b. 03/02/1885 Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. d. 25/09/1915 La Bassee Canal, France.
Arthur Forbes Gordon Kilby (1885-1915) was born at East Hayes, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire on 3rd February 1885. His father, Sandford James Kilby, was born at sea in Algoa Bay, South Africa. He served in the Bengal Police, Customs Preventative Service and Salt Department and took out several patents in regard to his work in 1886-1887, including “Kilby’s Automatic Counter”. He later a straw hat manufacturer and eventually moved to Warwickshire. Arthur’s mother was Alice Flora nee Scott, and the couple had married in Calcutta on Christmas Eve 1878. Arthur had four siblings: Reginald George (born 1874), Dorothy Alice (born 1881), Sylvia Mary (born 1882) and Winifred Rosa (born 1890).
Arthur was educated at Bilton Grange Preparatory School at Dunchurch, near Rugby, Winchester College from 1898-1902 and privately by Mr Geidt of Frankfurt, Germany. After being trained at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst he was commissioned into 1st South Staffordshire on 16th August 1905. He was promoted to Lieutenant in October 1907 and Captain in April 1910. He transferred to the 2nd Battalion in December 1910 to command E Company. Arthur was a talented linguist, being an interpreter in German and Hungarian (the only officer in the Army with this qualification) and was also fluent in Spanish and French.
When the war broke out, Arthur went to France with the Battalion on 13th August 1914. He was badly concussed by shellfire and exhaustion on 25th/26th August and was evacuated to the Base, returning to the Battalion on 24th September 1914. He carried out valuable solo reconnaissance work and sniping forays behind enemy lines on the Aisne front. The Battalion moved to the Ypres area in October. At Becelaere on 1st November, he led a counterattack, earning praise from his Commanding Officer. He was awarded the Military Cross (LG 18th February 1915) for his actions at Becelaere / Moorsleede on the night of 12th-13th November 1914.
Arthur was wounded in the right arm and lung and evacuated to hospital in England. While recovering he was attached to the 8th Battalion in March 1915, but never fully regained the use of his right hand. He was presented with his Military Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 10th May. The King was interested to see the bullet hole in his uniform. Lieutenant John Dimmer VC also received his MC at the investiture.
Arthur rejoined the Battalion later in May. On the night of 5th/6th September, he and Lieutenant Thompson, 1st King’s, carried out a dangerous reconnaissance towards Embankment Redoubt, south of the La Bassee Canal. He came back with valuable information about the German defences and was recommended for the Distinguished Service Order, but this was overtaken by events later in the month.
On 25th September 1915, Captain Kilby was specially selected at his own request, and on account of the gallantry which he had previously displayed on many occasions, to attack with his Company a strong enemy redoubt. The Company charged along the narrow towpath, headed by Captain Kilby, who, though wounded at the outset, continued to lead his men right up to the enemy wire under a devastating machine gun fire and a shower of bombs. Here he was shot down, but, although his foot had been blown off, he continued to cheer on his men and to use a rifle.
Kilby died from his wounds, and was respectfully buried by the Germans and marked his grave with a cross. His remains were not identified until 19th February 1929 and he was moved to Arras Road Military Cemetery, Roclincourt, France.
As he never married, his VC was sent to his father by post, as was the practice for posthumous awards at that time. It is not known if the VC was ever presented formally to Arthur’s father by King George V. In addition to his VC and MC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with “Mons” clasp, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oak lea
f. His medals and death plaque were sold at a Spink’s auction on 19th July 2012 for £240,000 and form part of the Ashcroft Collection in the Imperial War Museum. His portrait and bullet-holed tunic he wore when wounded at Ypres passed from his father to his mother and then to his sister Dorothy. They are now held by the Staffordshire Regimental Museum, Whittington Barracks, Lichfield.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM
BURIAL PLACE: ARRAS ROAD CEMETERY, ROCLINCOURT, FRANCE.
Arthur Kilby's medals including VC and MC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT III, ROW N, GRAVE 27.
Plaque at Staffordshire Regiment Museum, Lichfield
Leamington Spa War Memorial
Cheltenham (Derek Walker)