Kilby, Arthur Forbes Gordon

Only son of Sandford James Kilby and Alice Kilby, nee Scott of Leamington, before coming to Winchester he was with Mr. Earle at Bilton Grange. He was a keen student of Natural History and an enthusiast for the arts, particularly architecture and specifically York Minster, where he has a memorial. On leaving Winchester and in preparation for Sandhurst he spent some time in Frankfurt refining his German and learning Hungarian, eventually becoming the only Hungarian interpreter in the army. He was also fluent in Spanish and French.

In August 1905 he was gazetted as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment and proceeded to gain rapid promotion: Lieutenant in October 1907 and Captain in April 1910. He transferred to 2nd Battalion later that year. In September 1913 he was joined by a fellow Chawkerite, Basil Scott (F 1908-1910) (killed in action 23/10/14, see individual entry). Kilby was still studying for admission to Sandhurst when war broke out, and on 12th August he and 2nd South Staffords sailed for France, where they saw action for the first time at Harmignies and were then involved in the Retreat from Mons.  In November 1914 he was wounded while helping to hold a gap in the line created by the retirement of the troops on the left flank of his battalion. He was awarded the MC for his role in this action with his name appearing in the Commander-in-Chief’s Despatch of January 1915. His injuries were severe enough for him to be invalided home for two months.   He returned to the front in May 1915, when he distinguished himself again by a series of daring reconnaissances, and being recommended for the D.S.O. His Brigadier wrote: “Captain A.F.G. Kilby, on the night of September 5th-6th, went out along the canal towpath under cover of darkness, accompanied by a Lieutenant of the 1st King’s, and closely reconnoitred the German position on the Embankment Redoubt, and brought back most useful information. The reconnaissance was a very dangerous one, as the canal bank is a hot-bed of snipers, and it required the greatest skill and courage to get right up to the German position as Captain Kilby did. This is only one specific instance. This officer constantly made night reconnaissances of this nature… I only had the honour of knowing him for four months, but I formed a deep admiration and affection for him, and always said that he was the best Company Commander in the Brigade”.

He fell on September 25th 1915, on the La Bassee Canal, while in command of the company on the extreme left flank of the armies engaged at the Battle of Loos. His company was detailed to attack the railway triangle redoubt, a position of great strength immediately to the south of La Bassee. He had studied the ground carefully and was placed in charge of the operations at his own request. They had to advance down a narrow tow-path and along a railway embankment, which was exposed to fire in front and behind. Owing to a series of mishaps, the preparations for the assault had not been adequately carried out, but, as Captain Kilby saw, it had to be undertaken at all costs in order to protect the left flank of the advancing forces from enfilade fire (where gunfire is directed down the length, rather than across the breadth, of the line). The battalion accordingly went forward. Captain Kilby fell wounded as soon as he was over the parapet, but got up again and cheered his men on in the face of the fiercest fire until they reached the enemy’s position. Here he was again shot down and his foot blown off; but he continued to use his rifle to the end.

Attempts over several nights failed to locate his body, but he was in fact buried by the enemy, together with one of his subalterns and thirteen men.   His Commanding Officer wrote to Kilby’s father:   “A cross which the Germans have erected on the tow-path just below the embankment redoubt…… has a big wreath of flowers, which partly obscures the inscription, but I am afraid there can be no doubt that it is meant for your son and Williams, who was also missing.   About a week ago the Germans erected a big cross between brick stacks and the Canal, inscribed:  For King and Fatherland – Lieut. Kilby and Lieut. Hall, who died like heroes.   It is very gratifying to know that even our enemies recognise the superb heroism of that attack.   If ever men died like heroes, they did”.   The German regimental commander, whose position he had assaulted, also wrote in high appreciation of his valour.

The grave was eventually lost and Kilby’s body was not found again until February 1929.  He was re-buried in the Arras Road Cemetery, Roclincourt.

He received the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross.

War: World War 1

  • Surname: Kilby
  • Forenames or initials: Arthur Forbes Gordon
  • House: F
  • Years in School: 1898-1902
  • Rank: Captain
  • Regiment: South Staffordshire Regiment
  • Date of Birth: 3rd February 1885
  • Date of Death: 25th September 1915
  • How Died: Killed in action
  • Location in War Cloister: Outer B2
  • Decoration: V.C., M.C.