Herbert Tibbenham


By the turn of the nineteenth century the Tibbenhams had been engaged in farming for several generations in the Waveney Valley. Born in September 1897, in Brockdish, by the 1901 census Herbert was living with his father and mother, Pleys Robert and Rosa Alice Tibbenham together with two sisters at New House Farm, Sotterley Road, Ellough where Pleys is recorded as farmer and employer although no mention is made of how many men he employed, but the family did employ a servant.

By 1911 the family had moved to the Stradbroke Road, Hoxne where Pleys acted as a Farm Manager for his brother Herbert. It is not clear where the family lived between Ellough and Hoxne but Herbet Pleys did attend at the Dickleburgh Elementary School during this period so it is probable that he worked on a farm in Dickleburgh or possible on the Mann Estate at Thelveton. Once the family was established in Hoxne, Herbert attended Hoxne Elementary School and on January 23rd 1912, at the age of fifteen, he moved to the Eye Grammar School as a day scholar. Herbert's stay was brief and, after two terms, he left to take up an occupation in wholesale Drapery.

Herberts leap from a farming family to one immersed in the trade of drapery might seem very strange but the path had been initial trodden by Pleys Roberts elder brother, William. It is at this point that we can see a direct link between London and Suffolk, William having moved into this suburb between Wandworth and Merton in 1870. William had decided his future was best suited in London rather than Suffolk where he was employed as a draper and lived in Tooting, he was followed into the trade in Drapery by his son, Spencer and, eventually, by his nephew Herbert. We do not know when Herbert left for London but his school record indicates that it would have been shortly after the summer term of 1912 and it seems more than probable that he joined his Uncle William in Tooting but by this time Herbert's cousin, Spencer, had emigrated to Gloucester, New South Wales, Australia.

On the 9th November 1915, Herbert enlisted. He gave his employer as Hitchcock and Williams & Co, Paternoster Buildings, Warwick Square, London whose advert boasted goods "costumes, millinery, sports coats and skirts - Ribbons, lace goods and embroideries". As with so many young men of that time Herbert was a little economical with his actual age giving nineteen when he was only two months past his eighteenth. He attended a medical examination at Holborn on the 20th November where his height was recorded at 5 foot 8 and a quarter inches, his girth thirty seven and a half inches and the range of expansion four and a half inches. His complexion was fresh, his eyes grey and hair fair. Army Form W. 5080 give an exhaustive list of full blood relatives, his parents are listed as living at Church Farm, Syleham, Scole, (a peculiar address given that Syleham is some way from Scole) as are two of his sisters but the third, Doris, is living in Stockwell a London suburb not far from Tooting. In addition to the immediate family, eight uncles, including William, are included on the form.

Given leave until 9 am on Monday 29th November Herbert joined the 19th (Reserve) Battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps (K.R.R.C), the next few months were training at various locations in the U.K. Originally formed at Bexhill shortly before Herbert enlisted the Battalion was sent to Andover a major training area, then in February 1916 to Banbury in Oxfordshire and then finally to Wimbledon in May 1916. On the 23rd August he embarked at Southampton as part of a draft and arrived at Le Havre the following day where he joined the 16th (Service) Battalion K.R.R.C. which was also known as the Church Lads Brigade. The 16th like so many Battalions had suffered heavy casualties during the Somme campaign.

On the 10th September, the day he joined the 16th for duty at Souastre just south east of Arras, he was promoted to Sergeant. The War Diary reports that on this day two officers and thirty other ranks were sent to a rest camp near Boulogne whilst the rest of the Battalion returned to the line in front of Gommecourt. In early October Herbert was listed as being brought before an unidentified officer for dereliction of duty as witnessed by a Sergeant Paxon. Whatever the offence was the presiding officer did not consider it warranted a formal trial and on the 6th October an order was issued dispensing with a trial and neither, it appears, was he reduced to the ranks.

Early November 1916 saw the Battalion involved in an attack, together with a French Regiment, on the German front lines. It proved very costly the Battalion lost 44 men killed, 135 wounded and 55 missing although 18 were subsequently accounted for. After this action the Battalion was withdrawn and placed in billets at Rancrout for the rest of November and early December, moving back to the front line briefly between the 9th and 11th December. During this period Herbert's health seemed to have broken down as he was reported as being sick then returned to duty on a number of occasions. It seems probable from the records that he was involved in the action in early November. December proved a wet and miserable time with many men suffering with Trench Foot, the next three months saw the usual routine of frontline service, training and periods in rest areas.

Although not involved in the initial stages of the Arras Offensive, which began on the 9th April in support of French attacks on the Chemins des Dames and in the hills of Champagne, the 16Th K.R.R.C. spent most of April on the move. On the 1st April they were at Corbie, a small town some 10 miles south east of Amiens, on the 3rd they marched ten miles to Beauval (on the current N 25) where they bivouacked. The next day they continued on the N25 to Barly and on the 5th a twelve mile march to Mondicourt. After a day of rest they were on the march again and arrived in Souastre, where Herbert had originally joined the Battalion back in September 1915. Here they enjoyed the luxury of being billeted in huts and were issued with extra ammunition and iron rations, a sure sign of an impending attack. The weather was miserable with heavy snow falling on the 11th and yet another move on the 13th to Mercatel and then to the Moyenville, north Croiselles where they bivouacked in the ruins of the village.

On the 22nd April, orders were issued for the attack on 1st and 2nd lines of the German between Croiselles and Fontaine-les-Croiselles, these defences, known as the Hindenburg Line, were part of a heavily fortified system created over the winter of 1916 and to which the German Army withdrew between 14th March and 5th April 1917. The opening of the Arras attack was, other than a support to the French attacks, also an attempt to keep the Germans under pressure.

On the 23rd the 16th Battalion K.R.R.C attacked in support of 1st Battalion Queens Regiment. The report of the General Officer Commanding 33rd Division makes salutary reading:-

"The attack of the 100th Infantry Brigade south of the Sensee River was carried out by the 1st Queen's Regiment, with the 16th KRRC in support.
At this point our main line of defence was some 1,500 yards from the German line, and it was not possible to approach within assaulting distance during daylight. The approach to the enemy's position, therefore, resembled in all respects a night march, followed by an assault. Careful arrangements were made by the 100th Infantry Brigade to ensure the success of this movement. The 1st Queen's assembled...undetected by the enemy; the 16th KRRC were kept in support in the quarry [some half-mile from the German line].
At 4:45 a.m. the 1st Queen's advanced to the assault under cover of the barrage, and quickly took the front Hindenburg Line. The advance to the second line was continued almost immediately.
Owing to (a) the wire in front of the second line not being properly cut, and hence the barrage not dwelling sufficiently long on the second line, only elements of the 1st Queen's reached the second line, and a permanent footing in it was not gained.
At 8.30 a.m. a message was received from 100th Infantry Brigade that a heavy enemy barrage on the Sensee Valley and Croisilles-Fontaine Road was preventing reinforcements being sent from the 16th KRRC (in the quarry) to assist the 1st Queen's. The counter-battery group were at once asked to deal with the situation, and enemy barrage ceased at 9 a.m., thus enabling the 16th KRRC to get forward. The first reinforcing waves of the 16th KRRC started before the barrage ceased, and they passed through it with great steadiness, as if on parade, although suffering considerable losses."

One of the K.R.R.C casualties was Sergeant Herbert Plys Tibbenham, he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, Bay 7 and at St Mary's Church in Summerstown, Tooting alongside his cousins Eric and Spencer.

Another of the Hoxne fallen, Reginald George Mills, who served in the Queens (Royal West Surrey) was also killed in this action.