Walking through Hampstead Cemetery in London this week I saw a memorial to Sir Robert Nivison, 1st Baron Glendyne of Sanduhan, his wife Jane and their son, Robert Butler.
Sir Robert Nivison was a well-known banker and stockbroker, whose company, R Nivison & Co, was one of the most successful of its day. He and his wife lived at Branch Hill Lodge in Hampstead.
The date is about right and it is the right sort of regiment for the son of an extremely wealthy stockbroker… But the London Gazette of 15 March 1916 refers to a John Henry Rippon Butler transferring from the Royal West Kent Regiment to the Coldstream Guards. He then joined the 2nd battalion in France on 20 June 1916.
Also, of course, the officer in question’s name is Robert Butler Nivison… CWGC lists him as being killed on 15 September 1916 while serving with 21st Battalion, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
21st Battalion, KRRC was known as the Yeoman Rifles and its members were generally recruited from the farming communities of Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland.
The battalion war diary for 15 September 1916 reads:
‘The 124th Brigade advanced on a line which passed between the villages of Flers on the left and Gueudecourt on the right. The Battalion was on the left of the first line with the 10th Queens on the right & the 26th & 32nd Royal Fusiliers in support.
‘The 122nd Brigade was on the left & the 14th Division on the right. The attack started at 6.30 after artillery & the first objective the Switch Trench was taken without difficulty practically no living enemy being encountered.
‘After further artillery preparation the attacking force went on & took the second objective the Flers Trench where a few prisoners were taken, but the enemy showed little disposition to fight.
‘During this stage of the advance the Battalion suffered rather heavily through getting too near our own barrage. It was found impossible to continue the advance, owing to lack of support on the flanks & the line of the second objective was consolidated.
Late in the day Lt Col the Earl of Feversham went forward with Lt Col Oakley of the 10th Queens & as many men as could be collected to the third & fourth objectives in front of Gueudecourt village. They reached the third objective & successfully withstood more than one counter attack. During this time Lt Col the Earl of Feversham was killed.
‘They were eventually forced to retire & consolidate on a line about 400 yards in front of the second objective when the remnants of the Battalion remained until relieved about 3 am the following morning by the [11th?] Queen’s, when they returned to Brigade Headquarters at Quarry Dump.
‘During the late operations the Battalion lost in addition to the Colonel killed Capt Honey & Lieuts Basiter? & Taback? wounded.’
Second lieutenants Nivison and Benton had been transferred to the 21st KRRC from the 15th KRRC on 12 July 1916.
Anthony Eden, later to become prime minister, was another junior officer in the battalion at the time. Following the action on 15 September 1916, which saw the majority of the battalion’s officers killed or wounded, he was made adjutant – at the tender age of 19 – a fact he recalls in his book, Another World.