b. 07/07/1884 Brighouse, Yorkshire. d. 05/08/1955 Bourton on the Water, Gloucs.
James Forbes-Robertson (1884-1955) was born in Brighouse, Yorkshire on 7th July 1884. He was the younger son of Mr Farquhar Forbes-Robertson of 2 Keynsham Bank, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire and attended Cheltenham College between 1897 and 1902. His mother died in 1946 aged 96, having lived in Cheltenham since about 1886. Her husband died in 1912, soon after the family had moved from their original Cheltenham home at Langton Lodge, Charlton Kings. The Forbes-Robertsons had five daughters and two sons including James. James’ brother was killed in the Great War.
James joined the Border Regiment as a Second Lieutenant on 2nd March 1904 and on 31st August 1906 became a full Lieutenant. He was made Captain on 3rd November and was appointed Staff Captain on 28th November. He served in Gallipoli as a Transport Officer, where he was wounded, and on 12th June 1915 he rejoined his Battalion on the Western Front. In 1916, he was awarded the Military Cross (gazetted January 1917).
He joined the Newfoundland Force in June 1916 from the 1st Border Regiment; both were in the 29th Division. He replaced Major Drew who had been sent home on health grounds. He supervised the Newfoundlanders’ training for the impending Somme offensives. He stayed behind at Louvencourt with the 10% cadre of the Newfoundlanders, a decision that almost certainly saved his life, as the battalion was destroyed at Beaumont Hamel on 1st July. Soon after the end of the Somme offensive in November 1916, he gained the rank of Temporary Lieutenant Colonel.
In early March 1917, he was in command of the Newfoundlanders Battalion at the fighting, still on the Somme, in the village of Sailly-Sailllisel (1st-3rd March), when he directed operations from his HQ set up in a position behind a trench called Cheese Trench, fighting for the possession of the village. They were relieved by the Lancashire Fusiliers on 3rd March. During an action at a group of wrecked buildings at Les Fosses Farm, near Monchy, on 14th April 1917, he was awarded the DSO for his gallantry.
The position had come under attack from the Germans and the situation became serious due to the shortage of men. At 10.10am, Forbes-Robertson, in command of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, received reports of what was happening in Monchy, and sent forward his signal officer to reconnoitre. At the same time, he sent his adjutant to report and ask for reinforcements. Meanwhile he organised HQ personnel of 20 men and the reserve of the Essex Battalion to man barricades and prevent the enemy from getting a foothold in the village. Against an enemy force of 2,000, the small party held their own until support came from the 2nd Hampshires, and as a result, Monchy was saved.
In August 1917, he was appointed to command the 16th Middlesex Regiment in the 86th Brigade and fought with them at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, where he was temporarily blinded but still managed to direct operations. The 86th Brigade occupied Masnieres or right sector with outposts at Mon Plaisir Farm and a lock. On 26th March 1918, he was awarded a Bar to his DSO when Lieutenant Colonel.
During the action at Vieux Berquin, France, on 11th-12th April 1918, on four separate occasions, Lieutenant Colonel Forbes-Robertson saved the line from breaking and averted a most serious situation. On one occasion, having made a reconnaissance on horseback in full view of the enemy under heavy fire, he led a counter-attack which was completely successful in establishing our line. When his horse was shot under him he continued on foot, steadying the men and inspiring confidence by his disregard for personal danger. On the second day he lost another horse and again continued on foot until he had established a line to which his own troops could withdraw.
He was awarded the VC for this action, and after the war was with the Army of Occupation as Temporary Lieutenant Colonel in command of various battalions and finally as 155th Brigade Commander and was Mentioned in Despatches three times. His rank reverted to that of Captain but he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in October 1921. In September 1922 he was appointed by command the 2nd Border Battalion. In 1926 he was Lt Colonel with the Gordon Highlanders and commanded the 2nd Battalion from 1926 to 1930. On 6th August 1927, he married Hilda, younger daughter of Sir Ralph Forster, at Christ Church, Sutton, Surrey. He retired in 1934 and went to live in Bourton-on-the-Water, 15 miles from Cheltenham.
He died at his home, “Chardwaw”, at Bourton-on-the-Water, on 5th August 1955. He was buried in Cheltenham Cemetery, one of four VCs buried there. In March 2006 the Forbes-Robertson family made a decision to loan the Victoria Cross awarded to Brigadier General James Forbes-Robertson to the Regimental Museum of the Border Regiment in Carlisle. Following a revue and further installation of security the full Victoria Cross medal group was placed on display in Carlisle Castle for the benefit of the public in late September 2006.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: BORDER REGIMENT MUSEUM, CARLISLE, CUMBRIA. (LOAN)
BURIAL PLACE: CHELTENHAM CEMETERY, CHELTENHAM, GLOUCESTERSHIRE.
SECTION E1, GRAVE 717
Kevin Brazier – Cheltenham Cemetery Map.
Thomas Stewart – Image of his VC Medal Group at the Border Regiment Museum, Carlisle.