The Acomb Brothers

The Acomb family lived at Laverack, on Long Lane (National Library of Scotland)

The Acomb Brothers

27762 Private Hubert Dennison Acomb,
9th (Service) Battalion, The Lancashire Fusiliers

WR176983 Sapper Arthur Acomb,
Railway Operating Department, Royal Engineers

47089 Private George Dobson Acomb,
25th (Service) Battalion (2nd Tyneside Irish), Northumberland Fusiliers

412368 Private Robert Clarence Acomb,
1 Reserve MT Depot, Royal Army Service Corps

Hubert Acomb belonged to the Lancashire Fusiliers

All four of the Acomb sons served in the Army during the Great War.

George was with the Northumberland Fusiliers at the time of his death, but had previously served with the West Yorkshire Regiment; Arthur saw service with the West Yorkshire Regiment, the Leicestershire Regiment and the Royal Engineers; Hubert was killed with the Lancashire Fusiliers and Robert served with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and the Royal Army Service Corps, but he had indicated a preference for the Royal Field Artillery on his Attestation Papers.

They were the sons of Dennison Acomb and his wife, Hannah (nee Dobson), and as well as the four boys, there was a daughter to the marriage, Violette.

Dennison Acomb was an Agricultural Labourer who married Hannah Dobson in Malton 1883. The following year, their eldest child, George, was born in Pocklington, and second son Arthur born in Full Sutton which illustrates a quite unsettled period in the lives of the members of the family, however Violette, Hubert, and Robert were all born in Topcliffe, where it appears the family settled for a period before moving to Mirfield prior to coming to Barwick in Elmet.

Aberford War Memorial bearing George Acomb's name

In 1910 George Acomb married Caroline Banks, and they lived on Main Street in Aberford. They did not have any children. The 1911 census records that George was working as a cowman on a farm.
George Acomb is also commemorated on the War Memorial at Aberford.

Arthur married Florence Simpson at the church of St Ricarius in Aberford on 27th February 1915. He gave his profession as that of Farm Labourer; however, it is possible to tell from his medal entitlement, that he was already serving in the Territorial Force, the part time element of the Army. Because Arthur Acomb was awarded the Territorial Force War Medal, we know, from the qualification criteria of that medal that he had to have been a member of the Territorial Force, on or before 4th August 1914. He must also have volunteered for overseas service on or before 30th September 1914. And because those who qualified for the TFWM must also have been ineligible for either of the 1914, or 1914-15 Stars, we can tell that he did not proceed overseas until 1st January 1916, or later.
Given the recruiting areas for the local Territorial Force battalions of the West Yorkshire Regiment, it is likely that Arthur was a Rifleman in the 8th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, otherwise known as the Leeds Rifles. Almost immediately after war was declared, Territorial Force battalions were split in two, so, the 8th Battalion would split into 1/8th and 2/8th. The idea was that the ‘first line’ battalion, or 1/8th would proceed overseas on active service, while the ‘second line’ battalion would remain at the home station with a nucleus of trained men as permanent staff and would take in new recruits and train them ready to reinforce the fighting battalion as it was depleted through losses in action, and sickness. Therefore, the likelihood was that Arthur Acomb was on the permanent staff of 2/8th West Yorkshire Regiment (Leeds Rifles).
Railway Operating Dept men with their Locomotive (© IWM HU 110841)

Eventually Arthur was sent overseas, either in a draft to his ‘first line battalion’, or when the 2/8th West Yorkshires went as a formed battalion. It was common, when the situation dictated, that men were transferred from one battalion to another, or even between regiments, especially amongst those men who had been away from their battalions through wounds or sickness, indeed, only household troops were exempt from this practice. And so it was that Arthur Acomb found himself transferred to the Leicestershire Regiment. It has not been possible to date this transfer due to lack of surviving documentary evidence, but he was to make a further change of cap badge when he was transferred to the Royal Engineers. In civilian life, Arthur had been a waggoner on a farm, and so he may well have had technical skills which may have made him better suited to being a sapper than an ordinary infantryman. Whatever the reason, he ended up being employed by the Royal Engineers on their railway network.
The Thiepval Memorial

Hubert was the first of the Acomb sons to go overseas on active service. He was sent to his battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers in Gallipoli in December 1915, but fortunately for him the disastrous Gallipoli campaign was abandoned in January 1916, the peninsula was evacuated and George was spared the worst of that particular campaign. The battalion moved to Egypt and then on to France for the coming summer Somme offensive.
As well as being the first son enter a theatre of war, he was also the first to die when he was killed in action on 26th September 1916. His body was not recovered for burial or could not be identified, and he joined the long lists of the ‘Missing’. He is now commemorated on one of the faces of the piers on the massive Thiepval Memorial which sits high on the central plateau of the Somme battlefield.
Hubert Acomb's name on the Thiepval Memorial
The distinctive badge of the Tyneside Irish

George Acomb enlisted into the 2nd Tyneside Irish Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers in Newcastle. Officially designated the 25th (Service) Battalion (2nd Tyneside Irish), Northumberland Fusiliers, it was one of many ‘Pals’ battalions raised in response to the appeal for men made by the Secretary of State for War, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener.
In order to make ‘their’ battalion something attractive to potential recruits, the raising committees often themed and targeted their recruiting efforts towards particular employment groups, for example, the 18th battalion of the Middlesex Regiment was known as the 1st Public Works Pioneers. Groups of a certain social class also raised battalions; thus the 18th battalion of the Royal Fusiliers was nicknamed the 1st Public Schools battalion.
On Tyneside it was recognised that there were strong elements of men of both Scottish and Irish descent working in the shipyards, coalfields, and such was the strength of the recruiting drive, the Tyneside Scottish and Tyneside Irish were each able raise, not just a single battalion, but a whole brigade, consisting of four battalions apiece.
Many of the ‘Pals’ battalions wore distinctive cap badges which were quite different from the normal cap badge of the parent regiment, and so it was that the Tyneside Irish wore a crowned harp above a scroll bearing the title, ‘Tyneside Irish’.

George Acomb was wounded in the First Battle of the Scarpe, this being a phase of the Arras offensive in the spring of 1917. Though evidently seriously wounded, he must have been stable enough at the time to have been evacuated to the French coastal town of Etaples, where there were complexes of large hospital and medical facilities, as well as base depots where soldiers would receive training after being wounded or sick, or where newly drafted soldiers would get their final training before being sent up the line.
It was here that George Acomb died, and he now lies buried in Plot XIX, Row G, Grave 12 of the vast Etaples Military Cemetery on the road out of the town to the north.

ASC men under instruction (© IWM HU 69751)

Robert Acomb was the youngest of the four sons and was also the last of them to join the colours. 

He was conscripted in June 1918 and sent to the 53rd (Young Soldiers) Bn., Training Reserve, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. KOYLI had not raised 53 battalions, rather, all Young Soldiers battalions were designated the 53rd. From there, as was usual, he moved to the Graduated battalion, and as before, all graduated battalions were designated the 51st Bn., no matter which regiment they belonged to. 

When the war ended, Robert was still with the Graduated battalion, and having lost two brothers to the war before he joined the Army, it will have come as a huge relief to him and his parents that he would not have to fight. Despite the war being over, the army was still enormous, numbering in the millions. The War Office was faced with the gargantuan task of returning volunteer and conscript soldiers back to their civilian lives, and because Robert Acomb was a young man who entered the military machine very late in the war, he would find himself well down the list of those to be demobilised and discharged. 

When his time in the Graduated battalion came to an end, he was transferred to the KOYLI’s 3rd (Reserve) Battalion before being transferred to the Royal Army Service Corps for reasons of ‘Exigencies of the Service’, in other words, he was of more use to the Army as a Mechanised Transport Driver engaged in the movement of personnel, stores and equipment than he was as an infantryman with no fighting to be done. He remained with the Royal Army Service Corps until 3rd December 1919.