Lieutenant John Collinson HOBSON
12th Service Battalion Royal Scots : 116th Machine Gun Company
Date of Birth: 27 August 1893
Date of death: 31 July 1917
Killed in action aged 23
John Collinson was born in Hampstead, the second son of Thomas Frederick Hobson, a barrister, and for many years a Progressive Member of the London County Council. and Mary Innes nee Greig.
He was educated at Westminster from 1907 until the summer of 1912, a boarder at “Grants”. He served in the School OTC in which he became a Sergeant, and shot at Bisley in the School Eight in 1911. He also boxed for the School at Aldershot in that year, and was present with other Westminster boys in the Abbey at the Coronation. He was in the Second Cricket Eleven in 1911, obtained his “Pinks” (First Eleven Colours), and played in the annual match against Charterhouse in 1912. During the School year 1911-12 he was Head of “Grants” and one of the School Monitors, and edited the Grantite Review, the House Magazine. In the last two years of his school life he specialised in History, and in 1912 was elected to a Westminster Scholarship in History at Christ Church.
He came up to Christ Church in the Michaelmas Term 1912, and during the two years before the outbreak of war took an active part in College and University life, becoming a member of many Societies and Clubs. In 1913 he rowed five in the Christ Church Second Torpid, and three in the Second Eight. In 1914 he rowed bow in the Torpid, which went Head of the River, and five in the Second Eight.
On the declaration of war he resolved at once to enter the army, but as he had not been in the University OTC he found it difficult to obtain a commission without delay, and decided to enlist as a private. He obtained admission, however, to the ranks of his father‘s old Battalion, the Inns of Court OTC, and after serving for a few days in that Corps was gazetted in September 1914 to the 12th Service Battalion of the Royal Scots. Half Scots by descent, he had from the first desired to serve in a Scottish Regiment, and he acquired the warmest possible affection for his Battalion and for the country from which its ranks were drawn.
After a long and arduous period of training at Bramshott the 12th Royal Scots went to France in May 1915 as part of the 9th (Scottish) Division. Early in 1915 J C Hobson was promoted 1st Lieutenant, and while in France he was on several occasions for long periods in command of his company. He specialised in Machine Gun work, and acted more than once as Brigade Machine Gun Officer, volunteering for service in the Machine Gun Corps.
In June 1816 he was placed in command of his company and prepared to lead his men into the Battle of the Somme when, three days before the opening of the battle, he was, to his intense disappointment, recalled and ordered into training at the Machine Gun School at Grantham.
He returned, oppressed for the moment by keen sorrow at his absence from the great fight, sorrow intensified by the loss, during the first two days of the battle, of most of his friends in his Battalion; but he at once took up his new duties with alacrity and keenness. At the end of three months he returned to the Front in command of a section of the 116th Machine Gun Company, and was constantly on active service until the end came in the Ypres Salient.
On 31 July 1917 the Third Battle of Ypres commenced, and his company took part in the attack on St Julien, which was on that day taken at the point of the bayonet. The Advance was made under a fierce enemy barrage, and on arrival at the objective he went out in advance of the line to select positions for his guns, and was struck by a shell and killed instantaneously.
A wooden cross bearing the inscription: “In loving memory of Lt J C Hobson, 116th Machine Gun Company. Killed July 31st 1917” was erected by unknown hands over the place where, as far as is known, his body was hastily buried. This cross was in 1920 removed and re-erected in the “Memorial Plot” in the New Irish Farm cemetery, near St Jean. His name is on Panel 56 at the Menin Gate.
The following are extracts from letters received after his death:
From his commanding Officer: “He was leading his section forward, which he always commanded well everywhere, and was selecting a position for his guns - deep in the German lines - when he was killed instantaneously by a German shell. I formed a very high opinion of him. There are over 800 Machine Gun Officers in France who have passed through my hands, most of whom I know personally, and I can safely say he equalled the best of them. He was one of the most painstaking and conscientious officers it is possible to meet with, and I deeply regret his loss. He will be most difficult to replace. The men, too, thought the world of him.”
From his Second in Command: “He had led his section nobly and well to their final objective, and was choosing positions for his guns when he was hit. We miss him terribly, and his loss to the men of his section can never be replaced. They would follow him anywhere, for he always cared for them, and the fact that only three of them were wounded speaks for his judgement in leading them.”
From his companion in the advance: “We were heavily shelled long before the push-off, and were smothered with dirt thrown up by shells bursting a few yards away. Owing to the darkness, the barrage put up by the Hun and the fact that our landmark was completely obliterated, we lost direction and struck a road which took us along under the enemy barrage the whole way. Then we had to push on through the barrage again until we reached our destination. All this time he had been strolling about quite unconcernedly, as if he were out on a pleasure jaunt, cheering his men up, and setting a splendid example.”
From his Sergeant: “He was one of the best officers the section ever had, always a cheery word for everybody. The men had such confidence in him and would go anywhere and do anything ordered by him with good spirit. In the trenches, where so much is required of men, he would be around his guns, regardless of any danger to himself. He was killed just as we reached our objective, and with his going the men seemed to lose heart. As long as there are men who were under his command he will always be spoken of with the greatest respect.
In 1910 his family had acquired a home in North Berkshire, and this at once became his favourite residence. Here he developed that intense love of the country and its sounds and sights which is shown in many of his poems.
The wind goes down the valley,
The wind goes up the hill,
The cornfields break - and rally -
And break before his will:
There’s St Omer in the distance,
Her spires across the lea,
But I’m dreaming of old Oxford
And the towers across the sea.
Red poppies in the clover,
Blue cornflower in the wheat,
The dappled clouds float over,
And shower and sunshine meet.
There’s a river in the valley,
There’s a chateau on the hill.
But I’m dreaming of old Oxford
And the Thames at Iffley Mill.
The Kilts are on the meadows,
With bayonets of bright steel,
The thousand music shadows
Of the pipes upon me steal.
The roofs of Tilques are shining
The dew is on the flowers,
But I’m dreaming of Old Oxford
And the bells of Oxford’s towers.
We stand upon a mountain
Built up from weary years,
Time, like a ceaseless fountain,
Waters its side with tears.
But I am still a dreamer
In the hour of Europe’s woe,
Still am dreaming of old Oxford
And the days of long ago.
from Poems, etc., by John Collinson Hobson with Biographical Note
Memoir by John Murray, MP, MA Christ Church, Oxford.
His brother Dr. F.G. Hopson lived at 20 St Giles from 1929-1956. He was a well-known General Practitioner and consultant becoming Litchfield Lecturer in Clinical Medicine