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John Dobson

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Died: 26 April 1918
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Born in Ringmer during 1881, John lived with his mother Sophia in Church Hill, his father Thomas having evidently died prior to the War. Like the majority of our War dead he went to Ringmer School and left there in 1894.

John Dobson was a member of the 90th Field Company, Royal Engineers, having initially enlisted around September 1915 with the 14th (Reserve) Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment. He joined his unit in France early in 1916. With the serial number 92185, John transferred to the 9th (Scottish) Division in the Engineers as a ‘Driver’. Despite the title of his rank he was in fact a shoesmith and therefore concerned with horses and not vehicles. His only recorded home leave was in November 1917.

By April 1918 the 90th Field Company was in the Wytschaete Sector of the Ypres Salient in Belgium. It had moved to that area, some four miles south of the infamous ruins of Ypres, at the end of March from the Bapaume region of the Somme. It saw action during John’s time at the famous battles of the Somme, Arras, Ypres and Lys.

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The Company's principle task at that time of the War was in erecting barbed wire entanglements in front of our trenches. They were under repeated attack from the Germans as part of the Spring Offensive that had commenced on 9th April in Flanders. The Sappers were also working on our rear defences to reinforce the existing obstacles sufficient to withstand penetration by the enemy. We were being driven back daily and it was imperative to stem the tide with whatever means were at our disposal. A breakthrough here, even at this late date in the War, could have resulted in an overall German victory.

Yet another task assigned the Engineers was preparing the dischargers for a smoke barrage intended to precede an attack planned for 26th April. That foray was, as it happens, pre-empted by the Germans who launched their attack early on 25th April. They shelled our back areas severely, causing several casualties in the transport section of the Field Company. Three of the four sections, which had been working in the front line, were returning to billets when the barrage hit and they too had many dead and wounded. At about 9am the shelling slackened a little and the Engineers took up a defensive position on the right of the 11th Royal Scots in reserve in the Shepenberg Line. Here we see the Engineers in an infantry capacity.

Some time during 25th or 26th April 1918 John Dobson lost his life, most probably by a shell in the transport area where 22 animals also died. He is buried in the enormous Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery and was entitled to the British War & Victory medals. Officially John is listed as having been ‘killed in action’ on 26th April 1918, a statement not corroborated by the War Diary. John was either killed on the 25th or, more likely, he ‘died of wounds’ on the 26th.

 

Adapted from Valiant Hearts of Ringmer by Geoff Bridger: Ammonite Press, 1993