Robert John Kirkham EM

b. 15/11/1891 Stockton, New South Wales.  d. ?

DATE OF EM ACTION: 06/02/1917 Watford, Hertfordshire.

Robert J Kirkham EM

Robert John Kirkham was the fifth child of Walter and Emmeline Kirkham and born on November 15, 1891 in Newcastle Street, Stockton, NSW. His father Walter arrived in Rockhampton, Queensland in 1878 aboard the ship Kapunda and his mother Miss Emmeline Prestidge embarked from the Earl Dalhousie in 1879 in Brisbane, Qld.  They were married at St Michael’s Church of England in Sydney, NSW on March 15, 1882. Children from this union were William James (1882-Sydney), Walter George (1885-Newcastle), Edwin Victor (1886-Stockton), Louisa Emmeline (1889-Stockton), Robert John (1891-Stockton), Stanley James (1894-Wickham), Arthur Ernest (1897-Blackall) and Emmeline (1900-Mt Morgan).

Emmeline Kirkham died after childbirth in August 1900 and her husband Walter died almost three years later in July 1903 and were interred in the Mount Morgan cemetery.  Their older sons were able to support themselves working in the Mount Morgan mines but the younger children Robert, Stanley, Arthur and Emmeline went to live in Winton, Qld with their aunt, Walter’s sister, Mrs Louisa Patterson and her family.

Robert remained with the Paterson family in Winton until he was old enough to join his elder brothers at Mount Morgan, entering the mining industry.  It is not known how long he remained in Mount Morgan but pursued the mining to Forest, Tasmania.

On January 18, 1916 the young miner enlisted at Claremont, Tasmania giving his age as twenty-eight years and forms of Attestation were filled out.  The following day he passed the medical examination and signed and took the ‘Oath of Allegiance’.  Personal details from the forms reveal he was 183cms (6ft) tall and weighed 79kgs (174lbs) with a chest expansion of 92-102cms (36-40ins).  Fair was his complexion with blue eyes and auburn hair.  Distinctive marks were several scars on his right knee and small scars on the outside of his left leg.  Presbyterian was his religion and his eldest brother William Kirkham of Casina [Casino], NSW was nominated as next-of-kin.  His birthplace was given as Victoria.

Basic training would have commenced almost immediately after enlistment possibly at Claremont Camp, Tasmania.  He was assigned to the 2nd Reinforcements Mining Corps in the rank of Sapper and although given the numbers of 2255 and 2575 during training, 2480 became his allotted regimental number. It is not recorded when the eleven volunteers from Tasmania travelled to Sydney, NSW to join seventy-eight from New South Wales, forty Victorians, forty-three West Australians, six Queenslanders and two South Australians who were brought together to make up the 2nd Reinforcements.

They arrived at Marseilles on May 17 and several days after arrival on May 20, Sapper Kirkham was taken sick to the 2nd Aust. General Hospital at Mousset suffering from Tonsillitis.  The Reinforcements were entrained to Etaples marching into the Aust. General Base Depot on June 1, 1916.

On May 26 he was discharged to Segregation camp for a few days.  By June 1 he marched into Base Depot at Etaples and was taken to No. 26 General Hospital suffering from a social disease.  The following day was sent to the No. 9 Stationary Hospital at Havre and admitted with N.Y.D. (Not Yet Diagnosed) but regarded as slight for the ailment.  On June 29, 1916 he left Havre on the No. 2 Aust. train and the following day he was admitted to the No. 18 General Hospital at Camiers.

After forty-nine days treatment was discharged to duty on July 19, 1916 and returned to Base Details until recovered to rejoin his unit. On August 12, 1916 he was attached to the 3rd Tunnelling Company and was taken on strength on September 30, 1916.  Blue Chevrons were due at that time. Sapper Kirkham’s War Record ends there but he continued to serve. It was whilst he was stationed in England that he would be awarded the Edward Medal.

Sapper Kirkham was reported ‘away without leave’ on January 19, 1918 by Administration Headquarters in England. A Court of Inquiry assembled in the field on May 20, 1918 to investigate and record his absence, without leave from his duty, and the deficiency of any Army property. The Court declared that 2480 Sapper Kirkham, 3rd Aust. Tunnelling Company illegally absented himself without leave in the field on January 19, 1918; that he is still so absent and that on January 20, 1918 he was deficient, and that he is still deficient of the following articles.

No further details are recorded until March 31, 1920 when London Headquarters issued the still illegal absentee a Statement of Service in order to discharge Sapper Kirkham from the A.I.F. Official Discharge took place as from April 1, 1920 on account of desertion and forfeiture of all entitlements, medals and return passage to Australia were lost in consequence. Sapper 2480 Robert John Kirkham, 3rd Tunnelling Company completed 1 year and 287 days service abroad in active participation with his company’s operations and his service totalled 2 years.  No medals were awarded.

On Anzac Day, April 25, 1923 his brother William Kirkham replied from North Street, Casino, NSW to a memo received from Base Records inquiring of the whereabouts of Sapper Kirkham.  William stated he did know his brother’s present address and from the information, although not quite clear to him, he had learnt ‘his brother overstayed his leave or something like that’ and did not want to penalise him by divulging his present location.  Placed in the position he felt blood was thicker than water and upon their assurances there would be no punishment he would give them the information they desired.  He stated that his brother was anxious to come home to Australia but owing to insufficient funds he would have brought him home long ago.  No further correspondence is recorded.


On the 6th February, 1917, Kirkham, who was working in a filling shed at Watford, noticed smoke issuing from a filled 4-inch Stokes bomb. With most commendable presence of mind and courage he picked up the bomb, threw it out of the shed and shut the door. The bomb exploded in the open with sufficient violence to project the steel head, weighing 20 ounces, a distance of 120 yards. The steel propellant container flew 50 yards in the opposite direction. But for Kirkham’s action the explosion would have occurred inside the filling shed, in which about 50 persons were working and a quantity of explosive was stored, and it is probable that loss of life would have resulted. Kirkham was well aware of the nature of the bomb and of the destructive qualities of the explosives with which it was filled.