Hulbert, Thomas William Gerard
Gerry Hulbert was the second and younger son of Major Thomas Ernest Hulbert OBE, of Fir Hill, Droxford, Hampshire. His mother was Kathleen Beatrice Hulbert (daughter of T.H. Harvey JP, of Fareham). He was the brother of John H. Hulbert (D 1926-31), and came to Mr. Goddard’s House from Horris Hill in September 1931; he left in July 1937. He was a Commoner Prefect, a member of Commoner VI, and in his last term was in Lords as a bowler. He was Company Sergeant Major in the OTC. From Winchester he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, and took Honours in History, obtaining a University Commission in the Royal Horse Artillery.
With his regiment, 2nd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, which was equipped with 25-pounder guns on old-fashioned carriages, he saw service with the British Expeditionary Force in 1940. One of Hulbert’s fellow subalterns in 2RHA was his exact contemporary, Lieutenant Christopher I.W. Seton-Watson (Coll.1931-1937), later a distinguished historian. He served alongside Hulbert in France, Belgium, Greece and the Western Desert, and remained with 2RHA throughout the war, rising to the rank of Major and winning the MC and bar. Both were originally posted to H/I Battery (Hulbert in ‘I’ Troop, Seton-Watson in Battery HQ).
As he recalled in his war memoirs, “Dunkirk – Alamein – Bologna” (Buckland, 1993), Seton-Watson returned from leave in the small hours of May 10th 1940, and reached the 2RHA mess at Lannoy, near Lille.
“There in the sitting-room, asleep in a chair, I found Gerry Hulbert looking ill and tired and suffering from acute asthma. From him I learned the news. He was enthusiastic over the new mess, which was complete with bath, garden and tennis court. The battery had only just got back from a night march with 15th/19th Hussars, and he gave me details of the hectic training programme for the next few weeks.”
Seton-Watson fell asleep at 0200, but “At 0700 the telephone rang and Gerry burst in on me with the news that we were at four hours’ notice. Half an hour later came the message that we were to move ‘forthwith’. The battle had begun.”
At 1330 2RHA moved off into Belgium, as part of the pre-arranged Allied plan to make a stand on the line of the River Dyle. Contact with the enemy was made on May 14th, and although the Dyle line held well, events to the south made the BEF’s position in Belgium untenable. Thus began the retreat which would end at Dunkirk.
On May 24th 2RHA were sent to defend Hazebrouck, going into action on 26th May but from then on the fighting was confused and eventually orders were received to fall back to Dunkirk, though not before they were instructed to destroy all wireless sets, breech-blocks on their armaments and to puncture all tyres on abandoned vehicles. They reached Dunkirk on the evening of 30th May and were in Dover by the early hours next day.
2RHA were then earmarked for the Middle East, sailing on SS Sythia from Liverpool on 30th October 1940, arriving via Cape Town and Durban, at Port Said on Christmas Eve 1940. Hulbert was promoted to Captain in February 1941.
2nd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery then spent time in Greece, seeing action during the Battle of Vevi on 12th April when they were forced to retire under fire. They were involved in the attack at Molos, near Thermopylae, where under the heaviest air attack yet experienced, the Allied forces had no choice but to withdraw once again. 2RHA was evacuated by ship from Rafina on the eastern coast of Attica on the night on 26th April.
From there they were sent to Egypt, where they joined 7th Armoured Division, assigned to Operation Crusader. The plan was to work around the Axis southern flank, and to seek out and destroy German armour. They were tasked with taking two airfields on the escarpment above Tobruk. The intention would be for the garrison to break out and join the rest of the Eighth Army to drive the Axis forces from Tripolitania.
Crusader began on November 18th 1941. The British attack had pre-empted an attack by Axis forces due for November 23rd, and the enemy were already in position for their own attack. This left them well placed to halt the British advance, which was made in heavy rain.
On November 20th, 7 Armoured Brigade over-ran the airfield at Sidi Rezegh, destroying or capturing a number of German aircraft, but enemy infantry and anti-tank guns blocked the only track down the escarpment towards Tobruk.
All three brigades of 7th Armoured Division were now in action and were widely dispersed when a German counter-attack began at Sidi Rezegh, with 7 Armoured Brigade barely holding on until the divisional Support Group arrived.
By the evening of November 20th the great tank battle of Sidi Rezegh had begun. However 22 Armoured Brigade, having been instructed to assist 4 Armoured Brigade, were not able to help out as they were short of fuel and did not reach 4 Brigade’s position about forty miles south-east of Sidi Rezegh until nightfall on the 20th.
On November 21st the battle grew more ferocious, with the whole of 15th Panzer Division falling on the left flank of 4 Armoured Brigade, driving it south between Bir Gibni and Libyan Omar. The Germans ran into the brigade at around 1630, as it sat in a good defensive position with its guns and tanks in ‘hull-down’ positions. However, the Germans had more powerful guns and heavier artillery, and towards evening the weight of their attack drove 4 Armoured Brigade south. At some point during this running battle, Hulbert was killed, at the age of twenty-three.
He has no known grave. He is commemmorated in the Church of St Mary and All Saints in Droxford in Hampshire by a stained glass window depicting a nativity scene.
- Surname: Hulbert
- Forenames or initials: Thomas William Gerard
- House: D
- Years in School: 1931-1937
- Rank: Captain
- Regiment: Royal Horse Artillery
- Date of Birth: 23rd June 1918
- Date of Death: 21st November 1941
- How Died: Killed in Action
- Location in War Cloister: Inner G2
- Decoration: NA
- Burial Site: Unknown but commemorated on Column 2 of the Alamein Memorial