ART02991 Longstaff, John, Brigadier General James Robertson (1919), oil on canvas, 77.2 x 63.6 cm, AWM copyright
James Campbell Robertson was born on 24 October 1878 in Toowoomba, Queensland, the son of a bookseller and stationer. He was educated at Toowoomba Grammar and joined the family business. He was a distinguished polo player who represented Queensland in the sport.
On 29 August 1903 Robertson was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 14th Light Horse Regiment. He was promoted to captain on 16 November 1908. On 31 January 1910 he moved to the unattached list, but became a captain in the 11th Infantry (Darling Downs Regiment) on 1 July 1912 and a brevet major on 1 September 1913 and was commanding the 11th when the war broke out.
Robertson was appointed to the AIF on 20 August 1914 as a major, and became the second in command of the 9th Infantry Battalion, the 1st Division's Queensland battalion. The battalion arrived in Egypt on 4 December 1914 and was the first to land at Anzac Cove at dawn on 25 April 1915. Robertson landed at the foot of Ari Burnu and with his men climbed it to Plugge's Plateau. There, Robertson was almost immediately wounded and he was evacuated to Egypt.
On 3 June 1915, Robertson returned to Anzac as the senior officer of the battalion and as such took command. On 28 June 1915 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He was involved in the feint attack on Sniper's Ridge and Knife Edge on 28 June. On 9 September 1915 he was evacuated again, this time with enteric fever and only rejoined the battalion on Lemnos on 24 November. For his services at Gallipoli, Robertson was made a Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG) and mentioned in dispatches.
Robertson was acting commander of the 3rd Infantry Brigade until Brigadier General E. G. Sinclair MacLagan resumed command in January. Robertson returned to his battalion, which he took to France, where it participated in the attack on Pozieres on 23 July 1916, and in heavy fighting with counterattacking Germans. Later it participated in the fighting at Mouquet Farm.
On 18 November 1916, Robertson was promoted to colonel and temporary brigadier general appointed to command the 12th Infantry Brigade, replacing Brigadier General D. J. Glasfurd, who had been killed in action. Robertson led the 12th Brigade at Bullecourt in April 1917, at Messines in June, and at Passchendaele in October. For his services on the Western Front, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and mentioned is dispatches three times. He was promoted to brevet lieutenant ciolonel in the AMF on 24 September 1917 and substantive lieutenant colonel on 1 August 1918.
Robertson handed over his brigade to Brigadier General J. Gellibrand on 12 November 1917 and went on furlough to Australia. He returned to Europe in May 1918 and became Director of Training at the AIF Depots in the United Kingdom on 7 June 1918. On 18 July 1918, he took over the 6th Infantry Brigade from Brigadier General J. Paton, who was returning to Australia. Robertson led this brigade in its final battles at Mont St Quentin, the Beaurevoir Line and Montbrehain. As the senior brigadier general, Robertson was acting commander of the 2nd Division from October to December 1918 and again from March to April 1919. For his services in 1918, he was twice mentioned in dispatches and made a Companion of the Bath (CB).
Robertson returned to Australia in 1920. After the war, he commanded the 3rd Brigade, and then the 7th until 1926. He was placed on the retired list in 1944 with the rank of brigadier general. He established a successful stock broking business in Toowoomba. He passed control of the business over to his son Aylmer in 1936, but resumed control when Aylmer joined the Second AIF in 1940.
He died of cancer on 22 January 1951 and was buried with full military honours.
Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1899-1939, Vol 11, pp. 415-416; Bean, C. E. W., The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. Volume I: The Story of Anzac pp. 257,261, 263; Volume II: The Story of Anzac p. 300; Volume III: The AIF In France 1916, pp. 662
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Last update 8 June 2010