Service number: 12410 | Rank: Private | Regiment: Norfolk Regiment
Killed in action, October 12, 1916, in Flanders. Aged 21.
Buried at THIEPVAL MEMORIAL, Somme, France.
Son of Mrs E. Docking, 97 Thetford Road Born and enlisted in Brandon.
WHAT I KNOW ABOUT ROBERT …
Robert was born on 25th April 1893, the second son to Henry and Eliza Docking who lived at 97 Thetford Road. He was working as a builder’s labourer when war was declared and he went along to a recruiting rally in Brandon and followed his older brother Harry’s footsteps into the Army by signing his name on the dotted line. He was called to take a medical in Norwich and duly went along on 27th August 1914 and enlisted in ‘Kitchener’s Army’ along with his Brandon mates. Following a year or so of training he went overseas into France. In March 1916, whilst on patrol in ‘No Man’s Land’, he and his commanding officer, 2nd Lieutenant Coe, were badly wounded. Robert received wounds to his forearm but continued on with the patrol and it was this action that resulted in him receiving the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Only the Victoria Cross could be considered a better gallantry award. The War Diary of the 7th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, recorded a presentation of a D.C.M. to Private Docking during the afternoon of 18th March, near the front line at Annequin. When Robert next wrote home to his parents he enclosed a copy of a letter handed to him during that presentation,
“General Scott is glad to be able to inform you that you have been awarded the D.C.M. for gallantry in the field, and he offers his hearty congratulations.”
On page 12 of the London Gazette, dated 28th March, the following notification was published,
“12410 Private R.W. Docking, 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment.
For conspicuous gallantry on a reconnoitring patrol with an officer. Although both were wounded, they completed their work, and brought in valuable information.”
Robert was awarded seven days leave, and so he duly returned to Brandon in the first week of April. With him were two other Brandon men – Private Herbert Edwards and Private Edgar Randall, both had served with him at the Front since going to France.
Just four months later the Thetford & Watton Times reported that Robert had been wounded again during action in August, probably during an attack on the 13th, and while he was recovering in a General Hospital he had time to write home to his parents. In his letter he mentioned how he had helped to dig out another Brandon lad, Harry Ashley from Bury Road, who had been caught up in an explosion that had buried him (Harry) in mud. Harry was in hospital suffering from ‘shell shock’ but Robert said the lad was making good progress.
On October 12th Robert was back with his battalion and in the thick of a new attack on the German trenches. The men went across “no man’s land” and after moving fifty yards they came under fire from enemy machine guns only to suffer further casualties when their path was blocked with barbed wire. The men found shell holes to jump into and from these they returned rifle fire into the German lines until it got dark. Under cover of darkness they tried again to advance through the barbed wire, however this failed and the survivors crawled back to the British lines leaving behind their dead and a few wounded. This action cost the battalion dearly – 40 killed, 129 wounded and 53 missing.
The War Office wrote to Robert’s parents, Henry and Eliza, to say Robert had not returned to his unit and so was officially listed as missing. It was not until May 1917 that the War Office notified them that he was presumed to have been killed on the date he was reported missing – 12th October 1916. This came at the same time that Henry and Eliza received news from the War Office that another of their sons was officially missing. Sadly, they would later be notified that he had also been ‘Killed in Action’. Robert’s body was never found and at the time of his death, aged only 21; the Thetford & Watton Times reported that he had yet to receive his D.C.M.
A final note on Robert’s War Record dated 3rd May 1917, states, “Buried by 5th Div Burial Officer”, however the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has no record of his grave on their website.