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James Campbell Robertson (1878–1951)

by K. R. White

This article was published:

James Campbell Robertson (1878-1951), by John Longstaff, 1919

James Campbell Robertson (1878-1951), by John Longstaff, 1919

Australian War Memorial, ART02991

James Campbell Robertson (1878-1951), stockbroker and soldier, was born on 24 October 1878 at Toowoomba, Queensland, third surviving child of James Holmes Robertson, Scottish-born bookseller and stationer, and his wife Annie, formerly Hood, née Campbell. Educated at Toowoomba Grammar School, he joined the family business. He became a fine polo player and represented Queensland. In 1903 he was commissioned lieutenant in the 14th Light Horse Regiment and by 1913 was major commanding the 11th Infantry, Darling Downs Regiment, Australian Military Forces (militia). On 3 January 1912 he married Ada Elizabeth Godsall (d.1943) at St Saviour's Convent Chapel, Toowoomba; they had two sons.

On the outbreak of World War I Robertson was appointed major and second-in-command of the 9th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, on 20 August 1914. The unit disembarked at Alexandria, Egypt, on 4 December and helped to lead the assault at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, on 25 April 1915. Robertson was wounded during the landing and evacuated to Egypt. On resuming duty on 3 June he was appointed lieutenant-colonel commanding the 9th Battalion. He was again evacuated on 9 September with enteric fever and rejoined the battalion on Lemnos on 24 November. After the evacuation of Gallipoli in December the battalion returned to Egypt for re-equipping and training and Robertson held temporary command of the 3rd Brigade while there. For his Gallipoli service he was appointed C.M.G. and mentioned in dispatches. He resumed command of the 9th Battalion before its movement to France where, on 20 April 1916, at Rouge de Bout, Petillon sector, it suffered its first casualties on the Western Front.

Early in July the 9th Battalion moved to the Somme and for the next six months took part in some of the heaviest fighting of the war, especially at Pozières and Mouquet Farm. Robertson was in command until 18 November when he was appointed to command the 12th Brigade as a colonel and temporary brigadier general. In the attack on Pozières on 23 July he ordered no fewer than eight advances against stiff German opposition, most of them led by Major A. S. Blackburn, V.C. After a spell at Gueudecourt the brigade resumed offensive operations in April 1917, fighting at Bullecourt, Messines, and eventually at Passchendaele; for a short time Robertson had temporary command of the 4th Division. In 1917 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and mentioned in dispatches three times.

He embarked on leave for Australia in November and returned to A.I.F. Headquarters, London, in May 1918 as director of training, A.I.F. Depots in the United Kingdom. In July he returned to France to command the 6th Brigade during the offensive from August on the Somme until operations at Montbrehain in October. From October to December 1918 Robertson was in temporary command of the 2nd Division and held the same appointment in March-April 1919. After disembarking in Australia in November, his A.I.F. appointment was terminated on 2 March 1920. In 1918 he was twice mentioned in dispatches and in 1919 was appointed C.B. Strangely, in view of his record, Robertson was largely ignored by Charles Bean in the Official History.

Robertson continued his military connexions, commanding the 3rd and then the 7th Infantry Brigades, A.M.F., until 1926; he was placed on the retired list as honorary brigadier general in 1944.

On the resumption of his civilian career Robertson had set up a very successful stockbroking business at Toowoomba and in 1936 he passed over the management of the firm to his son Aylmer. However, he again resumed control in 1939 when Aylmer was appointed to the 2/25th Battalion, A.I.F. Survived by his son, Robertson died of cancer on 22 January 1951 and was buried with Presbyterian forms and full military honours in Toowoomba cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921), C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • N. K. Harvey, From Anzac to the Hindenberg Line (Brisb, 1941)
  • C. M. Wrench, Campaign in the Fighting 9th (Brisb, 1985)
  • London Gazette, 5 Nov 1915, 2 Jan, 1 June, 28 Dec 1917, 28 May, 31 Dec 1918, 3 June 1919
  • Brigadier General J. C. Robertson file (Australian War Memorial)
  • recommendation files for honours and awards, 1914-18 War (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

K. R. White, 'Robertson, James Campbell (1878–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

James Campbell Robertson (1878-1951), by John Longstaff, 1919

James Campbell Robertson (1878-1951), by John Longstaff, 1919

Australian War Memorial, ART02991

Life Summary [details]


24 October, 1878
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia


22 January, 1951 (aged 72)

Cultural Heritage

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