Captain William George Gabain MC
William George Gabain, the only son of Charles Edward Gabain, was educated at Sandroyd, Charterhouse and Pembroke College, Cambridge. He was a member of the football eleven and was also a proficient boxer, winning at Public School and University level three years in a row.
He took a temporary Mastership at Eton and, in September 1913, a permanent post at his old school. On 9th February 1914 he was appointed to serve with the Charterhouse School Contingent, Junior Division, Officers’ Training Corps (OTC.)
When war broke out, he received his call-up notice at 10 o’clock in the morning. An hour and a half later he was on his way to France where his knowledge of French and German earned him a post as a despatch rider with the First Cavalry Brigade, from August 1914 until early in 1915. He went through the retreat from Mons, his work being Mentioned in Despatches.
From January 1915 he served with the Intelligence Corps and was again Mentioned in Despatches. In May 1916, he joined the HQ staff of the 10th Corps, but four months later was shipped home with a serious leg wound. By the following January he was back in France on the HQ staff as Temporary Captain. Although he was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in June 1917, he was dissatisfied with life on the HQ staff and applied several times for a combatant role.
In January 1918 he was transferred to the 2nd Rifle Brigade and was one of the casualties of the German onslaught on 24 March 1918. His Adjutant wrote: “He was last seen on the morning of that day, in a sunken road holding on with a handful of men practically surrounded by infinitely superior numbers of the enemy. Throughout the previous night he did fine work holding the bridge under most trying circumstances and in the face of overwhelming numbers”.
Captain Gabain was reported ‘missing’ and it was a full year before his family accepted that he had died. He was 28 years of age.
He is interred at the Pargny Commonwealth war Graves Commission Cemetery on the Somme.
The Gabain Collection
The museum has held this gallant officer's medals and his General Service and Rifle Brigade cap badges since 1975.
In December 2016 a near-impossibility occurred when his jacket appeared for sale on ebay.
The vendor was approached directly and the jacket's genuineness confirmed through detailed examination and by expert opinion.
The jacket charts a number of aspects of the officer's service.
In those days, and for many years after, officers were granted official funds to allow them to have their uniforms made by civilian tailors working to approved patterns.
Arriving in France in 1914, Lieutenant Gabain's jacket would have had the rank pips on the shoulder epaulettes. However, it was quickly learned that German snipers identified the prominent pips as belonging to officers and many were shot as a result.
The pips were then moved to the jacket sleeves and, with braiding added, become known as 'Cuff Rank' jackets. Marks on the jacket show the removal of the shoulder pips and their somewhat ad-hoc re-mounting on the cuffs. Lieutenant Gabain's promotion to Captain is also charted by the edition of the third pip, a clearly well-worn example, placed between the two, outer, less-worn pips.
It is likely that these changes were made locally in France, possibly by Gabain himself, or more likely by a batman, as the quality of work precludes a professional tailor!
The green collar boards denoted that the wearer was in Intelligence. The centre braid was originally gold but time has bled the green dye into it. The buttons are General Service pattern, as was the cap badge he wore. Also visible is the medal ribbon for the Military Cross, awarded in 1917.
Although we cannot be certain, it is most likely that the jacket went into his personal effects when he transferred into the Rifle Brigade in early 1918. From then on he would have worn that formation's uniforms. His effects probably then made their way back to his family. Where they were in the period before we obtained the jacket is unknown.
The jacket was purchased by the Museum Trustees in January 2017 and it is now on display in the Intelligence Corps Room, World war One display, along with his medals and cap badges.
Germany’s Last Offensive
Realising that the only way to defeat the British and French Allies before American reinforcements arrived on the continent in strength, the German Army launched a major offensive in the Spring of 1918, known as the Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser's Battle), or as the Ludendorff Offensive. The main attack, code named Michael, was intended to outflank and defeat the British Forces on the Somme and then to force the French to sue for peace by threatening Paris.
There were early and dramatic German successes with the British front line being forced back over ground that it had taken four years to capture at horrendous human cost. However, the German attack bogged down on the already heavily-damaged ground due to the poor ground conditions, adverse weather and the Germans’ inability to move reserves and stores to rapidly reinforce success.
The skill, tenacity, bravery and sacrifice of the British forces engaged in defence was also a major contributing factor in blunting the attack which was eventually called off by the German High Command in late April, by which time the German attacking troops had suffered very heavy casualties and had only managed to take ground with dubious further tactical or strategic value.
Captain Gabain MC was one of the many British casualties in this decisive battle that so blunted the German Army’s fighting strength.
In August 1918 the Allies, massively reinforced by the arrival of the Americans, launched the final offensive of the war, known as the 'Hundred Days Offensive' it succeeded in retaking all the lost ground and forcing the German Army into a major retreat and the German Government to sue for peace, the final Armistice coming into place on 11th of November 1918.