Cyril Gilbert

cyril gilbertPrivate 20611, 8th (Service) Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, killed in action, 1st July 1916, aged 20.

Cyril was born at Crowle in 1895, the eldest son of Thomas and Elizabeth Gilbert (nee Oades). Curiously the Roll of Soldier’s Who Died in the Great War say he was born in Gainsborough. Which contradicts the information of his birth registration and the 1901 and 1911 census returns all of which say he was born in Crowle and his elder sister in Gainsborough. His father was a peat cutter from Thorne Levels and his mother, who died in 1903, from Crowle. In 1901 they lived on Commonside but moved later to ‘The Bungalow’, Crowle Moors. In 1911 George was a farm labourer at Medge Hall, but when he enlisted he was also a peat cutter.

Cyril enlisted in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry at Pontefract in December 1914. He arrived in France on 24th March 1915, probably as a replacement for a regular battalion as the 8th (Service) Battalion, did not arrive there until August 1915.

At 7.30am, on 1st July 1916, the Battle of Albert and the first day on the Battle of the Somme, Cyril was with the 8th KOYLI  to the left of the sector in front of Authuile Wood. This area was said to be the most difficult of the whole front as no-man’s land was exceptionally wide here and the whole area was covered by the heavily fortified German positions of the Thiepval salient. They along with the 8th York & Lancaster’s lead the way for the 8th Division and an eye witness account describes what happened next:

‘The first two waves leaving our trenches just before 7.30 am reached the German trenches with only slight loss. The remaining waves lost heavily in No Man’s Land from machine gn fire from both flanks and I estimate their loss before reaching the German front line at 60%. No casualties occurred from our own artillery fire. The German wire offered no obstacle. Our men were soon mixed up with those of the 8th,and 9th York & Lancaster’s, the Sherwood Foresters and the 2nd Lincolnshire’s and severe fighting took place for the second line German trench which several times changed hands. Several of our men penetrated at one time the (German third) line. At the second and third lines we were held up by machine gun fire. The enemy relied almost entirely on machine guns and (trench) bombs, very little on rifles and bayonets.

At about 8.30am the order “RETIRE” was passed round, possibly originating from the enemy  and our men were thereafter organised and rallied by officers of the 2nd Lincolnshire’s, our own NCO’s and sometimes by men, and returned to the attack time and time again, fighting for the second and third lines. The last man to leave the German lines left about 6.00pm and it is thought that there were none of our men living in the German second line. Very few of our Officers reached the German trenches. The Germans were many times observed sniping and bombing our wounded.’

The casualties suffered by the 8th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, if not quite as horrific as the 8th York and Lancaster’s were still terrible. Out of the 689 men who went ‘over the top’ only 110 came back and of the 24 officers only the Medical Officer returned. Cyril Gilbert was among those killed that day and he is buried in Blighty Valley Cemetery.

His family placed a touching memoriam for Cyril in the Crowle Advertiser:

Dying in a foreign land,
No loved one by to take his hand;
Stricken comrades round him when he dies,
Far from his native land he lies.

Cyril is also commemorated on the plaque to former members of the congregation and Sunday School in Crowle Methodist Church.