day bombardment.  As a result the whole operation was held up but offensive actions still took place.

The 50th Division did not enter the fray until 26 October.  [13]

26 October:   The attack involved the XIV Corps to which the 50th Division belonged, the XVIII Corps on the right and the First French Army to the left.  The 57th Division was to the right and the 35th Division to the left of the 50th Division.  The 149th Brigade with 3 battalions, 4th Northumberland Fusiliers on the right, the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers in the centre and the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers on the left.  The 6th Northumberland Fusiliers was in reserve and the 4th Yorkshire Regiment (150th Brigade) was placed at the disposal of the brigade in case of emergency.

Rain fell heavily, the mud and water provided appalling conditions, machine gun fire and sniping made movement impossible then the enemy barrage came down at zero hour plus 1 minute.

“This very gallant attack by the 149th Brigade was fore-doomed to failure.  No troops in the world could have done more; they advanced with great courage against an almost invisible enemy but were mown down by machine gun and rifle fire.”[14]

The Divisional Artillery had a terrible time being deluged with mustard gas.

The Battalion War Diaries reported its casualties, killed, wounded and missing as:[15]

  • 4/NF: 10 Officers and 256 Other Ranks
  • 5/NF: 12 Officers and 439 Other Ranks
  • 7/NF: 11 Officers and 246 Other Ranks

149th Brigade HQ reported the losses for 26 & 27 October at 38 Officers and 1,080 Other Ranks.

26/27 October: at night, the 4th & 5th Yorkshire Regiment (150th Brigade) relieved the 149th Brigade.  Their diaries make no comment on the relief.  5/DLI was at Pascal Farm in support and the 1/4 East Yorkshire Regiment was at Marsouin Farm in Brigade Reserve. [16]  The Divisional History contains no further detail and the 1/5th DLI War Diary has not been researched.

Corporal R.H. Thompson was killed in action 27 October 1917.  He has no known grave.

Later research records that between 26 and 28 October, the following battalions’ losses, killed in action or died of wounds were:

  • 4/NF: 5 Officers and 91 Other Ranks
  • 5/NF: Officers[17] and  172 Other Ranks
  • 7/NF: 6 Officers and  109 Other Ranks

1/5 DLI losses 27 and 28 October were 15 Other Ranks including 2 ORs killed in action and 1 OR died of wounds 27 October.[18]  The circumstances of Corporal R.H. Thompson’s death remain unknown.  Corporal R.H. Thompson was awarded the British War and Victory medals.[19]


Corporal R.H. Thompson is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial located in the Tyne Cot Cemetery, some 9 kilometres north east of Ypres, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.  The Memorial to the Missing is one of 4 memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient which stretched from Langermarck in the north to Ploegsteert Wood in the south.  The Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing forms the north-eastern boundary of the Tyne Cot Cemetery and bears the names of almost 35,000 officers and men whose graves are unknown.  The memorial was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and was unveiled in July 1927. [20]


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales 1837-1915 Birth Index Vol.10a p.239 Auckland 1896 Q1

[3] 1901 & 1911 census

[4] 1901 census

[5] 1911 census

[6] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[7] Medal Roll Note: new numbers for Territorials took effect 1 March 1917



[10] Medal Roll

[11] &

[12] &

[13] “The Fiftieth Division 1914-1919” 1939 Everard Wyrall p.241- 249

[14] Wyrall p.248

[15] Wyrall p.247

[16] Wyrall p.248

[17] Officers Died in the Great War: no data available

[18] Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War

[19] Medal Roll

[20] CWGC



Thompson R.H.