CHARLES EDWIN ROBERTSON – Long lost RSA badge found in button box in Invercargill antique shop. 

8/3051 – CHARLES EDWIN ROBERTSON

An email from a fellow NZ military history buff  who is also the architect of the websites “Unknown Soldiers & Nurses of Southland” and “Unknown Warriors of the NZEF” Iain Davidson sent me a photograph of a small Returned Soldiers lapel badge (the small size badge was produced in 1927, as a more practical variation from the large Returned Soldiers badge that had been introduced in 1916).  The badge contained a date clip of 1949 fixed around the crown.  Iain’s friend had found the badge in a box of buttons while poking around in an Invercargill antique shop some years ago and seeing an opportunity to possibly reunite the badge with a descendant, Iain bought the badge from his friend.  I was very happy to help Iain identifying possible ancestors to pass the badge of this long deceased soldier to. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The badge was stamped on the rear with a regimental number 8/3051 – and after a fast bit of research I was able to identify the original owner as a WW1 soldier from Southland,  Charles Edwin Robertson Thanks to en entry by a descendant on Pte. Robertsons’ biographical page on the AWMM Cenotaph website, I located Neil Robertson of Auckland, a grandson of Charles Edwin Robertson, within a matter of minutes was talking with .  Neil surprised me when he said that his grandfather Charles’ son, Edward William Robertson – known by Neil’s family as “Uncle Eddie”, was still very much alive and well.   At 89 years young Eddie Robertson is currently a resident of the Rowena Jackson Retirement Home in Invercargill.  Further, a niece of Charles’, Eileen IRWIN (nee Cameron), is also alive and well and living independently in Winton.

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 Charles Edwin Robertson was born at Outram in 1887 on the Western Taieri Plains, south of Dunedin to parents James Robertson and Bridget NOLAN of Outram.  

8/3051 Pte. Charles Edwin Robertson

Charles was the youngest of four brothers, the others being Edward James (ka Ted), James (jnr), and John Christopher (ka Chris).   Charles had three sisters; Ellen Elizabeth (ka Nellie) ROBERTSON, Marion Churruth Robertson (ka ‘Minnie’) CAMERON, and Amy Hannah Robertson (died at 1 day old, 1888).

James Robertson (father of Charles Edwin) had died in 1890 and one of Charles’ sisters Nellie died in 1897.  Eldest brother Ted, born 1881, had decided to seek work and adventure elsewhere so went to Australia in the late 1890s.  In 1901 Ted enlisted for Boer War service in South Africa.  340 Trooper Edward James Roberston was enlisted into the New South Wales Citizens Bushmen, a mounted rifles unit that would be joined with other elements to form 5th Victorian Mounted Rifles (VMR) Contingent which embark for South Africa in February 1901. 

Tpr. Ted Robertson survived some of the fiercest fighting of the war during his year of service in South Africa.  His contingent had suffered the loss of 19 officers and soldiers killed and 41 wounded by the time the 5th VMR Contingent returned to Australia in May 1902.  Ted made his way back to NZ and by 1905 had returned to Southland, briefly living at Browns.  Ted subsequently struck out on his own farming his own property at Springhills.  In 1911 Ted married Jessie McCRAE.

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The death of James Robertson (snr) in 1890 had left his widow Bridget alone with sons James, Chris, young Charles and her daughter Minnie living on the Taieri Plains.  In the mid 1900’s Bridget and her family, with the exception of James (jnr) who had gone to Dunedin, moved to the small rural forestry and farming district of Forest Hill near the town of Browns, east of Winton.  Here the family settled to start farming a piece of land. 

James Robertson (jnr) had also left home about this time to pursue a professional career, being first educated in Dunedin before going on to attend Otago University in 1910 and 1911, graduating as qualified lawyer.  By the outbreak of World War I James had taken a position as a Partner of a small legal firm in Huntly.  Like his younger brothers before him, at 33 years of age James would also be called up for military service in June 1917.  

Bridget Robertson died suddenly in 1911 thus leaving Chris, Charles and Minnie (now married to Charles Livingston CAMERON of Forest Hill) to manage the farm. 

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The Robertson Family’s commitment to war service …

As WW1 conscription started in Southland Charles (who listed himself as a shearer) and his brother Chris (farmer) were enlisted for future active service. 

8/3051 Private Charles Edwin Robertson and brother Chris,  8/3053 Private John Christopher Robertson, were among the first to be called up as reinforcements for the Otago Infantry Regiment.  Together they went to Trentham Camp in June 1915 to be attested and complete their basic training.  

By October 1915 the Gallipoli campaign had been going for almost six months.  The Robertson brothers, both members of 21 Platoon, together with the rest of their platoon mates were exited and had high expectations of “joining the lads from home in that show“.  On October 9th their Platoon embarked with the 1st Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment (OIR), an element that made up the NZEF’s 7th Reinforcements.  Whilst on-board the men learned that Gallipoli would not be their destination.  After a period in training at the NZEF’s Zeitoun Camp near Cairo in Egypt, they would be heading directly to the Western Front to an unspecified area in the north of France.

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The Robertsons and 21 Platoon arrived at Alexandria, Egypt in mid Nov 1915 and their Battalion spent the next four months training for what was ahead.  Finally on April 6th 1916 the 1st Battalion OIR embarked for France.  Over the ensuing six months the Battalion, being part of the 1st NZ Infantry Brigade, fought in some significant actions in Northern France including the battles of Flers and Morval on the Somme.  On 16 September 1916 Pte. Chris Robertson was shot in the right arm (not life threatening) putting him out of action for three weeks before he was able to re-join the unit.  Whilst Chris was convalescing, his brother Pte. Charles Robertson had been reported ‘Missing’ on 27 September.  Charles was eventually found in a wounded state with severe gunshot wounds to his back, right arm and right leg.  He was immediately evacuated to No. 36 Casualty Clearing Station in the field and then on to St John’s Hospital at Etaples in France in preparation for his evacuation to the 1st Southern Hospital at Birmingham, England.  After convalescing at Hornchurch, Charles was returned to the NZEF lines at Sling Camp (Wiltshire, Southern England) in Jan 1917 where a medical board declared him ‘no longer fit for war service on account of wounds received in action’.  As a result charles was on his way home and returned to New Zealand on the Maunganui in April 1917 thereby separating Charles and Chris for the first time since embarkation in Wellington.  Pte. Charles Edwin Robertson (29) was discharged from the NZEF on 11 June 1917 and returned to family home at Browns. 

Total Service:  1 year 364 days

Overseas:  1 year 218 days

Awards:  1914-15 Star, British War Medal, 1914-20, Victory Medal

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8/3053 Pte. John Christopher ‘Chris’ Robertson

Prior to his discharge Charles’ thoughts had been very much of his brother Chris since he had learned that the 1st Battalion were approaching the Belgian border and about to be involved in some very heavy fighting as part of the NZ Division’s push into Belgium.  

Temporary Lance Corporal Chris Robertson had already recovered from a Gun Shot Wound his right arm he received in Sep 1916 but was about to face a far greater threat.  On the 7th of June 1917 the NZ Division went into action as part of the 2nd Brigade’s offensive to secure the heavily defended Messines Ridge, the first stage of what would become known as the Battle of Messines.  Unknown to Charles at the time, his older brother 8/3053 Pte. John Christopher Robertson had been Killed in Action on the very first day of the battle – he was 31 years of age and has no known grave. Pte. John Christopher Robertson is commemorated on the Messines Ridge (New Zealand) Memorial in Belgium. 

After the war Charles, by default, became his brother John Christopher’s legal ‘next of kin’ for the purposes of post war administration.  As a consequence Charles received John Christopher’s posthumously awarded service medal trio together with a commemorative Memorial Plaque & Scroll.

Footnotes:  

  1. Anecdotal evidence passed to the family by a soldier present at Chris’s death described Chris as initially being only wounded but conscious when he was placed on a stretcher to be evacuated from the battlefield.  Chris had apparently said “Thank God I’m out of here” – and was immediately hit a second time, killing him outright.
  2. After the war Charles, by default, became his brother John Christopher’s legal ‘next of kin’ for the purposes of post war administration.  As a consequence Charles received Christopher’s posthumously awarded medal trio and his commemorative Memorial Plaque & Scroll in 1921-22.
  3. Cpl. James Robertson’ s grave at Le Harve. 


    There was more sad news for the Robertson family before the end of the war. 59990 Cpl. James Robertson (the solicitor from Huntly) had been called up for service in 1917 with the 4th Battalion, NZ Rifle Brigade – 36th Reinforcements.  After training in New Zealand James was promoted to Corporal prior to embarking for England and Egypt.   In September 1918 Cpl. James Robertson, aged 33 years, went into the front line in France however his stay was short lived as he became ill.  He subsequently evacuated to Le Havre where he died of Acute Pneumonia on 22 Oct 1918.  Cpl. Robertson’s death had occurred just three weeks short of the Armistice being signed on November 11th officially ending hostilities and signalling the end of the ‘Great War’ – the so called ‘war to end all wars’.

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Charles Edwin Robertson married Annie Jessie McGREGOR on his return to New Zealand, making their home on a property they farmed at Drummond, due west of Winton, Southland for the remainder of their lives.  They had four children at Drummond, three sons and one daughter. Their eldest son, born in 1919, was named Christopher James in honour of Charles’s two deceased brothers thus ensuring the memory of John Christopher Robertson and James Robertson would never be forgotten.

Charles Robertson lived an uneventful life in Drummond and died at home on 12 January 1950 aged 63 years.  Annie his wife, spent the next 30 years on the farm at Drummond, passing away in 1980.

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Tributes are paid …

In June 2014 Neil Robertson paid a personal tribute to his great-uncles John Christopher (Messines Memorial) and James (St Marie Cemetery, Le Havre) Robertson’s war service by laying poppies on their graves, the first time in 100 years a member of the Robertson family had visited their graves since their deaths.  The visit was a poignant reminder of young men who in the prime of their lives had traveled so far from home and who had laid down their lives for ‘King and Country’.

Neil also noticed that very few New Zealanders had signed the Visitors Book at Le Havre, and as a measure of respect also laid a poppy on the grave of another NZ soldier buried there – 33673 Private Albert Percival Baker of the 3rd Battalion, Canterbury Infantry Regiment – 21st Reinforcements.  20 year old Pte. Baker* was from Templeton in Christchurch and had died as the result of a fall whilst alighting from a train in France on 16 March 1919. 

* Neil invites any family or descendants of Pte. Baker to contact him as he would be happy to provide a photograph of the grave.

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On 17 May 2017 Iain made contact with Neil’s brother Harvey and personally handed over Charles Edwin Robertson’s NZRSA badge.  Harvey will pass it to Neil’s custody as the family historian and custodian of the Robertson military memorabilia. 

>>> read The Southland Times account published here:  http://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/news/93117546/family-reunited-with-war-badge 

The reunited medal tally is now 136.

21 Platoon, 1st Bn OIR – 7th Reinforcements. France-Sep 1916.  Fm front – Charles (Row 3, 3rd fm rt) and Chris (Row 4, 2nd fm lt)

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