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Robinson, Alfred Lambton (1903–1948)

by H. N. Nelson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Alfred Lambton Robinson (1903-1948), government officer and soldier, was born on 7 December 1903 at Townsville, Queensland, son of Charles Frederick Robinson, telegraph-operator, and his wife Ruby Laura, née Lambton, both Queensland born. Alfred was educated at several state schools in North Queensland and at Townsville Grammar School. In 1921 he began work in the Dalby branch of the National Bank of Australasia. After being transferred to St George in 1925, he obtained a post in the public service of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea and left for Rabaul in 1926. There, on 20 December 1927, he married Alice Baxter whom he had met at Dalby. He served as a clerk at Kavieng, Kokopo, Madang, Kieta, Lorengau and Sohano.

By 1941 Robinson was back in Rabaul, in the Department of District Services and Native Affairs. He had joined the local militia unit, the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, soon after its formation in September 1939. With the threat of a Japanese invasion, his wife and son were evacuated to Dalby. Robinson was called up for full-time service on 20 January 1942. He was stationed near the beach to the south of Rabaul when the Japanese landed three days later. Overwhelmed by their numbers and with his meagre ammunition exhausted, he joined other Australians escaping inland. They had no plans or rations, and chose their own routes through difficult, mountainous country.

On 3 February Robinson and others were at Tol plantation on Wide Bay when they saw Japanese landing barges heading to shore. Many of the Australians were sick and unarmed. A number surrendered immediately, but Robinson was captured while trying to escape. Next morning he and nine others, hands tied behind their backs, were marched into the plantation by a 'shooting party'. He dropped into the scrub on a bend, responded to the advice, 'Lower, Sport', and survived. Unable to free his hands, he was in a desperate condition when some Australians found him on the 6th. He walked to the north coast, joined Keith McCarthy's men and sailed in the Lakatoi to Cairns, Queensland. They arrived on 28 March, with news of the massacre of over 150 prisoners at Tol.

After convalescing, Robinson returned to New Guinea in August 1942. He served first as a sergeant and then as a warrant officer in the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit. As a member of the advance party that landed on Los Negros Island in February 1944, and during operations on Manus Island (March-May), he proved 'an efficient and daring scout'. He led New Guinean police in attacks on Japanese positions, rescued an American serviceman under fire, and dived into the sea to save a suicidal Japanese soldier. James McAuley, who served with him on Manus, said that he had 'a record of laconic courage'. Five ft 10 ins (178 cm) tall, lightly built and brown haired, 'Robbie' was commissioned lieutenant on 10 July. His Distinguished Conduct Medal was gazetted in September. He was a devout Anglican who carried a Bible in his top pocket throughout the war.

Having come to think of New Guinea 'as his country', Robinson transferred to the postwar field service after leaving the army on 2 July 1946. He worked as assistant district officer at Gasmata before resigning in April 1948 to take up the lease of Ring Ring copra plantation in south-eastern New Britain. While recruiting labourers at Poi'iong, an area beyond administration control, he was suddenly attacked and killed by villagers on 12 December 1948. He was buried at Kandrian station. His wife and son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Wigmore, The Japanese Thrust (Canb, 1957)
  • J. K. McCarthy, Patrol into Yesterday (Melb, 1963)
  • I. Downs, The New Guinea Volunteer Rifles (Broadbeach Waters, Qld, 1999)
  • Pacific Islands Monthly, Jan, May, June 1949
  • Quadrant, 5, no 3, 1961
  • Dalby Herald, 17 Dec 1948
  • AWM 76, B423, AWM 54, 607/8/1 and 1010/6/16 (Australian War Memorial)
  • Dept of District Services and Native Affairs, district annual report, New Britain, 1948/49 (National Archives, Papua New Guinea)
  • McCarthy papers (University of Papua New Guinea Library).

Citation details

H. N. Nelson, 'Robinson, Alfred Lambton (1903–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/robinson-alfred-lambton-11547/text20605, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 2 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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