Captain Arnold Stearns Nesbitt

Researched and written by Anne Wright

Captain A S Nesbitt
3rd Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment
Killed in action, 7.11.1914
Age, 35

The Times newspaper of 30 May 1914 carried a report of the first class cricket match between Middlesex and Worcestershire at Lords; Middlesex won by an impressive innings and 56 runs. The wicket keeper for Worcestershire was Arnold Stearns Nesbitt. Six months later he was dead.

Arnold was born in Walton-on-Thames on 16 November 1878 to William Henry (a provisions merchant) and Emily Rose (nee Stearns) Nesbitt. He was baptised at St. Mary’s Church, Oatlands one month later on 19 December. His parents married in 1874 at Holy Trinity Church, Twickenham and Arnold was the third of their five children. He had two older sisters, Nina and Dorothy and two younger brothers, Guy and Philip. The family home was at Cullis Lodge in Rydens Road, Walton-on-Thames. Arnold was educated at Bradfield College in Berkshire from September 1889 to December 1895. He not only shone at cricket but also at football being in the first teams in both sports in 1895. Arnold decided on a military career and by 1901 was a Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment attending the School of Musketry at Hythe St. Leonard in Kent. Three years later he was promoted to Captain. By 1911 his family had moved to Park House in Oatlands Drive, Weybridge; in the same year he was based at Norton Barracks in Worcestershire.

Arnold’s regiment was in the 7th Brigade of the 3rd Division; when war broke out in 1914 they were one of the first British formations to go to France. They received their order to mobilise on 4 August, the day war on Germany was declared. They disembarked at Le Havre on 15 August as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). On 23rd the 7th Brigade took up defensive positions in reserve at Cipley to the south of Mons in the path of the German right flank sweeping into France. The BEF had established a line along the Mons-Conde canal. Ahead lay the Battle of Mons, the gruelling retreat from Mons, the stand at Le Cateau, pushing the Germans back from the R. Marne to the northern bank of the R. Aisne and the Battles of La Bassee and Armentieres – all in the space of three months.

On 23 August the Germans attacked at 9am; by 3pm the 3rd Division was under heavy fire, they held, but the Germans broke through on their right flank causing a French withdrawal which led the British to do the same. The retreat from Mons had begun. However, on 26 August, General Smith-Dorrien, commander of II Corps, which included the 3rd Division decided to stand and fight at Le Cateau to prevent, he believed, an even bigger catastrophe. Arnold’s battalion occupied two trenches on the northern edge of Caudry, west of Le Cateau on the extreme left of the 7th Brigade’s position. There was a dangerous gap between them and their comrades of the 4th Division to their left. They were very heavily shelled and by about 1pm Smith-Dorrien decided that II Corps would need to retreat or else be surrounded. The Worcestershires finally evacuated their positions at about 4.30pm. Some units did not receive the message and fought on.

The retreat continued until 5 September when the BEF was south of the R.Marne. The French Commander-in-Chief, General Joffre formed a new 6th Army which was positioned north of the Marne and able to attack the flank of the pursuing Germans. The BEF could now turn about and re-cross the Marne on 9 September, capitalising on a gap in the German lines. The German advance had reached its limit; on 10 September they began the retreat to the R. Aisne. The 3rd Division crossed the Aisne at Vailly in the course of 13-14 September. Two days later Arnold’s battalion was in trenches on the northern bank of the Aisne; the Germans were entrenched on the high ground. Trench warfare had begun. The whole BEF was then moved to Flanders in an attempt to outflank the Germans.

There was to be no respite for the Worcestershires; by 17 October they were entrenched near le Hue, north of La Bassee and the battle of that name had begun. They remained in trenches here and at La Quinque Rue until 30 October. The battalion was under constant attack from heavy shelling and persistent sniping and by 2 November the line had been pushed back to west of Neuve Chapelle. Having come out of the line Arnold and his comrades were bussed further north to Neuve Eglise (west of Bailleul) on 1 November. The following day they went into the line just west of the Bois de Ploegsteert where for the next four days they endured heavy shelling and constant sniping. Between 3-4am on 7 November they came under heavy bombardment. At 5am, in thick fog, the enemy broke through the right trenches of ‘C’ Company; despite the support of other units during the day they were not able to reclaim their position. Arnold was one of the day’s fatalities.

He had been on the continent for three months. His war experience had been one of almost constant movement and often desperate combat. Arnold’s body was not recovered; he is commemorated on the Menin Gate (Panel 34) at Ypres (now Ieper) and on a brass wall plaque in St Mary’s Church, Oatlands. He was posthumously mentioned in despatches. His father predeceased him at the family home which was then in Wimbledon in 1910 and his mother died in Kensington in 1929.

Sources:

Bradfield College Roll of Honour, UK Genealogy Archives, https://ukga.org
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – Worcestershire Regiment, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915 & 1916-2007, www.ancestry.co.uk
Renshaw, Andrew (ed), Wisden on the Great War, The Lives of Cricket’s Fallen 1914-1918 (2014)
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Worcestershire Regiment WW1Database, www.worcestershireregiment.com

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