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News > Heritage > (World War Webb) (World War Webb)

On The 104th Anniversary Of His Death The Identity Bracelet Of Gilbert Watson Webb (OC 634) Sold On e-bay For £223.09.
6 Jul 2020
On the 104th anniversary of his death, the featured identity bracelet of Gilbert Watson Webb (OC 634) sold on e-bay for £223.09.
Webb was one of five sons and three daughters of Richard Thomas and Blanche Louise Webb who, as the bracelet indicates, lived at Rath House in Shandon Park, a two mile stroll from Campbell. His father had worked in the linen trade all his life and ran the Ards Weaving Company from 1879 until his death, from heart problems, at home on 5 May 1909.
Webb attended Campbell (1901-1906) along with three of his brothers: Richard Randall (OC 206), Hermann Watson (OC 586) and Karl Watson (OC 961). Two of the latter joined their father’s company but the six-feet tall Gilbert trained as an architect, although there is no apparent evidence of where he might have practised this profession. He applied for a commission three days after war was declared and joined 2nd Royal Irish Rifles on 28 February 1915. On 8 May, close to Hill 60 near Ypres, his trench was mortar-bombed; five men were killed and he received a serious scalp wound which caused him to be sent to the Red Cross Hospital at Le Touquet.
He was sent to England a week later in very poor health and was not certified fit for service for another two months. He was promoted to captain on 27 November 1915 and soon after was transferred to 22 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. He flew his own plane to France on 4 May 1916. Less than two months later, on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, he became unique among the dozen or so Old Campbellian victims of that calamitous day as a result of being shot out of the sky over Bancourt, near Bapaume. He was buried at Achiet-le-Grand Communal Extension Cemetery (grave IV.Q.5).
On 25 July 1916 his observer, Lieut W Owen Tudor-Hart, recorded: “I was with Capt Webb and we went about four or five miles over the German lines in his machine on 1 July at 11 am. We saw eight German machines approaching from the south-west; they were higher than us and we flew toward them to attack. Two passed over our heads about 300 yards or so apart and I opened fire on one. They both replied together. I gave the signal to Webb to turn so that I could fire at the other machine behind us, but he put the machine head down. I turned to see what was the matter and he pointed to his abdomen and collapsed over the joy-stick. He died in a few seconds, I think, but his last thought was to save the machine … Webb was such a decent fellow, an Irishman; he has two other brothers at the Front and was awfully popular with all of us”.
Although he did not mention it, Tudor-Hart was himself a Dublin man who, a few days after this encounter, was to be awarded the Military Cross for a previous action as observer when he and his pilot attacked ten enemy planes unsupported. He did survive the War but was, on capture, to become a prisoner-of-war and immediately wrote to Webb’s mother to notify her of the circumstances of her son’s death, which arrived at Rath House by about the middle of August (although she does not appear to have received official notification until 16 February 1917).
With Webb incapacitated, Tudor-Hart had endeavoured to steer the plane with his hand over the windscreen, and it was probably the erratic descent of the plane which saved his life. He was hurled out and injured but he added that he was “very kindly treated and the German pilots acted like sportsmen and gentlemen”. Although there is no evidence for the assumption, it is not impossible that such comments were the consequence of casual conversations about his family which Webb may have had with his gunner – for his mother, to whom the administration of her son’s worldly wealth of £595 5s 8d passed, was the grand-daughter of a German businessman!
Richard Thomas Webb, originally from Drummaul in Randalstown, had married Blanche Louise Stromeyer, whose grandfather had come from Hamburg, at Romford in June 1880. Her five sisters were bridesmaids at the wedding, and her brother was an executor of her husband’s will. She was described, even by her own family, as ‘imperious’ but, despite the antipathy in Belfast towards Germans during the First World War, such as that experienced by that other businessman from Hamburg, Sir Otto Jaffe, she remained greatly respected in the area, particularly for the assistance and support which she gave to local women’s causes.
Blanche Louise Webb died at her home, Rath House, on 7 November 1941 (aged 83), having witnessed the Luftwaffe attack her adopted city twice, and probably having heard them drop bombs on the school which four of her sons had attended. She had, in effect, sent her sons (along with many others) to fight against their own, if distant, German cousins. It is doubtful that she ever saw Gilbert’s identity bracelet, to which she would have attached a far greater value than £223 and nine pence!
Keith Haines
Hon OC

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