Captain Arthur Forbes Gordon Kilby VC

VCArthurForbesGordonKilby.jpgArthur Kilby was my maternal grandmother’s first cousin. Laura Herbert nee Kilby was also born in 1879 at East Hayes, Pitville Circus Road, Cheltenham. She was close to Arthur Kilby and had spent some of her childhood in the same household as he did. Capt Kilby gave my mother a copy of  “At the back of the North Wind” by George MacDonald, and in the frontispiece she has pasted a copy of the newspaper cutting from 31 March 1916 with the details of his bravery for which Capt Kilby was awarded the VC. (Photo submitted by Franklyncards)

3/02/1885 – 25/09/1915  2nd Bn S Staffordshire Regiment

Laura’s father George Charles Kilby was the elder brother of Arthur’s father Sandford James Kilby. Their mothers were sisters, Laura’s mother was the elder sister Laura Blanche Kilby nee Scott and Arthur’s was Alice Flora Kilby nee Scott. In other words two brothers had married two sisters. It is quite likely that their parents were cousins as Laura and Alices’ mother was born Mary Ann Kilby, in Wakefield Yorkshire.

I have a copy of my Scott family tree prepared in the early years of the 20th Century, which shows that Arthur and Laura were born into a family where several generations worked in India. At the end of the 18th Century, their grandfather, William Scott, left his home south of Edinburgh to serve in the Bengal N Infantry, in India.  William’s son and Arthur and Laura’s maternal grandfather, Henry Emmanuel Scott, was born on Christmas Day 1804 in Cawnpore, (now Kanpur) India. He was working as a 1st Class civil engineer on the Sind Railways, (now in Pakistan) when he died of dysentery in 1860. My grandmother told me the rocks were much harder than expected, and the railway project therefore more difficult, and worries about it contributed to his death.

George C Kilby was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1842 and Sandford J Kilby was born at sea, in 1847. It would therefore seem likely that their father also worked in India. Both George and Sandford Kilby’s entire working careers were in India, in the Indian Civil Service. George was a Barrister at law in Bengal retiring in 1896 and Sandford was a Superintendent of Customs, retiring in 1892. Their careers are detailed in reference books held in the India section of the British Library.

It was the custom for children of professional parents working in colonial India for children to be sent home during their childhood for education, and therefore they would spend long periods apart from their parents. This seems to have happened in Laura and Alice’ case as in the 1851 Census they were shown as living in their maternal grandfather’s home in Wakefield, and their father was not listed.

When Henry Scott died in 1860, his widow Mary Ann Scott had eight children to care for. She moved to Cheltenham where she set up a school in a house called East Hayes, at Pitville Circus Road. Cheltenham was a town popular with those who worked in India to spend their leave and in which to live during retirement. It was in this school, East Hayes, that she was later able to accommodate several of her grandchildren when their parents were working in India. My grandmother, Laura Herbert, was born here and lived in the house as a baby, before her mother took her to Calcutta. She was very ill on the voyage and a comment made to her mother as they arrived at Calcutta was that it would be a comfort to be able to bury Laura on shore. Fortunately for me she did not die and lived until her eighties. She returned as a young child to Cheltenham to be placed in the care of Mary Ann Scott, her grandmother, when her parents returned to India. She  returned to India as a young adult to keep house for her brother Reginald Kilby who also joined the Indian Civil Service.

My grandmother was a gifted story teller and when I was a child told me about her early childhood at East Hayes. She was there with other cousins whose parents were also in India. She talked about Arthur’s older sister Dorothy Hewlett nee Kilby. She mentioned Primrose Harding (Primmy) and Lilias Lidderdale, who were other cousins. Laura remained close to these cousins and kept in touch with Dorothy Hewlett throughout her life. The children were in the care of Nanny Thornton whom Laura described as cruel. Nanny Thornton was physically abusive to the children and threatened them if they disclosed what was going on in the nursery to their grandmother. Mary Ann Scott seemed oblivious as to what was going on upstairs and it was not until George Kilby arrived back from India and Laura was able to tell her father of the cruel care being provided, that Thornton was dismissed. Later Laura was in the care of a much loved governess Elizabeth Wherry, whom she nicknamed as “Wherrykins”, who had previously been governess to her mother.

I don’t know for how long Arthur Kilby lived at East Hayes, and as a boy he was sent to board at Bilton Grange prep school near Rugby and then on to Winchester College. My grandmother had a very peripatetic childhood and attended several schools. She lived in Switzerland for a time as in that era it was an inexpensive place to live. Later Laura attended Cheltenham Ladies College, and finally went to Allenswood in Wimbledon, another school which provided a more academic education for women.

When my husband was researching Capt Arthur Kilby’s life, though the internet he made contact with Irene van de Wetering from The Hague, in the Netherlands. Irene van de Wetering had found a collection of about ten letters exchanged between her ancestor and Alice and Sandford Kilby, and Dorothy Hewlett. Her ancestor had been a long standing friend of Alice. During WW1, Holland was a neutral country, and Alice was able to write to her friend asking her to forward correspondence to General Menze, a German General in Berlin.  Alice and Sandford Kilby had become friendly with General Menze when they were all holidaying in the Italian Lakes before WW1. These letters were written in 1915 following the battle when Capt Kilby was killed. However his body was not found at the time, and it was unclear what had happened to him. Alice and Sandford were hoping that perhaps he had been taken prisoner by the Germans, and that General Menze would be able to provide more information. Sadly of course, Capt Kilby had been killed in the fighting near Loos.  The final letter, which is from the General, expressed the views of Germans that Capt Kilby had been very brave during his final battle. The letters also give information about life in England during WW1, and are interesting piece of social history, as well as show the hopes and sadness of parents hoping their only son was still alive.

Capt Kilby gave my mother a copy of  “At the back of the North Wind” by George MacDonald, and in the frontispiece she has pasted a copy of the newspaper cutting from 31 March 1916 with the details of his bravery for which Capt Kilby was awarded the VC. My mother also pencilled out a copy of the cross made by a Saxon Regiment in the German trenches saying he and his men died like heroes, 25 September 1915.

Sylvia MacKay
15 November 2014

3 thoughts on “Captain Arthur Forbes Gordon Kilby VC

  1. My name is Eric Lane I live in a block of flats in Leamington Spa. The flats are known as Kilby Court. I have often wondered if they had been named after Captain Kilby VC and I am interested to know if he ever lived in Leamington Spa. I have found his name on the Leamington war memorial and I understand for some time his parents lived in a suburb of Leamington called Lillington where in fact I was born. If this building is named after captain Kilby VC I think the management should recognise the fact in some way.

    1. Dear Eric,

      We’ve been in touch with a local researcher who says:

      “Capt Arthur Forbes Gordon Kilby was born in Cheltenham on 3rd February 1885. He was educated at Bilton Grange Prep School in Dunchurch, near Rugby before going on to Winchester and Sandhurst.
      In the 1911 Census his parents, Sandford and Flora (also named as Alice Flora) Kilby, were living at Skelton House, Lillington Avenue, Leamington Spa. This address is cited in the Probate records for Kilby and his father was his Executor. In 1901 his parents were living in Flintshire with two of their children, daughters Dorothy born in India in 1881 and Winifred born in Falmouth in 1891. Sandford Kilby (Arthur’s father) was born at sea! His father had been a Superintendent of Customs and Collector of Taxes in Calcutta and retired to England. Arthur’s parents married in India. Arthur’s sister Dorothy married a George Hewlett, Schoolmaster of St. Matthews Rugby at Lillington Parish Church on 7th April 1910. Sandford James Kilby (Arthur’s father) died in Leamington on 27th August 1922 and left £11,902. So, the family lived in Leamington from at least 1911 until 1922 and Arthur used this as his address but I have no proof that he actually lived there rather than in barracks with the regiment. I hope this helps. I lived for 33 years, very close to where the Kilbys lived so know the area well. In the 1922 Kelly’s Directory, the Kilby’s address is written as Skelton House, Upper Arlington Street.”

      My further suggestion would be to check with your local archive/library to see if there are any council’s minutes, newspapers or planning documents from the era the flats were built that may mention weather the name originating from the Kilby family.

      Best Wishes,
      Rebecca (Cheltenham Remembers Project Co-Ordinator)

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