Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (The 2/4th Battalion)

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1916, NOVEMBER 26th – DRENCHED WHILE RELIEVING THE 2/4th ROYAL BERKSHIRE REGIMENT

Trenches Near Grandcourt November and Dececember 1916

From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose M.C. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)

The next night (26th / 27th) the Battalion moved up to relieve the Berks, but was conducted, or conducted itself, along the very communication trench which I had studiously avoided using and which was in a shocking state from water and mud. As the result of the journey, D Company reached the front line practically wet-through to a man, and in a very exhausted condition. A proportion of their impedimenta had become future salvage on the way up, while several men and, I fancy, some officers, had compromised themselves for some hours with the mud, which exacted their gumboots as the price of their future progress. I regret that my own faithful servant, Longford, was as exhausted as anybody and suffered a nasty fall at the very gates of paradise (an hyperbole I use to justify the end of such a mud journey), namely Company Headquarters in Regina, where, like a sort of host, I had been waiting long.

Desire Trench, the name by which the front line was known, was a shallow disconnected trough upholstered in mud and possessing four or five unfinished dug-out shafts. These shafts, as was natural, faced the wrong way, but provided all the front line shelter in this sector. At one end, its left, the trench ran into chalk (as well as some chalk and plenty of mud into it!) and its flank disappeared, by a military conjuring trick, into the air. About 600 yards away the Germans were supposed to be consolidating, which meant that they were feverishly scraping, digging and fitting timbers in their next lot of dug-outs. To get below earth was their first consideration.

Regina dug-out deserves a paragraph to itself. This unsavoury residence housed two platoons of D Company, Company Headquarters, and Stobie, our doctor, with the Regimental Aid Post. In construction the dug-out, which indeed was typical of many, was a corridor with wings opening off, about 40 feet deep and some 30 yards long, with 4 entrances, on each of which stood double sentries day and night. Garbage and all the putrefying matter which had accumulated underfoot during German occupation and which it did not repay to disturb for fear of a worse thing, rendered vile the atmosphere within. Old German socks and shirts, used and half-used beer bottles, sacks of sprouting and rotting onions, vied with mud to cover the floor. A suspicion of other remains was not absent. The four shafts provided a species of ventilation, reminiscent of that encountered in London Tubes, but perpetual smoking, the fumes from the paraffin lamps that did duty for insufficient candles, and our mere breathing more than counterbalanced even the draughts and combined impressions, fit background for post-war nightmares, that time will hardly efface. Regina Trench itself, being on a forward slope and exposed to full view from Loupart Wood, was shelled almost continuously by day and also frequently at night. ‘Out and away,’ ‘In and down’ became mottoes for runners and all who inhabited the dug-out or were obliged to make repeated visits to it. Below, one was immune under 40 feet of chalk, and except when an entrance was hit the 5.9s rained down harmlessly and without comment.

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1916-11-26
Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire
Location France, Trenches
Entry Normal artillery activity on both sides. Casualties 3 OR killed, 2/Lt DANIELLS and 4 OR wounded. Relieved by 2/4 OXFORDS.

Sir Harry Edward de Robillard Wetherall, D.S.O., M.C.

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

Late April 1917
“Colonel Bellamy’s successor, H. de R. Wetherall, was a young man whom ability and leadership had already lifted to distinction in his regiment and placed in command of an important military school. From now onwards he is the outstanding figure in the Battalion’s history. In the new Colonel a quick brain was linked with vigorous physique. In spite of his Regular training, Wetherall could appreciate and himself possessed to no small degree the peculiar virtues of the temporary officer, who based his methods on common sense and actual experience in the war rather than servile obedience to red tape and ‘Regulations.’ He had studied during the war as well as before it, with the result that military tradition – his regiment was the Gloucestershire – and his long service in the field combined to fit him for command of our Battalion.”

June 1917
“A totally different spirit characterised training in France. Colonel Wetherall was a master of the art of teaching. His emphatic direction and enthusiasm earned early reward in the increased efficiency of all ranks.”

August 1917
“The capture of this had been assigned to the 48th Division, but as a measure of abundant caution Colonel Wetherall had detailed a special Berks platoon to tackle it. This platoon, assisted by some Oxfords on the scene, captured the gun-pit and nearly seventy prisoners, but failed to garrison it.”

September 1917
“The defence of the three strongholds, Iberian, Hill 35, and Gallipoli provided a striking example of German stubbornness and skill, but added an object-lesson in the squandering of our efforts in attack. Operations upon a general scale having failed to capture all three, it was fantastically hoped that each could be reduced separately. Iberian, Hill 35, and Gallipoli supported one another, nor was it feasible to hold any without holding all. Yet to take Hill 35 on September 9 the 2/4th Oxfords were specially selected. The spirit of A and D Companies, chosen by Colonel Wetherall for the attack, was excellent. We confidently believed that we could succeed where others failed. Optimism, so vital an ingredient in morale, was a powerful assistant to the English Army. It was fostered, perhaps unconsciously, throughout the war by the cheerful attitude preserved by our Generals and staff, but its foundation lay in our great system of supply. The A.S.C.,
which helped to win our victories, helped, too, to temper our defeats.

On September 7 Brown and myself went up through Ypres to view the scene of the attack. At Wieltje, where Colonel Wetherall and B and C Companies already were, we descended to a deep, wet dug-out and that night listened to a narrative brought by an officer who had participated in the last attempt to take the hill. He dispensed the most depressing information about the gun_pits, the machine-guns, the barrages, and last, but not least terrible (if believed), the new incendiary Verey lights used by the Germans to cremate their assailants. The description of a piece of trench, which we were to capture and block, particularly flattered our prospects. ‘Wide, shallow trench, enfiladed from Gallipoli, filled with the Division dead,’ it ran. The tale of horror becoming ludicrous, we soon afterwards clambered on to the wire bunks
and slept, dripped on, till the early morning.”

November 1917
“A series of gas projections. smoke barrages, and raids were to take place. The better to maintain secrecy from the German ‘listening-sets’ no telephones were used. The Battalion bore its share in the programme: already at Arras plans for a novel raid were under contemplation. Cuthbert had devised a scheme, which
Colonel Wetherall adopted and chose B Company,under Moberly, to carry out.”

“Now it was planned by Wetherall to fire lethal gas against the enemy for several nights. On the night of the raid and during it, non-lethal only would be used. The two gases smelt alike and the presumption was that on the night of the raid the enemy would wear gas-helmets.”

21st March 1918
“At Enghien Redoubt Battalion Headquarters had received no news of the attack having begun; the dense mist limited the view to fifty, yards. The earliest intimation received by Colonel Wetherall of what was taking place was enemy rifle and machine-gun tire sweeping the parapet.”

22nd March 1918
“Early on Match 22 Colonel Wetherall, limping and tired, arrived. He bore the tale of his adventure. During the 21st we saw him disappear from Enghien Redoubt to go on a reconnaissance. Near Holnon he was surrounded by an enemy patrol and led a prisoner towards St. Quentin but when the fire of 6-inch howitzers scared his escort into shell-holes, the Colonel escaped, and the same night, choosing his opportunity to slip between the German digging parties, contrived to reach our lines.”

“Colonel Wetherall had already started on the way to Languevoisin but was caught up at Matigny. He the same night (22nd) regained the Beauvoir line and took command of the Brigade.”

24th March 1918
“On the same day of which I was last speaking, March 24–the 184th Brigade, minus those Oxfords who were in action with the 20th Division. though sadly wasted in numbers, formed up again to make a stand. Colonel Wetherall, the acting Brigadier, had received orders to hold the line of the canal east and south-east of Nesle.”

25th March 1918
“At 11 a.m. on March 25 the enemy attacked. As often during these days, when a line was held solidly in one place, it broke elsewhere. By noon the enemy had captured Nesle, and the left flank of the Brigade was turned. During the fight Colonel Wetherall was wounded in the neck by a piece of shell and owed his life to the Brigade Major, Howitt, who held the arteries.”

“The line was driven back to Billancourt and the same night (25th) the remnants of the XVIII Çorps withdrew in darkness to Roye, a town where our hospitals were still at work, evacuating as fast as possible the streams of wounded from the battle. One of the last patients to leave by train was Wetherall, who at this crisis passed under the care of Stobie, the Oxfords’ old M.O.”

From a letter by Brigade-Major Harold Howitt, 183rd Brigade, 61st Division, to his wife Dorothy, 30/3/1918. Found in full in To The Last Man, Spring 1918by Lyn Macdonald, Carroll & Graf, 1998.

“Col. Wetherall got a nasty wound & I am going to boast that he owes his life to me.  An H.E. splinter got him in the throat whilst talking to me and severed one of the main arteries & cut his throat – he gushed all over me & it was a long time before I could stop it, but he was a model of self-possession & I lay with him for over an hour till a doctor could be found. All the time the Hun was attacking & I had to keep one eye on him & the other on messages that were coming in & yet not let Wetherall know. Finally the Hun was right round us for he had taken Vesle on our left & there was nothing for it but to make tracks at once – we had no stretcher so output the old Colonel on a bike and pushed him along. I hear is all right & you can look for his name in the future as one of the soldiers of our day – and I ave never met a finer fellow.”

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

Mid-April 1918
“About this time Colonel Boyle, who had commanded the 6th Oxfords until their disbandment, arrived to assume command of the Battalion. He remained till Wetherall, whose wound had taken him to England, returned.”

End of May 1918
“Towards the end of May Colonel Wetherall returned to take command of the Battalion. To be his Second in Command was both a pleasure and a privilege, similar feelings were evoked towards the Brigadier, General Pagan, in whose small frame beat a lion’s heart.”

7th/8th August 1918
Throughout the night of August 7/8, when things generally were very active, a heavy gas-bombardment was kept up. The Colonel was away from his headquarters at the time. He returned after the shelling to find that gas helmets had been taken off. No harm was expected, but the next day after the sun’s heat had awakened dormant fumes, the Colonel, Symonds (the adjutant), Kirk, who had brought up the rations, and Cubbage, as well as the Regimental Sergeant-Major and many signallers and runners, all round that the were gassed. Their loss was serious. It was known that Wetherall would soon have to leave the Battalion, for he had been appointed to a command in the Machine Gun Corps; indeed alreadv his successor, Colonel Woulfe-Flanagan, had arrived to take his place. Under the present unlucky auspices (for more than half Headquarters were knocked out) the interchange took place.

Herodotus says of the kings of Sparta that the last was always regretted as the best the country had ever had. Colonel Wetherall’s merit did not depend on his being the last of a series. Phrases such as ‘he was worshipped by the men’ have become so hackneyed as to be meaningless, nor shall I use an even worse commonplace, that ‘he was sparing of his words.’ Wetherall was just a rattling good Commanding Officer, a true friend, and a fine soldier.”

Further military career:

Harry Edward de Robillard Wetherall

Sir Harry Edward de Robillard Wetherall (born 1889; died 1979) was an officer in the British Army during World War I and World War II.

Lieutenant-General Wetherall commanded the 11th African Division during the East African Campaign. He was part of the “Southern Front” for this campaign. Wetherall commanded the 11th African Division during the advance from Kenya, through Italian Somaliland, and into Ethiopia.

On 23 November 1941, with the campaign all but over, the 11th African Division was disbanded. Wetherall became the acting General Officer Commanding of the East Africa Force.

In 1943, Wetherall moved on to British Ceylon.

Command history

* 1936 to 1938 Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment
* 1938 to 1940 Commanding Officer, 19th Brigade
* 1940 General Officer Commanding, 1st African Division, East Africa
* 1940 to 1941 General Officer Commanding, 11th African Division, East Africa
* 1941 Acting General Officer Commanding, East Africa Force
* 1941 to 1943 General Officer Commanding, Command Area, East Africa
* 1943 to 1945 General Officer Commanding, Ceylon
* 1945 to 1946 Commander-in-Chief, Ceylon
* 1946 Retired

Soldiers of Gloucestershire have a photograph of Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Edward de Robillard Wetherall and Major-General C.E.A. Firth. Service of Commemoration and Intercession. Gloucestershire Regiment. Gloucester Cathedral, 17th June 1951.

Captain William Stobie, O.B.E., M.D., F.R.C.P.

From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose M.C. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)

November 1916

Regina dug-out deserves a paragraph to itself. This unsavoury residence housed two platoons of D Company, Company Headquarters, and Stobie, our doctor, with the Regimental Aid Post. In construction the dug-out, which indeed was typical of many, was a corridor with wings opening off, about 40 feet deep and some 30 yards long, with 4 entrances, on each of which stood double sentries day and night. Garbage and all the putrefying matter which had accumulated underfoot during German occupation and which it did not repay to disturb for fear of a worse thing, rendered vile the atmosphere within. Old German socks and shirts, used and half-used beer bottles, sacks of sprouting and rotting onions, vied with mud to cover the floor. A suspicion of other remains was not absent.

June 1917

Our doctor, Stobie, and with him Arrowsmith had a bitter experience of German shells. One fine summer morning the enemy commenced a programme of destructive fire upon some empty gun-pits where the Doctor had his dressing-station. Stobie and Arrowsmith, with their personnel, received a high explosive notice to quit, and their descent into a wrong-facing shaft was next followed by the partial destruction or their only exit. They escaped safely and arrived in a state of pardonable excitement at the deep cave under Les Fosses Farm, where my Company Headquarters and many others were.

26th March 1918

Colonel Lawson, guarded the right. At 11 a.m. on March 25 the enemy attacked. As often during these days, when a line was held solidly in one place, it broke elsewhere. By noon the enemy had captured Nesle, and the left flank of the Brigade was turned. During the fight Colonel Wetherall was wounded in the neck by a piece of shell and owed his life to the Brigade Major, Howitt, who held the arteries.

The line was driven back to Billancourt and the same night (25th) the remnants of the XVIII Corps withdrew in darkness to Roye, a town where our hospitals were still at work, evacuating as fast as possible the streams of wounded from the battle. One of the last patients to leave by train was Wetherall, who at this crisis passed under the care of Stobie, the Oxfords’ old M.O.

SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 27 APRIL, 1921

1st S. Mid. Fd. Amb. To be temp. Lt.-Col. :— William Stobie, O.B.E. 13 Apr. 1921

From Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors

William Stobie (1886–1957) was born in Edinburgh, the son of William Stobie. He was educated at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh, where he qualified as a doctor.

Stobie married Irene Beatrice Taylor of Shelsley Walsh near Worcester in 1914, and their son William Douglas Kerr Stobie was born in 1920.

During the First World War Stobie served as Major in the Royal Army Medical Corps in France and Belgium, and was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Defence Force in 1919.

When the 40-bed Osler Pavilion for tuberculosis patients in Headington opened in 1927, Stobie was appointed assistant physician and in practice was in full charge from the start. He lived at Craigmillar, 382 Banbury Road.

In 1934 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and appointed Consultant in Tuberculosis to the City and County. He was also appointed Physician at the Oxford Eye Hospital. He was a Fellow of Exeter College and lectured on Respiratory Diseases and Medical Ophthalmology at the University.

iN 1930 Stobie was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1930/1), and was influential in appointing Dr Williams as medical officer of health for Oxford and Dr Charles Hill (later Lord Hill)

Stobie was an Alderman from 1931 to 1934 and also served a term as Sheriff of Oxford. He retired in 1952, and died in 1957.

See also:

Oxford Times, 13 July 1951, p. 8 (retirement)
Oxford Times, 8 March 1957, p. 6 (obituary and funeral)
A. H. T. Robb-Smith, A Short History of the Radcliffe Infirmary (United Oxford Hospitals, 1970), pp. 146–7
Who’s Who in Oxfordshire, p. 346

From The British Medical Journal, March 9, 1957

WILLIAM STOBIE, O.B.E., M.D., F.R.C.P.

The sudden death of Dr. William Stobie at the age of 70 has removed from the life of Oxford an outstanding civic figure as well as one of its best-known medical practitioners. William Stobie was born at Edinburgh on May 2, 1886, and was educated at George Watson’s College and at Edinburgh University, where he graduated M.B., Ch.B.in 1908. In the following year he came toOxford as house-physician to Sir William Osler,and ever since that time was closely connected with the Radcliffe Infirmary. From 1910 until he joined the Army he was medical officer to the Oxford Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis. During the first world war he served in the R.A.M.C. as medical officer to the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry; he was twice mentioned in dispatches and was appointed O.B.E.in1919. After the war he returned to his medical work in Oxford, proceeding to the M.D. of Edinburgh in 1921 and becoming a member of the Royal College of Physicians of London in the following year. In 1926 he was appointed physician to the Osler Pavilion and in 1934 consultant for tuberculosis to Oxford City and Oxfordshire County. It was in this latter year that he was elected F.R.C.P. With the coming of the National Health Service in 1948 he was appointed consultant in diseases of the chest to the United Oxford Hospitals and clinical lecturer in the University of Oxford. A member of the British Medical Association for some 40 years, Stobie was honorary secretary of the Oxford Division from 1923 to 1928 and of the Oxford and Reading Branch from 1924 to 1926; chairman of the Oxford Division in 1935-6 and again from 1940 to 1942; and president of the Berks, Bucks, and Oxford Branch in 1938-9. At Headquarters he as a member of the council from 1933 to 1935, and served on a number of committees, including that on medical education (1933-35). At the Annual Meeting of the the B.MA. in 1936 at Oxford he held office as president of the Section of Tuberculosis.

In addition to his medical work Dr. Stobie was keenly interested in municipal affairs, becoming a councillor and subsequently an alderman on the Oxford City Council. He was appointed sheriff in 1927 and elected mayor in 1930. He was also a magistrate and former chairman of the Oxford bench. Keenly interested in Rugby football he beame a very active supporter of the game in Oxford, and was very proud of being the father of two Oxford University rugged blues. In his student days he played golf for Edinburgh University.

Dr. Stobie’s work for the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis will be long remembered with ratitude, and his civic commitments showed what an active and full life he led in Oxford, whee he will be greatly missed. Our sympathy is extended to his widow and smily. — W. S .H.

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