Jesson, Robert Weston. Died 20th Jan 1916

Robert Weston JESSON D.C.M. – d. 20 January 1916

 

Robert Weston JESSON was born about 1895, the son of James and Sarah Jane Barratt Jesson of Spring House, East Langton, Market Harborough, Leicestershire. In 1911, James Jesson, who was born in Gumby, in about 1859, was a butcher and grazier. There were then six children at home in East Langton: Thomas Jesson, 27, ‘working on the land’; Mary Elizabeth Jesson, 21; William Hedley Jesson, 20, ‘assistant butcher’; Alfred Neal Jesson, 18; Robert Weston Jesson, 16, still at school; and Margaret Ellen Jesson, 15. The eldest brother James J B Jesson, who should by now have been 28, has not been found in the 1911 census, and an elder sister, Evelin J Jesson, now 25, had married Adam Reid in 1908.

At some date between leaving school after 1911, and 1913, Robert stared work at BTH, and before the war he was working in the BTH Wiring Department and joined the territorial ‘Rugby Battery’ at Rugby on 19 June 1913, when he reached the age of 18 years.

He became Gunner, No.251, 5th Warwick ‘Rugby’ Battery, which was part of the 4th South Midland Brigade, Royal Field Artillery [RFA].

When formed in 1908, the Rugby Battery had a temporary headquarters at Messrs Willans and Robinson’s Engineering Works in Newbold Road, Rugby.   The Battery went on annual training in the summers. In 1910 a new headquarters was opened at 72 Victoria Avenue, Rugby, known locally as the Rowland Street Drill Hall.

‘The 4th South Midland Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery was composed of the 4th Warwickshire Howitzer Battery (based in Coventry), the 5th Warwickshire Howitzer Battery (based in Rugby) and its ammunition column. The men and horses of the 4th South Midland Brigade, from Rugby and Coventry, … trained together in the Territorial Force prior to 1914 and after the outbreak of war in August 1914 they served together until their Brigade was dispersed in … 1916.’[1]

Jesson, R W, Rugby, Warwickshire, Photo in Church Langton Church, Leicestershire 6 crop

Robert Jesson’s military records survived the WWII fire, as part of the ‘burnt records’, and his brief military career can be followed in some detail and can be correlated with the movements of the Brigade which are also recorded on-line and provide some guidance as to where Robert would have been serving at any time.[2]

His Service Record showed that he attended the 1913 fortnight’s Annual Training Camp on Salisbury Plain, probably at Rolleston Camp, from 3 to 17 August 1913, which included field manoeuvres.

Robert was promoted to Bombardier [equivalent of Corporal] on 15 July 1914, just before going to the Annual Training Summer Camp at Lydd, Norfolk on 2 August 1914, however, they returned to Rugby, on 4 August, after being in camp for only 2 days.

Robert would become ‘One of Lord Kitchener’s first hundred thousand’.[3] On 6 August 1914, the Brigade went to Swindon to join the 1st South Midland Division (infantry); and then moved, on 24 August 1914, by road from Swindon to Great Baddow, Essex, where they stayed till 30 March 1915. During this period, on 14 October 1914, they were inspected by King George V at Hylands Park, Chelmsford, and during January 1915 went to Salisbury Plain for training with infantry, returning to Great Baddow in February.

On 30 March 1915, the Brigade, and Robert, embarked at Southampton for Le Havre, France, and travelled by train to Abbeville, and then to Steenwerck, near Bailleul, reaching Menegatte on 3 April and marching to Nieppe.

On 5 April 1915 they went into action for the first time at Petit Point, near Ploegsteert. They served in the Ploegsteert area; then on 18 April 1915 at La Menegatte; and by 15 May 1915 back at Ploegsteert.

During this period at Ploegsteert, Robert, who had already been a Bombardier in the Territorials, was promoted to acting Corporal on 18 May 1915, to replace ‘Bromwich’ who was admitted to hospital. He was confirmed in the rank on the same day.

On 26 June 1915 they came out of action and moved to Ferfay, near Lilliers, 25 miles south west of Ploegstreert, and then moved in stages toward the Somme area: 27 June 1915 at Bailleul; 28 June 1915, Vieux Berquin; 29 June, Robecq; 30 June, Ferfay; 20 July 1915, Thievres; 22 July 1915, Authie. This was a distance of some 80 miles. The Division took over a sector of the line from the French, and by 27 July were at Hebuterne, just north of Beaumont-Hamel and some 10 miles north of Albert, where they remained until the Somme offensive later that year on 1 July 1916.

On 5 August 1915, Robert was ‘Granted Class II Proficiency Pay, A.F.O. 1614 A to Home Paymaster. Then, ‘In the field’ he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal [DSM] vide Supplement to “London Gazette” of 11/1/16.’ That publication stated:

‘AWARDED THE DISTINGUISHED CONDUCT MEDAL

‘251 Corporal R. W. Jesson, l/4th South Midland (Howitzer) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.’[4]

His ‘Military History Sheet’ stated that this was ‘… for conspicuous gallantry and good work, often under heavy fire’.

The award of the DCM to men of the ‘Warwickshire Regiment’ was included in the Coventry paper four days later, ‘Lce.-Corpl. R W Jesson 1/4th South Midland (Howitzer) Battery.’[5] It was also noted in the Western Daily Press: ‘2511 Corporal R. W. Jesson, 1/4th South Midland (Howitzer) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, T.F. – ‘For conspicuous gallantry and good work, in laying and maintaining telephone wires, often under heavy fire’; and also in the Cheltenham Chronicle.[6]

A later letter from Major Cecil P Nickalls, Major O.C. 5th Warwickshire Howitzer Battery, R.F.A on 20 January 1916 stated that ‘… He was in charge of the telephone system of the Battery. This duty called for much very hard work; he was always ready at any hour of the day or night to go out cheerfully at great personal risk to attend to any defect or breakage of the telephone wires, and his fearless devotion to duty set a grand example to all ranks.’[7]

Although the other South Midland Brigades had received the new 18-pounder guns to replace the 15-pounders, which were retired after the Boer war and given to the Territorials in 1906, the new Howitzers for 4th South Midland did not arrive till 6 January 1916 when they were issued with 4.5 inch Howitzers.

It was soon after receiving the new guns at Hebuterne, and the day after being presented with his DSM, that Robert Jesson was ‘Killed in Action’ on 20 January 1916.

‘… Corporal R W Jesson, was killed by a stray bullet, at 7 a.m. today. He was shot through the temple on his way back from Roll Call to his billet – his death was instantaneous. … Your son, whom I had the honour of congratulating only yesterday on parade before the officers, N.C.O.s and men, on gaining the Distinguished Conduct Medal, was universally loved and respected not only in his own Battery, but throughout the Brigade.’[8]

There was also an entry in Colonel West’s diary which noted that on ‘… Thurs 20th. Corporal Jesson shot in the head while walking in the village and buried.’[9]

The next week, another soldier from the battery, Gunner Thomas Spicer, was killed also when off-duty and his billet area was shelled. The Chaplain writing to his parents remarked how he ‘… lies next to a comrade from his own Brigade, Corporal Jesson who was killed last week.   It is a pretty little cemetery, in an orchard, just as carefully and reverently looked after as a churchyard in England.’[10]

No doubt because of the wider recruiting area of the south Midland Brigade, his death was also listed in more distant papers, including the Evening Dispatch and the Gloucester Journal.[11]

He had served for 2 years and 216 days, when he was ‘Killed in Action’. His Record confirmed that he was buried in Hebuterne Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France, and the CWGC confirmed his burial in Plot I. N. 19.

Jesson, R W, Rugby, Warwickshire, Grave in Hebuterne Military Cemetery crop

Hebuterne Military Cemetery was begun by the 48th (South Midland) Division in August 1915, and used by fighting units and Field Ambulances (particularly those of the 56th (London) Division) until the spring of 1917; it was reopened in 1918. The conditions of burial explain the irregularity of the rows. There are now over 750, 1914-18 war casualties commemorated in this site. The village gave its name to a severe action fought by the French on the 10-13 June 1915, in the “Second Battle of Artois”. It was taken over by British troops from the French in the same summer, and it remained subject to shell fire during the Battles of the Somme.[12]

As well as the Distinguished Conduct Medal, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star and the British War and Victory Medals.

Jesson, R W, Rugby, Warwickshire, Memorial in Church Langton Church, Leicestershire 3 crop

Robert Jesson is remembered in his home church at East Langton; on the list of BTH Employees who served in the War 1914 – 1918; on the BTH War Memorial;[13] as well as on the Rugby Memorial Gates.

Robert Jesson had been a chorister and ‘… learned bell ringing at his native village of East Langton, and took the greatest interest in the art. On going to Rugby he joined the Parish Church company, and rang his first peal (on the tenor) on November 24th 1913 – a peal of Stedman Triples in celebration of Mr. James George’s 60th birthday. On the Sunday after the announcement of his death had been received, the bells of Langton Parish Church were rung, muffled, to his memory’.[14]

The Rugby Advertiser likewise reported that he ‘… had been a member of the St. Andrew’s Association of Change Ringers, and before the evening service at the Parish Church … his fellow members rang half-muffled peals.’[15]

It is the intention of the present ‘Rugby Ringers’ at St. Andrews, to commemorate their predecessor.   A ‘Full three hour Peal’ of those same ‘Stedman Triples’ was rung on Sunday, 17 January, at about 5.00p.m., and a ‘Quarter Peal’ on Wednesday, 20 January at 7.30p.m., on the 100th anniversary of his death.  The Ringers noted that ‘… doubtless some beer will be drunk afterwards’.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

= = = =

 

This article was written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the Rugby Family History Group, January 2016.

[1]       https://sites.google.com/site/4thsouthmidlandbrigade/Home/dates-and-places-served-1

[2]       https://sites.google.com/site/4thsouthmidlandbrigade/Home/dates-and-places-served-1

[3]       From his Memorial in East Langton church (see above), with many thanks to Alan Regin.

[4]       The London Gazette, 11 January 1916, Supplement 29438, Page 603.

[5]       Coventry Evening Telegraph, Friday, 14 January 1916; also Gloucestershire Chronicle, Saturday, 15 January 1916; and Cheltenham Chronicle, Saturday, 22 January 1916.

[6]       Western Daily Press, Monday, 13 March 1916.

[7]       Letter, Major Cecil P Nickalls to Mr Jesson, 20 January 1916, Rugby Advertiser.

[8]       Letter, Major Cecil P Nickalls to Mr Jesson, Rugby Advertiser, 20 January 1916,.

[9]       Frank West, Diary, 1915-1916. He was in command of the 4th South Midland (Howitzer) Brigade.

[10]     Coventry Evening Telegraph, Monday, 7 February 1916.

[11]     Evening Despatch, Friday, 28 January 1916; Gloucester Journal, Saturday, 12 February 1916.

[12]     http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/33301/HEBUTERNE%20MILITARY%20CEMETERY

[13]     Taken from the list of names on the BTH War Memorial when it was unveiled, published in the Rugby Advertiser, 4 November 1921.

[14]     The Ringing World, 17 March 1916.

[15]     Rugby Advertiser, 20 January 1916.

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