This Webpage is to commemmorate 26174 Lance Corporal John Thomas Robinson of the 8th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, who was killed in Belgian Flanders on 16th August 1917, and the many soldiers, of all armies, who also died in the Third Battle of Ypres.
The action in which John Robinson was killed was one of the series of battles that took place in Flanders in the summer and autumn of 1917, which collectively is known as the Third Battle of Ypres. The action in which he met his death was the Battle of Langemarck.
Third Ypres was supposed to have as its strategic aim the liberation of the Belgian Channel ports and their denial to U-boat operation. One imperative that did exist was the need to attack the Germans and take the pressure of the French Army, which was beset by mutiny; another was Haig's need to secure a victory before the Americans arrived. The immediate tactical aim of the offensive was the recapture of higher ground from which the German artillery could observe and accurately bombard any target in the vicinity of the last Belgian town in Allied hands, Ypres. In the end its most significant result was its sucking in and pulverisation of the majority of the divisions of the German Army, in relentless and bloody attrition that fatally weakened its ability to wage grand war.
The British attacks in the summer and autumn of 1917 took place in the wettest weather in seventy-five years. The vital drainage channels of this low-lying area of Belgium were pounded out of existence by the British and German artillery. The water table of the Ypres salient turned into the sea of mud and blood that became known as Passchendaele, after the village that crowns the horseshoe of ridges that lie to the east of Ypres. The village is only 6 miles from the offensive's start line near Ypres but it took the British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and|South African troops four and a half months to reach that goal. This journey, short in distance but agonisingly long in time, cost three hundred thousand British and Empire casualties. John Robinson was one of these.
The 7th and 8th battalions of Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers formed the 49th Brigade. This brigade and the 47th and 48th Brigades formed the 16th(Irish) Division. The majority of men in this division came from the provinces of Munster, Leinster and Connaught. To its left the 16th Division had the 36th(Ulster) Division. Both Divisions contained battalions of most of the Irish regiments. Although John Robinson was an Ulsterman, born in Greencastle Co Antrim, he was in the 16th(Irish) Division.
The Battle of Langemarck began on the morning of 16th August 1917 at 4.45, with a tremendous artillery barrage. Not only were the many German strongpoints bombarded, but a creeping barrage was laid to keep the defenders' heads down as the British infantry advanced. The speed of the barrage advance would have been calculated to be the same as the infantry's pace. A enemy counter-barrage fell behind the British front line and was not a problem for the 8th Inniskillings, but a furious storm of machine-gun fire and snipers' bullets met them shortly after they had begun their attack.
In accordance with the Operation Order the initial objective line for the 16th Division lay about a mile away. But first, reinforced concrete forts and pill-boxes had to be captured. The main fortification that faced the 7th Inniskillings on the left was Beck House, which was taken. The 7th then pushed on to take Iberian Trench and made further advances towards Delva Farm, a total of approximately 1000 yards.
The fortification in front of John Robinson's 8th battalion was Borry Farm . This was a strongpoint consisting of three concrete dugouts linked by a breastwork. It was garrisoned by at least 100 men and five machine-guns. Both Beck House and Borry Farm were covered from Hills 35 and 37, and from the Potsdam and Bremen redoubts near Zonnebeke.
A and B companies of the 8th Battalion outflanked Borry Farm and managed to advance about 800 yards, keeping in contact with the 7th Inniskillings on their left. A German counter-attack inflicted heavy casualties on these companies, killing, wounding, or capturing all but 30 men.
C company launched frontal and flank attacks on Borry Farm and were reduced to a remnant that took cover in shell holes 50 yards to the west. Increasing German pressure led to the withdrawal of all survivors of the Battalion to their original positions. The battalion had suffered over 60% casualties. At the end of the day, the 16th Division was back where it had started.
In his report of the operation the battalion commander attributed the failure of the attack partly to poor communications. German snipers appear to have particularly targeted messengers. John Robinson, who was a Battalion signaller, is known to have been shot by a sniper, probably as he was carrying messages between the assault companies and the Battalion HQ at Low Farm. He was 27. He left a widow and two little girls, Stella, aged 2, and Zoe aged 1. He has no known grave but is commemorated on Panel 70/72 of the Tyne Cot Memorial near Passchendaele. He had been a tram conductor in Belfast before he volunteered, at the outbreak of war, in 1914.
This Webpage has been created by Squadron Leader Seamus Hamill-Keays, one of John Robinson's grandsons. If you have any comments, information, or suggestions, I would be pleased to receive them, but please ensure that you include "16th Irish" in the subject line, otherwise my antispam filter will zap your message.
There is a linked page under construction The 16th(Irish) Division, to commemmorate Ireland's 'Forgotten Soldiers', of the 16th(Irish) Division, who died doing the duty that they believed to be for the freedom of small nations, including their own.