EDGAR ROBERTS MOBBS DSO (1882-1917)
- LEGENDARY SOLDIER SPORTSMAN
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EDGAR R MOBBS
Edgar Roberts Mobbs, born 29th June 1882 was a charismatic resident of Dartmouth House, Olney, Buckinghamshire. The house was the family home of Edgar’s parents during the early 1900s. Edgar, a gifted rugby union footballer, played for and captained Northampton RFC (the Saints) and later, the England team in 1910. Subsequently Edgar was equally renowned for his outstanding military career in the Northamptonshire Regiment during the First World War. He was killed in action in 1917 whilst leading a charge at Passchendaele. As an acknowledged hero of the First World War; a monument to his memory was erected in Northampton, a testimonial to his heroic exploits.
Edgar was born in Northampton but spent most of his early years in Olney. He began to show his aptitude for sport very early. When eight and a half years old, and a scholar at the Bedford Modern School he played rugby for a school team of under tens, and later obtained his place in the house team. A knee injury at sixteen prevented him playing rugby for five years, but he did play hockey and cricket for Olney.
The photograph of the Mobbs family below shows Oliver and Elizabeth Mobbs in the garden of their home at Olney, with their four sons and two daughters. Graily is sitting on his mother’s knee and holding his father’s hand.
Edgar also played rugby for Toulouse, where he became a great favourite. It is said that his large physique, pace, strength and tremendous ‘hand-off’ made him one of the most dangerous attacking three-quarters of his time. He also played cricket for Buckinghamshire.
Shortly after Edgar had retired from his successful sporting career he was interviewed for ‘Boys’ Own’ magazine on 20th September 1913. He was thirty two years old and was justly referred to as ‘a sporting hero’. The article confirms that he played for the Olney rugby club for one or two seasons around 1903.
The outbreak of war in 1914 found him as manager of the Pytchley Auto Car Company at Market Harborough, having followed his father into the motor industry. He was then contemplating emigration to Canada. When he attempted to enlist in August of that year Mobbs was initially refused a commission as, at thirty three, he was over the mandated age limit. Not a man to allow a trifling matter like this to get in his way, he joined up as a private soldier and raised his own unit of 264 men as ‘D’ Company, 7th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment. ‘D’ Company included many Rugby players, including E R Butcher, captain of Devon, and H Willett, captain of Bedford.
On 29 July 1917 while in his headquarters in Canada Street tunnels near Zillebeke, Edgar, hearing of the loss of officers from the walking wounded, decided to lead the Battalion from the front. He moved to Shrewsbury Forest and was killed in action on 31st July at Lower Star Post while attempting to bomb a machine gun that had trapped a detachment of his Battalion. The Battalion history says ‘The fact that his body could not be recovered and buried, as all ranks would have wished, was perhaps a good thing, as it helped keep alive his memory in the Battalion, and inspired in everyone the resolve to avenge his death and to end the war that had already caused so much misery and suffering’. It is reported that of the 400 or more volunteers that served in ‘Mobbs Own’ Company, only 85 survived the War. On 10th February 1921 the first Edgar Mobbs Memorial Match was played at Franklins Gardens, Northampton between two of the great rugby loves in his life, East Midlands and the Barbarians. This memorial match was an annual fixture up to 2007 but since that year the match has been played between East Midlands and Bedford at Goldington Road, Bedford.
In July 1921 a bust of Edgar Mobbs was unveiled to his memory at the north end of Northampton’s Market Square. The monument, by Alfred Turner, carries reliefs of ‘Sport’ and ‘War’ and is surmounted by a heroic female figure. The inscription reads ‘In memory of Edgar R Mobbs DSO, erected by subscriptions of admirers the world over, to the memory of a great and gallant soldier sportsman. When the Great War broke out he founded ‘Mobbs Company’, joined as a private and rose to command a battalion to which it belonged. He did his duty even unto death’. In the 1930s the monument was moved to be near the town war memorial in Abington Square. The bust is wreathed after the Mobbs Memorial Match.
As a testament to Edgar Mobbs’ extraordinary personality and charisma, the following has been extracted from the website: 1914-1918.invasionzone.com. The extract demonstrates how Edgar Mobbs inspired his fellow sportsmen to follow his call to arms. Edgar subsequently paid the ultimate price; George Henry Percival was one of the fortunate survivors.
The following two additional photographs of Edgars parents and of his youngest brother Graily have also been kindly provided by Edna Jarvis.
The Society is indebted to Phil Mobbs, Edna Jarvis and Stewart and Shirley Elsmore (the current owners of Dartmouth House) who have provided material and consented to the publication of this article. We also wish to thank the contributors to some of the referenced websites, with whom unfortunately we have been unable to establish contact.
The following publications and websites have been reviewed:
2. Olney, Bucks by Oliver Ratcliff (1907 Almanack)
3. Website: therugbyhistorysociety.co.uk
4. Website: comeonyousaints.com
5. Website: roll-of-honour.com
6. Website: 1914-1918.invasionzone.com