Royal Engineers, ‘G’ Company, Special Brigade
Synopsis of Civilian and Military Life
Robert Bennet McBey was born on 31 October 1889 at Blackhall Station, Cambusnethan, Lanarkshire to James McBey and his wife Margaret. His father was a Railway Signalman who died when Robert was about 10 years old on 17 February 1899. Robert was educated at Chryston School, North Lanarkshire and on leaving there was employed working at the mine at Auchengeich Colliery, Bridgend. At some point during his work there according to his family, he was injured while the roof of a mine collapsed.
Following the outbreak of the war, Robert enlisted into the Royal Field Artillery at Glasgow on the 15 January 1915, he was given the Service Number 82029 and the rank of Driver, it is noted that he did not use his middle name in any of his Service Records. He was described at this time as follows :-
- Height – 5’6″ tall.
- Weight – 161lbs.
- Chest – 36″ with an expansion of 2″.
- Occupation – Miner.
Due to the destruction of the Army Service Records it is unknown his exact movements but it is known that he crossed to France / Flanders on the 13 November 1915.
At some point while in France he was transferred to ‘G’ Special Company, Royal Engineers, this Company was part of the Special Brigade of Royal Engineers, which had originally been set up to counteract the initial use by the Germans of Chlorine Gas at Zillebeke (near Ypres) on 22 April 1915, this was probably due to his experience in the artillery. This unit discharged gas via both Cylinders and Stokes Mortars, it also contained a Flame Thrower section. “G’ Special Company however was part of the 2nd Battalion of the Brigade and their method initially of deploying the gas was via cylinders.
At some point ‘G’ Company certainly moved to using ‘Livens Projectors’ (see below image) to disperse the gas as this is mentioned in the unit war diary which is available from March 1917. The Livens Projector was primarily a mortar designed for delivering gas bombs, and gas was first used operationally in the capture of Thiepval in September 1916.
On 7 October 1918, Robert who was an Acting 2nd Corporal by this time and was a part of his unit which was attached to the Canadian Corps, the 11th and 2nd Canadian Divisions and who were to inflict casualties upon the enemy garrison in Blecourt and valley to the North East. The Canadian Corps had on the 27th September 1918 taken another village and moved onto Blecourt which it had also taken but lost it in an enemy counter-attack. Zero hour was to be 0400 hours. 400 Livens Projectors were to be utilised in the attack using both C.G. (Phosgene) and N.C. (80% Chloropicrin plus 20% Stannic Chloride), these projectors were set up in relays firing banks of filled projectiles, however, about 0340 hours, 20 minutes prior to the attack, the enemy accurately shelled the projector positions and continued for 90 minutes knocking out several batteries and cutting the leads. This attack resulted in 2nd Lieutenant Manning being wounded, 1 Other Rank killed, 2 Other Ranks being wounded and 2 Other Ranks being wounded but remaining on duty. Had it not been for the shelter of a sunken road beside the batteries, the Officer Commanding ‘G’ Company believes that casualties would have been severe.
It is believed that during this incident, when some of the Batteries did not fire (320 fired out of 400), Robert went to try and rectify the firing systems when one prematurely exploded causing him to be severely injured (Shrapnel wounds to right Scapulas region, right Loin and lower Chest). He was then eventually evacuated back to the United Kingdom where he remained until the end of hostilities.
On the 5 February 1919 at Glasgow, four months after his wounding, he had his Medical Examination Board following his injuries obtained on the 7 October 1918 while in action. It was found that he had 50% disability, his wounds had firmly healed, shoulder movements not quite free, some pain on moving loin muscles, he was then discharged from the military from that date under terms of Paragraph 392 (xvi) of King’s Regulations 1912 (No longer physically fit for war service).
He was officially awarded a Military Medal on 11 March 1919 for his efforts to repair the unit Livens Projectors on 7 October 1918.
On 31 December 1919, he was re-examined again at Glasgow where it was found that he had a marked loss of bone and muscle tissue, scars were well healed and adherent. Movements to joints were good and his incapacity was given as 40%. He was further examined annually at Glasgow up to the 5 December 1922 where he continued to be shown with the same percentage of disability.
After discharge from Army in 1919 he obtained employment at Stoneyettes Hospital as a driver/handyman/janitor and while there met and married Isabella Robertson on 2 March 1923. He remained at Stoneyettes Hospital until 1936 when they moved to work at the hospital at Lennox Castle. He retired from there in 1954 after 34 years service, aged 65, moved to Auchinloch where he died on 21 August 1962 and was interred at Bedlay Cemetery, Moodiesburn, North Lanarkshire.
Robert Bennet McBey was born on 31 October 1889 at Cambusnethan, North Lanarkshire. The following family information is taken from the 1891 and 1901 Census and family research.
His family is shown as follows :-
- Wife – Isabella Robertson or McBey, born c.1890, died 9 June 1962.
- Son – James Robertson, born 27 July 1923.
- Father – James McBey, born 1854 at Boharm, Banffshire – Railway Signalman.
- Mother – Margaret Motion Robertson, born 1860 at Kingsbarns, Fife.
- Sister – Agnes Cruickshank, born 1882 at North Leith, Edinburgh.
- Sister – Helen (Nellie), born 1884 at North Leith, Edinburgh.
- Brother – William Robertson, born 1886 at Blackhall Station, Cambusnethan, North Lanarkshire – Farm Worker.
- Brother – James, born 1892 at Blackhall Station, Cambusnethan, North Lanarkshire – Died in Infancy in 1894.
- Brother – George Robertson, born 1895 at Chryston, Lanarkshire.
The following addresses have been ascertained for Robert McBey :-
- 1891 – No1 Blackhall, Calderwood, Cambusnethan, Lanarkshire.
- 1901 – 29 Main Street, Chryston, North Lanarkshire.
- 1919 – 5th March – 77 Ochil View, Chryston, near Glasgow.
- 1936 to 1954 – The Oval, Lennox Castle, Lennoxtown.
- 1954 to 1962 – 95 Longmuirhead Road, Auchinloch, North Lanarkshire.
Robert Bennet McBey was awarded the Military Medal, the 1914-15 Star, Victory and the British War Medals for his service in the Great War. He was also awarded the Silver War Badge No.B135841, following his discharge and injury.
Robert Bennet McBey was not killed during the war so he is not remembered on any war memorial.
Links to Additional Information
- Imperial War Museum – Lives of the First World War – Robert McBey
- Imperial War Museum – Lives of the First World War – Robert McBey
- Find a Grave website – Robert Bennet McBey
- Imperial War Museum – Livens Projector
- The London Gazette dated 11 March 1919, supplement 31227, page 3422
- Medal Index Card.
- Medal Roll – Royal Engineers – Victory and British War Medals.
- Medal Roll – Royal Field Artillery – 1914-15 Star.
- 1891 Census.
- 1901 Census.
- 1911 Census.
- Military Pensioners Record Card Medical Examination.
- Recipients of Military Medals Register.
- Silver War Badge Records.
- Find a Grave website.
- Pension Card.
- Vincent Stuart.
- Allan McBey (Grandson)