R/13924 Rifleman Arthur Bertram Gentle, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps
Born 19th September 1891 in Abbot’s Langley
Killed in Action 31st August 1916 in France
Arthur Bertram ‘Bertie’ Gentle was born in Abbot’s Langley, the second of the four children of Arthur George Gentle and Mary Ann née Payne. His older sister Ella Florence was born on 5th September 1889, his brother Oliver on 18th April 1895 and his younger sister Gladys Alma on 1st August 1897. By 1895 the family had moved to 46 Little Gaddesden; their father, an eminent and prize-winning horticulturalist, was Gardener to Mrs Denison at the house now known as Denison House.
Bertie was admitted to Little Gaddesden School on 1st January 1895 when he was 3 years and 3 months old. He remained until 18th March 1897, when his family moved to Northchurch for six months, but was re-admitted on 6th September 1897, the same day that Harry Cutler started school. Entries in the Little Gaddesden School Log Book show that school was not easy for Bertie.
8th December 1899: “I am sorry to say Bertram Gentle is still suffering with his eyesight. He cannot see to do School work & I am afraid it will make a great difference in his after life to him.” His eyes were a recurring problem. 15th September 1900: “I am sorry to say Bertram Gentle’s eyes are wrong again – He is above half his time away from school for this cause.” However, the situation did improve and his attendance for the school year 1902 – 1903 was commended. Bertie left school on 28th February 1906 when he was 14 years old.
Both Bertie and his brother Oliver followed their father and became Domestic Gardeners. In the 1911 Census, Bertie was employed at Buxted Park in Sussex. By 26th May 1915, he and Oliver were Gardeners at Fairlawn, Tonbridge, Kent. Their parents remained at 46 Little Gaddesden until after the War, when they moved to Colchester.
On 27th May 1915, Bertie and Oliver volunteered for the Army together. They attested for the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, to serve for the duration of the War. They have consecutive regimental numbers: Oliver R/13923 and Bertie R/13924. After just over five months training with the 15th Battalion, they arrived in France on 3rd November 1915 and were quickly posted to the 12th (Service) Battalion. Bertie’s “Burnt Documents” Service Record has survived, so we know he was 5’ 9½” tall with a 38 inch chest.
On 31st July 1916, 24 year old Rifleman Arthur Bertram Gentle, ‘A’ Company, 12th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps was killed in action in a night time bombing raid at Guillemont on the Somme. His brother Oliver was by his side. In Bertie’s obituary, he was reported to be “attached to the Machine-gun Company”; he had been attached to No 1 Section, 60th Machine Gun Company, 20th (Light) Division.
Burial in France 7
Bertie was initially buried at British Army Trench Map reference 57c.T.19.a, about 1.5km SE of Longueval, Somme and just north of Guillemont.
Here is the same location today, in the centre of this interactive Google map:
He was subsequently reburied in Delville Wood Cemetery, Longueval, Somme, France; his grave reference is IV. L. 1.
Beneath the badge of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps is the inscription:
A. B. Gentle
King’s Royal Rifle Corps
31st August 1916 Age 24
Below the cross are the words:
Of Little Gaddesden Herts
His CWGC Grave Registration Report, compiled in the 1920s, adds the following information: “Son of Arthur George and Mary Gentle, of Shrub End, Colchester, Essex. Native of Little Gaddesden, Herts.”
Bertie’s Obituary 8
Bertie’s obituary was published in the Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Gazette and West Herts Advertiser on 16th September 1916:
‘With regret we have to record the death of Rifleman A.B. Gentle, of Little Gaddesden. The two sons of Mr. and Mrs. A.G. Gentle were employed together at Tonbridge, Kent, at the same calling in which their father is so well-known, and in May, 1915, they enlisted in the 12th Battalion King’s Royal Rifles. The youngest son is at present ill in hospital. Last October their Battalion was sent to France, and Rifleman A.B. Gentle, the eldest son, aged 24 years, was afterwards attached to the Machine-gun Company. He was killed on the night of August 30th in a bombing raid at ———.’From the Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Gazette and West Herts Advertiser, 16th September 1916
In fact, they joined the 12th Battalion on arrival in France in November 1915 and Bertie’s death was finally deemed to have occurred on 31st August.
Seeking Bertie’s Will 5
The following letter, written by his father on 3rd June 1917, is included in Bertie’s Service Record:
I understand that the will of my late son Private Arthur Bertram Gentle R13924, 12th King’s Royal Rifles, who was killed in action on the night of August 31st 1916, was forwarded with his pay book to Winchester. I have applied to the War Office and have received the amount due to my late son but no will. At the time of his death he was attached to No 1 Section 60th Machine Gun Co 20th Div. My son Cpl. O Gentle 13923 who is now with the 18th K.R.R.C. informs me of the will being sent to Winchester. I should be much obliged if you could help me to recover the will, as I am most anxious to carry out the dear boy’s wishes.
I am sir
Arthur G Gentle”
Bertram Gentle is commemorated on the War Memorials on the village green and in St Peter & St Paul’s Church Little Gaddesden. He is also named on the Roll of Honour in the church, together with his younger brother Oliver Gentle, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, who survived the war and was awarded the Military Medal.
Bertie was posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Allied Victory Medal.
As Rfn. A.B. Gentle, Bertie is also commemorated on the Abbot’s Langley War Memorial.
The King’s Royal Rifle Corps Memorial at Winchester 11
A Memorial Card, illustrating the King’s Royal Rifle Corps Statue erected in the Close at Winchester Cathedral “In memory of those gallant Officers, Warrant Officers, Non-commissioned Officers and Riflemen who fell during the Great War 1914-1918” has been passed down through Bertram Gentle’s family and is nowin the hands of his great neice, Caroline Dix.
The rifleman on the statue is in full service dress with a Lee-Enfield rifle by his side. The Memorial was unveiled on 24th May 1922 by Prince Henry, “lately 2nd Lieutenant in the Regiment, and third son of H.M The King, Colonel in Chief” and bears no names. Its inscription today reads:
To the glory of God and in memory of the Officers, Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Riflemen of The King’s Royal Rifle Corps who gave their lives for their King and Country in the Great War 1914-1918 and 1939-45.
A Roll of Honour is held within the Cathedral. The names of all Officers, Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Riflemen of the Regiment who fell in the Great War are listed in alphabetical order with their dates of death…
…engrossed on vellum…and bound in a large volume.
A beautiful work of art, it lies in an oaken case resting upon a stone plinth between two of the columns in the Nave of the Cathedral.Explanatory note accompanying the KRRC Winchester Memorial Card, 24th May 1922
One of those named is Rifleman Arthur Bertram Gentle. This Roll was unveiled the same day as the statue by H.R.H. Princess Beatrice, whose son Prince Maurice of Battenberg was a Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion and killed leading his Platoon on 27th October 1914, the first day of the First Battle of Ypres.
When, as shown in the 1911 Census, 20 year old Bertie was a Gardener at Buxted Park, Uckfield, Sussex, he shared accommodation with two other domestic gardeners: 24 year old Frederick Blakeborough and 22 year old Thomas Edwards.
When the war began Fred Blakeborough, whose family lived in Heaton, Bradford, enlisted into the 18th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment – the Bradford Pals. His Service Record has not survived, so few details of his service can be traced, but he later transferred to the 12th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, with which he served in France.
On 17th August 1916, 18/45 Private Frederick Blakeborough, 12th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, was killed in action at the Battle of Delville Wood, part of the Somme offensive. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Pier and Face 2A, 2C and 2D and at Heaton Baptist Church, Bradford.
Two weeks later, Bertie Gentle was killed in the same area. He is now buried in Delville Wood Cemetery.
2. Little Gaddesden School Log Books 1887 – 1906
6. The ‘burnt documents’ were First World War documents that survived a fire in a War Office store caused by an incendiary bomb in September 1940. Charred and water-damaged, they were unfit for consultation until microfilmed in a large programme started in 1996. See https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C14567.
8. Obituary of Rifleman A. B. Gentle from the Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Gazette and West Herts Advertiser, originally published 16th September 1916.
10. https://www.warmemorialsonline.org.uk/memorial/95708/ Abbot’s Langley
11. Memorial Card commemorating the unveiling of the KRRC Statue and Roll of Honour at Winchester Cathedral, 24th May 1922.
Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson