yeovil at War
Robert George White
Killed in action during the Battle of Flers–Courcelette, aged just 18
Robert George White was born in Yeovil in the summer of 1898 and on 10 June 1898 he was baptised at Holy Trinity church. He was the son of maltster James Robert White (1871-1936), originally from Sherborne, and Georgiana Cosby Lukins (1872-1957), originally from Crewkerne. Robert was second eldest of the eight children of the family that included Eva Ellen (b1896), Robert, Alfred Frederick (b1901), Irene Lily (1903-1932), Henry John (b1905), Beatrice Maude (b1907), Ada Olive (b1908) and James Edward (b1912).
In the 1901 census James and Georgiana were living at 7 Wellington Street with 3-year old Robert and 9-month old Alfred. James gave his occupation as a maltster.
By the time of the 1911 census things had changed for the family - James was now working as a general labourer and now had seven children to feed. The family had now moved to the less salubrious 186 Park Street.
The family later moved to 96 Eastland Road.
In January 1916, when he turned eighteen, Robert enlisted at Yeovil. He joined the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry. His Service Number was 21181.
This battalion was a training unit through which recruits passed. Originally based in Taunton, it moved to Devonport in August 1914.
After his training Robert was transferred to the 24th (County of London) Battalion, London Regiment (The Queen's). His new Service Number was 6208. This battalion had been in France since March 1915, becoming 142nd Brigade, in 47th (2nd London) Division in May 1915.
As soon as joining his new regiment Robert was sent to France to join them at the Front. At this time the regiment was heavily involved in the various battles that formed the Somme Offensive.
The Battle of Flers–Courcelette was a battle within the Somme Offensive, launched on 15 September 1916 with the battle continuing for a week. Flers–Courcelette began with the objective of cutting a hole in the German line by using massed artillery and infantry attacks. This hole would then be exploited with the use of cavalry. It was the third and final general offensive mounted by the British Army during the Battle of the Somme. By its conclusion on 22 September, the strategic objective of a breakthrough had not been achieved; however tactical gains were made in the capture of the villages of Courcelette, Martinpuich and Flers. In some places, the front lines were advanced by over 2,500 yards (2,300 m) by the Allied attacks. The battle is significant for the first use of the tank in warfare. Robert was killed in action during the Battle of Flers–Courcelette on 17 September 1916. He was just 18 years old.
In its edition of 17 November 1916 the Western Gazette reported "News has been received from the War Office that Private Robert George White, whose parents reside at 96 Eastland Road, Newtown, was killed in action on September 17th. Private White, who was only 18 years and eight months old, joined the Somerset Light Infantry in January of this year, and was transferred to the London Regiment when he was sent in the draft to France. He is the eldest son of Mr James White, Eastland Road, with whom much sympathy is felt."
The record of Robert's baptism in the Holy Trinity church register.
The last Allied push of 1916 began on 15 September, with the British engaged in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, which also saw the tank make its debut. Robert was killed in action during this battle on 17 September.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate in memory of Robert White.
The Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.
The Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916. The memorial also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial in recognition of the joint nature of the 1916 offensive and a small cemetery containing equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves lies at the foot of the memorial. The memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was built between 1928 and 1932 and unveiled by the Prince of Wales, in the presence of the President of France, on 1 August 1932.