WILLIAM SCOTT COBBY
2nd Bn., Hampshire Regiment
who died of wounds on
Wednesday 13 March 1918. Age 19.
William is buried at NINE ELMS BRITISH CEMETERY, Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. Nine Elms British Cemetery is located 11.5 kilometres west of Ieper town centre on the Helleketelweg, a road leading from the N308 connecting Ieper to Poperinge. From Ieper town centre the Poperingseweg (N308) is reached via Elverdingsestraat then over two small roundabouts in the J. Capronstraat. The Poperingseweg is a continuation of the J. Capronstraat and begins after a prominent railway level crossing. On reaching the ring road of Poperinge, the R33 Europalaan, the left hand clockwise route circles the town of Poperinge and rejoins the N308 towards Oost Cappel. 2.5 kilometres around the R33 lies the left hand turning onto Helleketelweg. The cemetery itself is located 700 metres along the Helleketelweg on the left hand side of the road.
The cemetery was first used from September to December 1917 for burials from the 3rd Australian and 44th Casualty Clearing Stations, which had been moved to Poperinghe (now Poperinge) in preparation for the 1917 Battle of Ypres. The cemetery was used again by fighting units between March and October 1918, the period of the German offensive in Flanders. The cemetery contains 1,556 Commonwealth burials of the First World War and 37 German war graves from this period. There are also 24 Second World War burials in the cemetery, all dating from the Allied retreat to Dunkirk in 1940. The cemetery was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield.
The Grave of William Scott Cobby
The Military Record of William Scott CobbyAll soldiers have a military file and these files are kept by the national government. Sadly, during attacks in WWII, the personnel records of most WWI soldiers were destroyed. I have searched without luck the remaining records and the file for William is not among them. This greatly limits the amount of information available concerning his military experience. We can summarize what we have in the following short list:
The following research was reported to me by Hannah Leppard of the Hampshire Regiment Museum in Winchester:
"I have carried out some research into William Scott Cobby after receiving your enquiry. As I have found relatively little information relating to Cobby, there will not be a charge, but hopefully this will answer some of your questions.
Although we donít have an exact date of enlistment for him, we can approximate that it would have been sometime in October 1915 by looking at the enlistment dates of soldiers with regimental numbers close to his. Although he would not yet have been 18, he may have lied about his date of birth which was often not properly checked. We can assume that he enlisted with the 15th Bn, who recruited from Portsmouth, as the British War and Victory Medal Roll shows that he entered France with them for the first time in May 1916.
He is listed in the November 1917 Regimental Journal as being wounded in action sometime previously, and there is an entry for this in the casualty ledger which we hold here. The entry indicates that he received gunshot wounds in the thigh and arm, probably whilst serving with the 1st Bn. He was treated at the military hospital in Eastleigh, arriving there on the 9th October 1917. He probably would have then joined the 2nd Bn on his return to the front.
am afraid I cannot shed any more light on the incident
that led to his death. There is not an entry in
the casualty ledger for him at that time, which is
unfortunate as that would have offered more detail on
his injuries. As the casualty ledger was
generally used to record those that were wounded and
then shipped somewhere else for treatment, we can
assume from the lack of an entry that the time between
his wounding and death was only a day or so. The
only other place I can recommend searching for more
information on his death is the archives of a local
newspaper from the Portsmouth area which may contain a
death notice with more details."
The Military Life of William Scott CobbyWhile we have limited documentation that is directly related to William, we can, by using other sources attempt to create an approximation to his military career, as follows.
As indicated above William probably enlisted about October 1915 in the 15th Bn. of the Hampshire Regiment at the age of 17 years and 4 months. It was this battalion that recruited in Portsmouth where he lived. After initial training, he deployed with the 15th Bn. to France in May of 1916.
At some point after arriving in France he was transferred to the 1st Bn. It will take further research to determine if the troops of the 15th Bn. who arrived in May of 1916 were sent as a full battalion depolyment or if they were just sent as a batch of replacements and then immediately assigned to other battalions of the regiment. While serving with the 1st Bn. he received gunshot wounds to the arm and thigh which resulted in him being transferred to Eastliegh Hospital for treatment, arriving there on 9 October 1917. We do not know how long that recovery took and when he returned to France. At some time after his recovery he returned to France and joined the 2nd Bn.
Let us now consider his last days. The 2nd Battalion War Diary is available from the National Archives and I have transcribed it for the first 14 days of March, 1918.
From the diary we see that, at the end of February the battalion was at full strength, or just over, with 42 officers and 1003 other ranks.The month had been a good month with respect to battle casualties, there being only one other rank wounded and none killed. There had been an accidental wounding of some sort but the big problem with personnel was sickness with one officer and 96 other ranks, ten percent of the strength being sent sick to hospital. Only five other ranks had returned from hospital, however there had been six new officers and 56 reinforcements among other ranks. Four soldiers had been returned to base as unfit. It is to be noted that the illnesses were not due to the influenza epidemic of 1918; that did not start until later in April. More likely it was a result of the effects of living in the open in cold weather with such things as trench foot creating difficulties. The battalion went into March in good shape.
During the first six days of March the battalion trained for a coming rotation into the line. There were sports events and inspections. But the weather was cold with the diary entry for the second stating "A very cold wind blowing and a little snow". During these first days 22 men went to hospital with only four returning from hospital.
During the 6th and 7th the battalion moved up to the Ypres area and then moved into the line north of Passchendaele, the site of such severe fighting the previous fall in what has become known as the third battle of Ypres, or, more simply, Passchendaele. This ground is quite flat and to the extent that there are high points they were occupied by the Germans. Consequently, as all daytime movement was visible to enemy observers, the take over of the lines was done during the night; the takeover was considered successful as there was only on casualty (killed in action) during the move.
Once in the lines it immediately became a bit more dangerous. On the 9th and 10th the weather was fine but there was a fair bit of shelling and 6 wounded in action. Again on the 10th there was another soldier wounded.
Then on the eleventh at about 5:55 am the enemy "opened an intense barrage immediately in front". They were observed to be forming up for an attack and consequently an S.O.S. signal was sent to the artillery and rifle and Lewis gun (a type of machine gun) fire was kept up disrupting the enemy. In less than 2 minutes artillery rounds started to fall amongst the enemy and they appeared to suffer heavy casualties [note: the S.O.S. would be coded, probably a flare sequence, which identified to the artillery where the rounds were to land. The guns would have all of the necessary firing information to provide an immediate and accurate response to the signal]. At one point the enemy approached within bombing [grenade] range but they were pushed back by bombing on the part of battalion members. In retreating they received further casualties from the artillery firing (which could not be too close to the battalions own lines for fear of "friendly fire" casualties. Subsequent to this the enemy entered no man's land under a red cross flag to retrieve their wounded, a process which took them 3 1/2 hours. The battalion took two prisoners and captured a light machine gun in this interchange. They suffered two killed in action casualties and 7 wounded.
The 12th was a calmer day with normal shelling with only one killed in action and one other soldier from the trench mortar battalion [T.M.B.] being wounded.
Then on the 13th, the day that William died, a gas shell bombardment was opened on the battalion headquarters at BELLEVUE [this is the name of a location within the Ypres salient; I have not yet located it. The battalion headquarters would have been some distance behind the four companies of the battalion which would normally be position with two or three companies in the forward line or two with the other company or companies further back in reserve.]. The diary goes on to report
"One shell pierced 8 feet of earth which was protecting the entrance to the pill-box and wounded the gas sentry. He apparently crawled into the H.Q. dug-out taking with him some of the liquid gas on his clothes etc., The passage outside was also sprayed with the liquid. no effect seemed to take place at first but towards one o'clock everyone was sore about the eyes and felt ill. By 6 pm, the whole Battalion headquarters had been removed to the dressing station suffering from poison gas. The C.O., Adjutant, Intelligence Officer, Medical Officer & Signalling Officer, the Regimental Sergeant Major, Signalling Sergt., Orderly Room Cpl, all the runners, signalers, officer's servants and medical aid staff. Major H. C. Westmorland was wired for and came up to take over and found no one to take over from. A few men were gassed by looking into the dug-out six or seven hours after the event."[Note: I have not been able as yet to determine the kind of gas that is involved. As early as July 1917 the Germans were using mustard gas, so one would assume that the battalion medical officer (who was a gas casualty) would have known what the cause was and have been able to advise suitable procedures to minimize casualties. It is a bit concerning that some men were gassed hours later by looking into the dug-out]. The casualties for the day were reported as 1 other rank killed in action and 42 wounded in action. Additionally 5 died of wounds received in action. The report on officer casualties names 6 officers wounded in action (gassed). So it may be that many of the 42 other ranks who were wounded in action were gas victims of the attack on the battalion headquarters, or they might have had gunshot or shrapnel wounds from shelling or rifle and machine gun fire. It is not clear if those reported as dying of wounds received in action died while in the lines or could include those who died behind the lines.
This leads to the question of speculating on how William died. I believe he would have been wounded no earlier than about 11 March. Some options that I can see are:
Locations of the 2nd Bn. Hampshire Regiment, March 1 - 14, 1917
William Scott Cobby was born on 14 June 1898, the third child and second son of 7 children born to Henry Mathew Cobby and Elizabeth Marion Scott. Henry was a retired sea captain in the Royal Navy. Elizabeth was the fifth child and second child to survive infancy, born to William Scott and Mary Jacobs.
We have almost no knowledge of the childhood of William. Our limited knowledge is related to two census entries and information provided by the family as to his birth date, 14 June 1898, and the fact that he died in WWI. Additionally we have only one photo of William shown below:
1901 Census Image
1911 Census Entry
The only photograph of William in my possession:
Family of Henry and Elizabeth Marion (Scott) Cobby about 1904
©Kenneth Scott and others