Robert Cecil Cumberbatch

Captain Rifle Brigade WW1 & Major Intelligence Corps WW2

Robert Cecil Cumberbatch was born 29 January 1892 at Smyrna, now Ismir, Turkey. He was the eldest son of Henry Alfred Cumberbatch, a British diplomat, and his wife Helene Gertrude nee Rees.
Robert was commissioned as a Temporary Second Lieutenant on 1 October 1914. He was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant 15th Battalion The Rifle Brigade on 26th November 1914.

Robert was described as:

  • Fair complexion,
  • fair hair,
  • grey eyes,
  • height: 1.75 metres

Robert was the senior officer who responded to an accident which killed three soldiers on 17 September 1915. The accident happened during hand grenade training when the notoriously dangerous Bethune 'Battye' hand grenade exploded in the hand of Rifleman Alan Kershaw R/1293 8th Batallion King's Royal Rifle Corps, aged 21 killing him instantly and killed Corporal T. Barratt S/855 8th Batallion Rifle Brigade and Lance Corporal Ernest Woolley R/7240 8th Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps, aged 25 and injured two other soldiers.

COPY                                                            PROCEEDINGS.

COURT OF ENQUIRY assembled at the 41st Bde. Bombschool this day of September, 1915, to enquire into the deaths of the following N.C.Os and men of the 41st Brigade.

No                       Corpl Barrett,                  8th Bn Rifle Bde.

No 7240             L/Cpl Woolley,                 8th Bn K.R.R.

No 1293             Rfmn Kershaw,               8th Bn K.R.R.

and also into the wounding of the following;-

2nd Lieut Domville                                     8th Bn K.R.R.

Rfn Thorley                                                 8th Bn K.R.R.


The COURT assembles as follows;-

PRESIDENT                       Captain P.M. Milward                  7th R Bde.

MEMBERS                         2nd Lieut Emerson                         9th K.R.R.

                                           2nd Lieut A.E.J. Maclean               9th K.R.R.


No 7009 Rfmn Brookes A.E, 8th Bn K.K.Rifles states;-

On the 17th instant, at about 3-15 p.m. I was under cover in trench C I saw Rfmn Kershaw take a Bethune Bomb in his hand. He was standing in Barricade B I saw him remove the tape from the Nobel Safety Lighter he removed the pin and pressed down. He was [in] the act of turning the lighter when the Bomb exploded. I remained in observation and saw L/Cpl Woolley who was standing immediately behind Rfn Kershaw and Rfmn Kershaw fall.

I went forward and found Rfn Kershaw dead and the others at Barricade B wounded. I assisted L/CPl Woolley who died in a few moments. A Doctor (Lieut Hopkins 43rd Field Amb) arrived before L/Cpl Woolley died. I noticed the others at Barricade B on the ground with men who had been with me in trench C assisting them. The following were at Barricade B Rfn Kershaw, L/Cpl Woolley Corpl Barrett, Lieut Domville, Rfmn Thorley. I indicate on the diagram the position of the above just before the explosion. Rfmn Kershaw (a) L/Cpl Woolley (b) Rfmn Thorley (e) Lieut Domville (d) Corpl Barrett ( c). No others were at Barricade B, but two squads were waiting in trench C.

sd Rfn A.E. Brookes

7009 8th K.R.R.C.

No 8998 Rfmn Simpson J. 8th K.R.R.;-

On the 17th instant, at about 3:15, I was in trench C and was detailed as next man to Rfn Kershaw to throw a live bomb. Rfmn Kershaw was in Barricade B at point (a) I saw him take a Bethune Bomb in his left hand. He stripped the paper off the Nobel Safety Match and pressed down the match. The bomb exploded immediately, I ran towards the road in search of assistance; I met a Doctor coming. The bombs which had been thrown had been assembled by my squad about half an hour before practice. I had been under instruction for two days. The Bombs, the detonators, fuzes, and safety matches were as supplied.

The fuzes and detonators were fitted together, we fixed the detonators in the bombs, and fitted the matches to the fuze, we pinched the match with nippers supplied. LCpl Woolley was present when the bombs were being made up, he examined all.

sd/ Rfn J.Simpson, 8998

8th Bn K.R.R.

No 1596 Rfn Thorley W.J. 8th Bn states;-

On the 17th instant at about 3:15p.m., I was a member of the 8th K.R.R. under instruction for Bomb Throwing. We had been under instruction for two days. I was standing in Barricade B in position ( c) and was waiting my turn to throw. Rfmn Kershaw was at the Barricade in position (a) and was preparing to throw his first live bomb. The bombs were made up by my squad and at about 2 p.m. on the 17th instant. We were given the parts and L/Cpl Woolley instructed us and examined all the bombs made up. I saw Rfn Kershaw take a bomb in his hand, he tore off the tape, took out the pin, pressed down on the match and turned the head. The bomb exploded instantly. I was wounded in the hand and saw nothing further. I was bandaged by a comrade and walked to hospital.

Rfn W.J. Thorley,

8th K.R.R.

Lieut Cumberbatch 7th R.B. [Rifle Brigade] states;- On the 17th instant I was with the 7th R.B. squad some distance from the accident. I heard cries and proceeded to the spot where I found a Doctor who had just arrived and the wounded being bandaged. As senior present I ordered the stock of made up bombs in Barricade B to be removed and left untouched and I have now ordered these to be packed and returned t the transport of the Brigade H.Q. Rfn Kershaw was dead on arrival. L/Cpl Woolley died within a few minutes and I am informed that Corpl Barrett has since died and that 2nd Lieut Doinville (sic) has been evacuated from the 43rd Field Ambulance. Rfn Thorley has been treated in the 42nd Field Ambulance and has now returned.

(sgd) R.C. Cumberbatch Lieut.

7th Rifle Brigade.

I attach sketch of scene of accident references as follows;-

A. Pit into which bombs were thrown

B. Tee shaped Barricade used by throwers

C. D. Position or 1st and 2nd witnesses and of 2 squads waiting to throw. C.D. is a type of fire trench

a. Position of Rfn Kershaw (thrower)

b. Position of L/Cpl Woolley

c. Position of Corpl Barrett

d. Position of 2nd Lieut Domville

e. Position of Rfn Thorley

The position of Corpl Barrett is not quite clear as witnesses are inclined to disagree.

Sd/ H Milward, Captain  PRESIDENT

Sd/ Frank Emerson, 2nd Lieut, 9th K.R.R.

Sd/ A.E.J. MacLean 2nd Lieut 9th K.R.R.



I am of the opinion that the injuries received by 2nd Lieut Domville and Rfmn Thorley, 8th K.R.R. were due to an accident and that they were not to blame.

sd/ H.H. Green. Lieut. Colonel.

Commanding 8th Battn. Kings Royal Rifles.

3rd October. 1915.



3rd October. 1915.

I am of opinion that the death of Corpl Barrett, occurred through an accident and that no blame can be attached to anyone. I would however add that courses of this sort should be supervised by a really competent instructional staff.

Sd R. Maclachlan, Lieut Colonel

Commanding 8th Bn Rifle Brigade.

3rd October, 1915.


Certified Copy

Captain i/c New Armies Infantry Records. G.H.QRs 3rd Echelon.

15-1-16 [15 Jan 1916]

Robert received a gun shot wound to his right shoulder and was admitted to the No. 34 Casualty Clearing Station on 18th August 1916. He was probably at the Battle of the Somme. As Temporary Captain Rifle Brigade Robert was transferred to General List on 22 November 1916.

Robert married Eleanora 'Nora' Skender on 18 February 1920 at Piraeus, Greece. They had a daughter Helene Patricia Cumberbatch born 19 Aug 1922.
On 26 Jan 1924 Robert departs from Liverpool and on 5 Feb 1924 Robert arrives at New York aboard the Doric. 

Robert was a merchant and was the Executor of his mother's will when Helene Gertrude CUMBERBATCH of Ravenstone, Royston, Park Road, Hatch End, Pinner, Middlesex, widow, died 15 August 1928 and Probate was granted at Canterbury on 28 September 1928. Effects £17,423 2s 1d.

Robert was a Captain in the Intelligence Corps during Word War 2. After the war he became an Honorary Major on completion of Short Service Commission on 1st March 1950.

Robert was a life member of The Massachusetts Society of the National Society Sons of the American Revolution.

He died 1 March 1970 in Athens, Greece.


Medal Rolls

ROLL OF INDIVIDUALS entitled to the Victory Medal and British War Medal granted under Army Orders



Disposal of decorations



Cumberbatch Robert Cecil


British War & Victory Medal IV X/2173 18 Oct 1921



ROLL OF INDIVIDUALS entitled to the Decoration granted under Army Order 20 of 23rd December 1918     29



Date of Disembarkation

War Office Use

2 Lieutenant

Cumberbatch Robert Cecil

11 Aug 1915

IVX/2173 18 Oct 1921 EF/5/1065


Medal Card

Campaign:            1914-15 Star

(A) Where decoration was earned.

(B) Present situation.




Reg. No.

Roll on which included (if any)


Rifle Brigade#1






(B) Robert Cecil

Military Attache#2








15 Star



Action taken

#1 1915 Star                                  } I.V.X. 2173 18 Oct 1921 EF/5/1065

#2 British War & Victory Medals }

Theatre of War

France 5th August 1915

Qualifying Date.


(6 34 46)   W234-HP5590  500,000   4/19  HWV(P240)   K60S




Captain R C Cumberbatch

The Director of Military Intelligence forwards Application through. J.I.A. 27 Feb 1919 14 Mar 1919

EF9 returned 29 Aug 1921


Address: British Legation Athens

Federation of British Industries, 39 St James Street, London S.W.1.