A family story contributed by Michael Clemitson
Sergeant Clemitson’s family came from Hexham. After selling the grocery business there his father, Thomas Clemitson, had moved to Southwick-on-Wear, Sunderland in the mid 1870s, opening a grocery business with his brother-in-law, William Divorty. Robert was the youngest of four, with a sister and two brothers. He received his middle name, Homer, from Rebecca Homer, a close friend of his mother’s, who had lived nearby in Hexham. His father sadly was killed in an accident in 1888, when a sack of grain fell on him.
Times were hard and in adulthood all 4 emigrated: his elder brother George to Belfast in 1903, to work in the shipyard as a clerk; Robert, a pattern-maker (draughtsman) by trade, to New Zealand in 1909, where in 1910 he was joined by his elder brother, John. His sister Sarah emigrated to Australia in 1911, on marriage to David Todd, a shipping clerk from Newcastle, whom she had met whilst working at a solicitor’s there.
Robert settled in Auckland, meeting up with his brother John, and returned to Britain for a visit in July 1914. The story goes that he was to arrange for the remainder of the family – his brother, and family, and his mother – also to emigrate.
However, the Great War was just about to break out, and in September 1914 he enlisted in the 18th Pals Regiment in the Durham Light Infantry (DLI), serving initially in Egypt.
His division was transferred to France in March 1916 for the preparation for the Battle of the Somme in July 1916, and took over the front line opposite the village of Serre, the northern most point of the Somme line. Later by September they had moved to the Neuve Chapelle sector further north. On 16th Sep 1916 the 18 DLI were relieved by [2nd/6th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment] and the [7th Battalion, Worcester Regiment], and moved into billets at Vielle Chapelle.
Sadly, on the night of 15/16 September he was accidentally shot whilst returning from a patrol. He was initially treated at St Oliver in France, and in November was transferred to England. Over the next two and a half years he underwent five major operations.
In October 1917 the Registrar of the Guildford War Hospital reported that he was “still a patient in one of our auxiliary hospitals. This [Non-Commissioned Officer] had a serious wound of the chest & subsequent emphysema . He has had one or two partial relapses. But is now steadily improving.” Several periods of convalescence were spent at Oaklands Military Hospital at Cranleigh,
He was about to be discharged from hospital in 1919, but contracted pneumonia and died in March that year at Dobson Red Cross Hospital (22 Charlton Road, Blackheath), aged 33 years.
His mother had by then moved to stay with George’s family in Belfast, and so he was buried in a plot owned by his in-laws, the Emersons, in Hexham Cemetery. A CWGC headstone was erected, and the inscription ‘Thy will be done’ added at the request of his brother.
His name is included in the War Memorials in Holy Trinity Church, Southwick & at Hartlepool.
How the accidental shooting occurred.
From the Notes of the Field Inquiry into the accidental shooting of Sgt R Clemitson – 17 September 1916
3rd Witness – Private W Buston
On the night of 15/16 Sept., I think about 9.30 pm I was out on patrol with Sgt Clemitson, when we came across some telephone wires, which we tracked for about 20 º in northerly direction. Sgt Clemitson cut a piece off when a flare went up, both from ours and the German lines. Fire was opened upon us from D Company lines, in my opinion.
We then got back into the ditch and crawled towards our lines. When about 5 yards off the wire, Sgt Clemitson shouted “Hullo Durhams”. We got no answer, we came out of the ditch and crawled as to try to get through the wire, when a shot was fired from our lines. Sgt Clemitson fell and said he was hit. We then helped him up.
Lieutenant J C V Boddy – Officer Commanding D Company
At 9.30 pm a patrol of C Company consisting of Sgt Clemitson & two or three others was fired upon by the night sentry group of D Company by mistake for a party of Germans. Sqt Clemitson was wounded.
The mistake arose through the group not having been warned about this patrol. The attached message was received by them from C Company at about stand-to this evening, and at the same time word was received that the Stokes * guns & Medium Trench Mortars were going to fire at 8.45 pm, which necessitated delay in sending out D Company wiring parties & patrols. I left D Company HQ and made arrangements for D Company parties not to go out until 9.30 pm and the message from C Company in the meantime was not attended to.
* The Stokes trench mortar, developed by Sir Wilfred Scott-Stokes (1860 – 1927).
 Courtesy of the National Archives, Kew