b. 16/05/1882 Greenwich, London. d. 20/08/1965 Gosport, Hampshire.
Eric Gascoigne Robinson (1882-1965) was born on 16th May 1882 at 1 Diamond Terrace, Greenwich, the son of John Lovell Robinson MA, Chaplain of the Royal Naval College, and Louisa Aveline nee Gascoigne. He was educated at St John’s School, Leatherhead, and The Limes, Greenwich, before joining HMS Britannia as a cadet on 15th January 1897. He joined the Victory as midshipman on 15th May 1898, and had a spell in the battleship Majestic before being posted to Endymion on 8th June 1899.
It was whilst serving on the Endymion that he first saw action in China, as a member of Admiral Seymour’s expedition to relieve the besieged legations in Peking. During an action at Lang-fang, he had a narrow escape when a bullet went through his helmet above his ear, and another bullet just grazed his arm. Later during the action at Tientsin on 27th June 1900 he was shot through the left arm.
He was promoted to sub lieutenant shortly after leaving Endymion in October 1901, and was made lieutenant two years later and after service in a Yangtse gunboat and a spell on HMS Vernon he qualified as a torpedo specialist in 1907. In 1910, he received promotion to Lieutenant Commander and posted to the submarine depot ship Thames in the Home Fleet. Service on the Blenheim and Amethyst followed, punctuated by further spells on the Vernon.
In 1913, he married Edith Gladys nee Cordeux and they had two sons, one of whom was killed in action during the Second World War, and a daughter. On the outbreak of war, he was serving again on Amethyst, before receiving a new positon as torpedo officer on the Vengeance in September 1914, and sailed with her for the Dardanelles where he would be involved in his VC action.
The first exploit in his Victoria Cross nomination was the result of his close friendship and working relationship with another aggressive officer, Roger Keyes, whom he had first met in China fifteen years before. Keyes was asked by his superior, Admiral John de Robeck, to prepare an assault on the Turkish gun battery at Orkanieh (also known as Achilles’ Tomb), a position between Kum Kale and Yeni Shehr on the southern shore of the Dardanelles. This position had withstood fire from the battleships of the Allied fleet during the preceding weeks. Robinson was suggested as the leader of a commando force of sailors and Royal Marines who were tasked with destroying the battery and withdrawing in good order on 26 February. Robinson accepted the mission without hesitation and his force landed without being noticed in the early morning, destroyed two small artillery pieces and made fast progress towards the main battery, before being pinned down by Turkish snipers in the mid-afternoon. The white naval uniforms of the sailors proved an easy target for the Turks and casualties mounted as Turkish reinforcements were brought up to cut the raiding party off. Instead of withdrawing in the face of this threat, Robinson marched his men through gullies and came out close to a small rise behind the main battery. The open ground of the rise was covered by several Turkish snipers, but realising the importance of removing the artillery overlooking the sea passage, Robinson delegated command of the party to a junior officer and made the climb alone, dodging bullets in his white uniform until he crested the rise unhurt, emerging a few minutes later and starting back apparently unconcerned by the increasingly heavy gunfire directed at him. He was said to be “strolling around . . . under heavy rifle fire . . . like a sparrow enjoying a bath from a garden hose”. The battery had been ungarrisoned, and Robinson was able to lay fuses which destroyed the large 9.4″ main gun and two anti-aircraft emplacements within the position. Withdrawing in good order, Robinson evaded the Turkish reinforcements and then directed gunfire from the fleet onto their positions, including a force garrisoning an ancient tomb, inflicting heavy casualties.
By April 1915, Robinson (with a VC already on its way) was the automatic choice to lead a naval attempt to destroy the submarine E15 which had run aground in Kephez Bay under the guns of Fort Dardanus. A number of ships had failed in their attempts and Robinson took on the job. The attack took place on 18th-19th April 1915, and the mission was a success. Robinson was not decorated for his part in this daring attack, except in that he received a promotion to Commander.
After the invasion of Gallipoli, Robinson was appointed Naval Transport Officer at Anzac Beach before transferring to Suvla Bay, where he was badly wounded on 7th August, a day after the landings. It marked the end of his involvement. Having recovered from his wound, he was presented with his VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 5th October 1915.
After a spell of leave, he was appointed to command the monitor M21 based at Port Said in December 1915. For the next twenty months, he was engaged in supporting army operations along the coast of Egypt and Palestine, earning in the process the Order of the Nile, 4th Class (London Gazette, 6th December 1916), and a further mention in despatches. Robinson returned to Britain in August 1917, and in the following January, Roger Keyes, tried to unsuccessfully recruit him for the impending raids on Zeebrugge and Ostend. In 1919, Robinson was heavily involved in the wresting of the Caspian Sea from the Bolsheviks. In recognition of his actions, he was awarded the OBE on 11th November 1919 and the Russian Order of St Anne, 2nd Class with swords (13th July 1920).
Following a spell on the Iron Duke, Robinson was promoted to Captain and sent on a senior officers’ war course. For the next 12 years, hee held a variety of both shore-based and sea-going appointments, including two spells in command of destroyer flotillas, at Defiance (the Torpedo School at Devonport), at the Artificers’ Training Establishment at Fisgard, Torpoint, and in the cruiser Berwick on the Chinese Station, during which he was awarded the Japanese Order of the Sacred Treasure, 3rd Class (February 1929). In 1933 he was promoted to Rear Admiral on the Retired List.
He was recalled at the outbreak of the Second World War, where he served as a convoy commodore until ill health brought about his second retirement in 1942, his work being recognised with the Norwegian award, King Haakon VII’s Freedom Cross. Settling at the White House, Langrish, Hampshire, he fully took part in community affairs, and served as churchwarden and a member of the parish council. He died peacefully at the Haslar Naval Hospital on 20th August 1965 and was buried in the churchyard of St John the Evangelist, Langrish. A memorial headstone was not placed on his grave for another 33 years however. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the OBE, China War Medal ( 1900 ) with a clasp “Peking”, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953, Knight, Order of St Anne (Russia), Knight, Order of the Nile (Egypt), Knight, Legion of Honour (France), Order of the Sacred Treasure (Japan), Croix de Guerre (France), and King Haakon VII’s Freedom Cross (Norway). His medals are not publicly held.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NOT PUBLICLY HELD.
BURIAL LOCATION: ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST CHURCH, LANGRISH, HAMPSHIRE.
Brian Drummond – Image of Robinson’s name on the Freemasons Memorial, London.