Topic: William James Robb

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A soldier of the Great War killed in action during the disastrous Passchendaele action.

Robb, W. J.

Private William James Robb - 21737        

William was born at Doyleston on 13th March 1896, eldest son of James and Letitia Robb. Having previously worked for his father, at the time of enlisting he was a butcher for Mr W Mclaughlin at Doyleston. He also played football for the now defunct Doyleston Club, and for several years took part in local sports gatherings.  He had previous military experience with the 13th Regiment, Canterbury and West Coast. He was 5ft 6 ½ in tall with fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. Along with J O’boyle, who was also killed, he was guest at a farewell concert at Doyleston Hall in February 1917 where they were presented with a set of military brushes. The speaker described him as a resident of Doyleston for two years or so and he had proved a good citizen. He had been specially asked to mention the help that Private Robb had given the local Red Cross Branch. He also mentioned, perhaps mistakenly, that William Robb had served in the Gordon Highlanders in Scotland for some years. When volunteers were asked for to fill up the shortage in the 23rd Reinforcements Privates Robb and O'Boyle had promptly responded. William had responded that “He was only going to do his duty after all, but it was a pleasure to know he had so many friends in Doyleston”.

William enlisted at Trentham on 3rd May 1916. He embarked from Wellington on the 23rd September 1916 arriving in Devonport and on to Sling Camp on 18th November. He left for France  on 9th December and arrived at Base Depot in Etaples on 10th. Christmas was spent at Etaples and then he joined the 2nd Battalion, Canterbury Regiment in the field on 7th January 1917. He was sent to hospital sick on 9th August 1917, then on to the No 3 Field Ambulance the next day but as the wound was slight he was discharged back to his unit the same day. He was killed in action on 12th October during the disastrous action at Passchendaele, aged 21. He was buried on Bellvue Spur by Rev A. J. Lush  and his comrades but his grave was lost and his name is inscribed on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing, Ypres. In New Zealand William is remembered on the Leeston plaque of the Ellesmere County  and the Doyleston War Memorials. 


The Tyne Cot Memorial is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient. Broadly speaking, the Salient stretched from Langemarck in the north to the northern edge in Ploegsteert Wood in the south, but it varied in area and shape throughout the war. The Salient was formed during the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914, when a small British Expeditionary Force succeeded in securing the town before the onset of winter, pushing the German forces back to the Passchendaele Ridge. The Second Battle of Ypres began in April 1915 when the Germans released poison gas into the Allied lines north of Ypres. This was the first time gas had been used by either side and the violence of the attack forced an Allied withdrawal and a shortening of the line of defence. There was little more significant activity on this front until 1917, when in the Third Battle of Ypres an offensive was mounted by Commonwealth forces to divert German attention from a weakened French front further south. The initial attempt in June to dislodge the Germans from the Messines Ridge was a complete success, but the main assault north-eastward, which began at the end of July, quickly became a dogged struggle against determined opposition and the rapidly deteriorating weather. The campaign finally came to a close in November with the capture of Passchendaele. The German offensive of March 1918 met with some initial success, but was eventually checked and repulsed in a combined effort by the Allies in September. The battles of the Ypres Salient claimed many lives on both sides and it quickly became clear that the commemoration of members of the Commonwealth forces with no known grave would have to be divided between several different sites. The site of the Menin Gate was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through it on their way to the battlefields. It commemorates those of all Commonwealth nations, except New Zealand, who died in the Salient, in the case of United Kingdom casualties before 16 August 1917 (with some exceptions). Those United Kingdom and New Zealand servicemen who died after that date are named on the memorial at Tyne Cot, a site which marks the furthest point reached by Commonwealth forces in Belgium until nearly the end of the war. Other New Zealand casualties are commemorated on memorials at Buttes New British Cemetery and Messines Ridge British Cemetery. The TYNE COT MEMORIAL now bears the names of almost 35,000 officers and men whose graves are not known. The memorial, designed by Sir Herbert Baker with sculpture by Joseph Armitage and F.V. Blundstone, was unveiled by Sir Gilbert Dyett 20 June 1927. The memorial forms the north-eastern boundary of TYNE COT CEMETERY, which was established around a captured German blockhouse or pill-box used as an advanced dressing station. The original battlefield cemetery of 343 graves was greatly enlarged after the Armistice when remains were brought in from the battlefields of Passchendaele and Langemarck, and from a few small burial grounds. It is now the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world in terms of burials. At the suggestion of King George V, who visited the cemetery in 1922, the Cross of Sacrifice was placed on the original large pill-box. There are three other pill-boxes in the cemetery. There are now 11,952 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in Tyne Cot Cemetery. 8,365 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to more than 80 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials commemorate 20 casualties whose graves were destroyed by shell fire. The cemetery was designed by Sir Herbert Baker.

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William James Robb

First Names:William James
Last Name:Robb
Date of Birth:13 March 1896
Place of Birth:Doyleston
Date of Death:12 October 1917
Place of Death:Passchendaele, Belgium
Memorial or Cemetery:Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing
Age at death:21
User Name:Selwyn Library
Occupation before enlisting:Butcher
Marital Status:Single
Nominal Roll:41/13
Regiment or Service:Canterbury Infantry Regiment
Country:New Zealand
Enlistment details:3rd May 1916
Parents or Next of Kin:Son of James and Letitia Robb, of Doyleston, Canterbury.
Service Number:21737
Rank last held:Private
Embarkation:23 September 1916
Place of Embarkation:Wellington
Theatres of War:Western Front
Cause of Death:Killed in action