REMEMBRANCE EXHIBITION: Family Reflection of Remembrance

REMEMBRANCE EXHIBITION: Family Reflection of Remembrance

by Colonel (Retired) James Robinson CBE.

At this time of Remembrance many will think of members of their family who died in the service of their country. Like others in the Brigade of Gurkhas I come from a long line of military forefathers, the last 5 generations served in the Indian Army. This year I remember my great, great uncle, Captain John Graham Robinson, who served in the 2nd Goorkhas and died of his wounds at the Heights of Dargai on the Tirah Campaign on the 23rd of October 1897.

The Tirah Campaign was fought on the Indian North West frontier over the period September 1897 to April 1898. Tirah is a mountainous region in what is now known as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The Afridi tribe had been paid to secure the Khyber Pass but had revolted and to restore control a force under General Sir William Lockhart gathered in Kohat, some 70 miles west of Rawalpindi to mount the campaign. In September the famous battle of Saragarhi took place when British Raj Sikh soldiers under the command of Havildar Ishar Singh fought to the last man, a battle which is still revered in Indian Army history.

The attack onto the Dargai Heights began on the 20th of October. The tribesmen had the advantage of higher ground with excellent fields of fire. The 2nd Goorkhas were in the Advance Guard, supported by the Dorset Regiment with the Gordons, 3rd Sikhs and Derbyshire battalions in reserve. The Gurkhas worked their way up the ridge until they had formed just below the exposed saddle. The tribesmen held their fire until the first company advanced into the open when they opened fire as one from the high ground, cutting down the advancing Gurkhas as they made their way across a few hundred metres leaving a trail of bodies in their wake. Captain Robinson was in this first group and having reached the safety of cover on the far side, he returned to warn the following group not to attempt the same route. As he again crossed the open area he was shot and mortally wounded. After two more days of fighting the Heights were eventually taken. Four Victoria Crosses were awarded including one to Piper George Findlater of the Gordons who, despite being badly wounded, continued to play his pipes stirring the Gordons in their attack. In those days no awards were made for those who died and it is recorded that otherwise Captain Robinson would have received formal recognition for his outstanding bravery. He had time to record his last will and died a few days later of his wounds. He was buried at Shinwari Cemetery, Kohat.

On return to the 2nd Goorkhas base at Dehra Dun a water fountain memorial as erected by his brother officers which was unveiled in the presence of his mother who visited from England in 1899.  In 2017 I was fortunate to be able to visit Dehra Dun as Colonel Brigade of Gurkhas and was deeply honoured to lay a wreath. I was immensely pleased to see that the Indian Army had maintained it to an exceptional standard, complete with a sign explaining his exploits.

Additionally, a bronze memorial tablet was erected in the Dehra Dun St Thomas’ church by the 2nd Goorkha officers. This was later brought to UK in 1947 and was eventually given to the Gurkha Museum.  I came across it at the Visitors’ Centre in Shorncliffe and was given permission to place it in my office in Headquarters Brigade of Gurkhas during my tenure.

I was also extremely proud to have been given my great, great uncle’s sword. My father, also a Gurkha officer, had had it dipped and re-engraved with the crests of the 2nd Goorkhas, and my regiments; the 7th Gurkhas and Royal Gurkhas Rifles. Captain Robinson’s memory remained close with me through my military career and continues to do so.

Photos L:R The bronze memorial tablet commemorating Captain Robinson and two fellow officers. Seen at my final dining out from the Royal Gurkha Rifles in Shorncliffe in 2019, the unveiling of Captain Robinson’s memorial in 1899, bronze memorial tablet and a Lahore newspaper cutting recording Captain Robinson’s bravery, laying a wreath at Captain John Robinson’s Memorial in 2017 in Dehra Dun, Captain Robinson’s sword carried by his great, great nephew, Colonel James Robinson, bearing the insignia of the 2nd Goorkha, 7th Gurkhas and Royal Gurkha Rifles, Captain John Robinson’s biography, a copy of Captain John Robinson’s Will taken by Lt K Dingwall of the Gordon Highlanders before he died on 23 October 1897.

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