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Robert Robertson

8711 Cpl

1st Battalion, ‘B’ Coy, Gordon Highlanders, 8th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Division.

Age: 32,

Date of Death: Died of Wounds on 17 December 1914

Buried: Bailleul Communal Cemetery, Nord E.4

Family history: He was married with three children. He was one of three brothers from Redford and two nephews who joined the colours. His brother L/Cpl Joseph Robertson (see his listing) was killed in action on 16 June 1915 at Bellewaarde Ridge. Robert Robertson had been in the army for twelve years, eight of which he spent in India. He had completed his time with the reserve, and rejoined a few weeks before war was declared. Prior to mobilization he worked as a miner in Redford Colliery, Standburn.

The action that lead to his death

The Battalion was in billets at Locre on 13 December 1914. The War Diary records:

‘The Battalion marched to Kemmel where they arrived at 9pm and went into billets. At 2.30am on the morning of the 14 December the Battalion left Kemmel.’ The Battalion moved to the trenches opposite the German strong point of Maedelstede Farm, near Wytschaete. The War Diary continues, ‘B’ and ‘C’ companies who were to carry out the attack occupied the advanced trenches. ‘A’ and ‘D’ companies who were to form the reserve occupied the trenches 200 yards in the rear. At 7am the artillery bombardment commenced.’

Linesman Map

This was planned to last forty five minutes and to target the German frontline trenches. The War Diary again:

‘Many of the shells fell short of the German position, some even in the rear of our reserve.’

Due to inadequate communication they could not report on these shortfalls.

The War Diary continues:

‘At 7.45am, in accordance with orders received, two platoons of ‘B’ company and two platoons of ‘C’ company advanced from the fire trenches and pushed on in extended order in spite of the very heavy rifle fire which was immediately opened on them. The sodden nature of the ground and the fact that the men had been standing for several hours in trenches deep in mud rendered a rapid advance impossible.’

The War Diary captures the events:

Captain Billy Congreve, ADC to General Haldane, 3rd Division, wrote in his diary:

‘Imagine sending a battalion alone to attack a strongly wired position up a hill and over mud a foot deep, under frontal and enfilade fire. It was a regular Valley of Death. The losses were, of course, very heavy. They lost seven of nine officers and 250 men. Such was the attack ordered by Sir John French. Next day, I read in a paper: British troops hurl back Germans at Wytschaete. A beautiful epitaph for those poor Gordons who were little better than murdered.’

In his diary entry on 16th December, Gerald Burgoyne, a company commander of the 2/Royal Irish Rifles, wrote about the aftermath of the attack on December 14th. His company were occupying the trenches H1 and H2 from were the Gordons had attacked from on 14th December. Remember this is now two days after the attack:

' A large number of wounded are still lying out in from of our lines, too badly hit to get back, and it is death to anyone to attempt to reach them by day, and practically impossible to find them during these dark nights. Some of the men brought in this evening had been lying out in front since 8am on 14th. I have just visited the 'Dug-outs' and saw a Gordon lying there, hit through the foot. I gave him a tablet of morphia to still the pain. Each company Commander is issued with a little tube of morphia for such cases.'

On the 17th he wrote:

'In front of H1 are the bodies of some thirty or more Gordons, and on my left, many more victims or heroes of the mis-directed charge last Monday.'

That same day yet more wounded men were coming in and again on the 18th. He concluded his comments on the attack with this observation:

'Most of them (the wounded) were shot between the knee and the waist, as a maxim caught them and mowed them down.'

Some of the dead are buried at Irish House cemetery located not far from the front line trenches. The remains of the Gordons being recovered after the offensive on 7th June 1917.

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