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ROBERTSON, Horace Clement Hugh KBE DSO (1894 – 1960)

ROBERTSON, Lt Gen Sir Horace Clement Hugh KBE DSO (1894 – 1960)

Lt Gen Sir Horace Robertson.

Lt Gen Sir Horace Robertson.

Horace Clement Hugh Robertson, known as 'Red Robbie' was born at Warrnambool on 29 October 1894, the son of John Robertson and Annie nee Gray. After attending Outtrim State School from 1905 to 1910, he was educated at Geelong College as a boarder, entering in April 1910 and leaving in December that same year. He applied for admission in the first intake at Duntroon Military College, but was rejected as being too young. After he left Geelong College, it is thought he worked as a bank officer in rural Victoria until in the following year he made a successful application for admission, winning an entrance scholarship. He enrolled at Duntroon in March 1912, one of the forty-one cadets in Duntroon' s second class: the Australian military school had opened in 1911. He graduated in 1914, and from Duntroon attended Camberley Staff College in England.

He served in World War 1, led the first cavalry charge ever made by Australian troops, and was awarded the DSO in 1917. During World War 2 he served in North Africa and the South Pacific including commanding 6th Australian Division. He was Commander, British Occupation Forces, Japan 1945-46. Robertson Hall at the Middle School was named in his honour.


General Horace Robertson accepting the Japanese Surrender
at Wewak, NG in September, 1945.

The following is an excerpt from a speech by Bill Rogers at the opening of the extended Robertson Hall in 1991. ‘Horace Robertson was a boarder at the College in 1910. Born in October, 1894, at Warrnambool he was one of five children of John Robertson, a State School Headmaster. In 1910 his father was teaching at Queenscliff and it seems more than likely that Robertson was sent to the College to enhance his prospects of being selected in the first admission to Duntroon Military College, which was about to open in what is now Canberra. In 1910, Robertson applied for admission in the first intake at Duntroon but was rejected as being too young. At the end of the year, he left the College and it is thought he worked as a bank officer in rural Victoria until in the following year he made a successful application for admission to Duntroon’ . Brigadier J D Rogers ‘remembered him as a boy of average worth and ability' at school, but went on to praise the use of his then latent talents as a great military leader. Horace graduated in 1914 from a course shortened because of the outbreak of hostilities and, after a secret marriage in the Registry Office in Melbourne to Jessie Bonnar who was fifteen years his senior, he was sent to the Middle East as a Light Horse Cavalry Officer. There were no children of the marriage and Jessie remained his wife throughout his career.

In the Middle East, Robertson served with the Light Horse in Palestine and the Jordan Valley. There he fought against the Turks and Germans, and played a notable part as a Brevet Major, aged twenty-two years, in the famous cavalry charge at Magbdaba just south of what is now known as the Gaza Strip in Israel. During World War I, he was awarded a DSO, an Order of the Nile and was several times mentioned in despatches. At the outbreak of World War II he went with the AIF to the Middle East where, as a brigadier commanding the 19th Brigade, he led his troops in the capture of Bardia and Tobruk in Libya, then part of the Italian colonial empire. Always noted for his bravery, incisive decision-making and command, he served with great distinction throughout the Middle East campaigns. He was the epitome of a senior army officer. Ramrod straight, military moustache and a rather terrifying exterior until he decided whether or not you were to be a friend or acquaintance. For the most part, people were graded according to rank and war service.

Lt Gen Sir Horace Robertson.

Lt Gen Sir Horace Robertson.

He was, however, not without a controversial side. As a senior staff officer he was not always tolerant of officers who had not made the Army their permanent career. In particular, he coveted the position of GOC the AIF and later the Australian Army, a position held throughout the War by General (later Field Marshall) Sir Thomas Blamey. Robertson lobbied politicians vigorously in support of his ambitions, and no doubt drew attention to Blamey's career in civilian life which had not been without controversy. Blamey, naturally, got to hear of this and on his return from the Middle East, Major General Robertson, as he then was, found himself commanding the Armoured Division in Western Australia. He did not enjoy another fighting command during World War II but at the end of the War he was knighted and promoted to Lieutenant General. In 1946, the British Government appointed him as Commander in Chief of the British Commonwealth Forces in Japan where his work as an administrator and also, for a time, as General Officer Commanding the Commonwealth forces in Korea was first class. Very few fighting soldiers are given the opportunity to lead men in three substantial wars and "Red Robbie", as he was then universally known, thrived on the opportunities.

Sir Horace Robertson KBE, DSO was inducted into the Old Geelong Collegians' Association (OGCA) Notables Gallery at Geelong College in 2011.

Sources: Pegasus 1950 p 38; Bill Rogers Speech at Opening of Robertson Hall Pegasus,1990 pp 9,10; Brig J D Rogers Speech ‘A Tribute to the Late Lieut Gen Sir Horace Robertson'; Image-Japanese Surrender Russell.
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