John Robertson MC and Bar

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  1. mso

    mso LE

    John Robertson

    Last Updated: 1:52am GMT 29/11/2006

    John Robertson, who has died aged 95, won an MC in Syria and a Bar to the award in the North Africa campaign.

    In June 1941 evidence of German involvement in Syria, where French forces were loyal to Vichy, prompted the Allies to advance on Beirut and Damascus. Between the two towns, dominating the road and rail communications, was the straggling village of Mezze.

    Robertson, then a captain, was in command of "D" Company, 3rd Battalion 1st Punjab Regiment (3/1PR), part of 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, 4th Indian Division. On June 19 his company made a 12-mile night march on Mezze to attack the Vichy French. Three companies of the 4/6 Rajputana Rifles attacked from the right flank and "D" Company from the left. The forward troops of "D" Company rushed the gate and forced their way in. The enemy had superior numbers and overwhelming firepower but its field-guns were silenced, two of its tanks were knocked out and Mezze was secured.

    Brigade HQ was established in the grounds of Mezze House, a large building with a walled garden. Soon after 9 am, the enemy counter-attacked and at noon the house came under fire. Casualties mounted and medical supplies ran out, but the assaults were beaten off.

    The following day, the Vichy forces started shelling the HQ at point blank range and part of the roof collapsed, burying many of the wounded. After the Brigade was surrounded and forced to surrender, Robertson was taken prisoner, but he was released in July after the signing of an armistice. The citation for his MC stated that he had inspired his men to put up an heroic resistance.

    John Alastair Robertson was born at Simla on April 22 1911. He was educated at Felsted School and then returned to India in 1930 to take up an appointment as assistant manager on a tea plantation at Darjeeling. On the outbreak of the Second World War, he attended Octu at Bangalore and was then commissioned into the 1st Punjab Regiment.

    He joined 3/1PR in Egypt and, in December 1940, was wounded in the Battle of Sidi Barrani and consequently missed the campaign in Eritrea. He was back with "D" Company in November 1941 when General Auchinleck launched his offensive into Cyrenaica and the Battalion was ordered to make a surprise attack on the encampment of Libyan Omar.

    In the early hours of November 30, 3/1PR advanced through belts of wire and minefields towards their objective, but the enemy was alerted and the forward companies came under intense fire and shelling. When the attack was held up and two of the company commanders were killed, Robertson took command of the confused and intermingled companies, rallied them and pushed forward fighting patrols in an attempt to infiltrate the encampment.

    All day, he and his men were pinned to the ground by continuous machine-gun fire from all sides. At 2.30 pm, 3/1PR put in a second attack, supported by tanks and carriers. Three of the carriers were set ablaze, one of the tanks foundered and lost a track and another tank was set out to rescue it under cover of a smoke screen.

    As soon as Robertson saw the smoke go down, he led his men in a charge on one of the strong points that had been holding them up all day, rushed it and captured it. He was awarded a Bar to his MC.

    Early in 1942, 3/1PR moved to Cyprus. Robertson was posted to Palestine as a small arms instructor and, in April 1944, accompanied the Battalion to Italy and served as a company commander throughout the campaign.

    He was demobilised in 1946 and went back to India to manage a tea plantation at Darjeeling. He returned to England after Independence and from 1951 worked for the Brewers' Society within their National Trade Development Association (NTDA) based at Nottingham.

    In 1958 he moved to the London offices as assistant secretary of the national NTDA. The association was wound up in 1972 and Robertson took charge of the retail department of the society until he retired in 1976. In retirement, he lived in a village in Berkshire [Chieveley] where he enjoyed gardening, watching rugby and cricket and walking his dogs.

    John Robertson died on November 15. He married, in 1948, Marjorie Eglin. She predeceased him; he is survived by their son.

    Nicest and most modest old boy you could hope to meet. Regimental Number EC54. Standing for Emergency Commission.
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2017
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  2. smeg-head

    smeg-head LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    Pedant hat on: Small point. Military Crosses are not "won", they are awarded. Sportsmen win medals, servicemen earn them.
    Pedant hat off
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  3. Pedant etc. I think the OP means "won" in the sense of "earned. They are not awarded unless they are earned. Pedant out.
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  4. Stonker

    Stonker On ROPs

    I betcha I could find you at least one contemporary citation which, looked at side by side with either one of the above, might well give you cause to reconsider that assessment.

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  5. Perhaps I should have said "They should not be awarded....."
  6. Stonker

    Stonker On ROPs

    I think we're on the same wavelength.
  7. mso

    mso LE

    It's from the Daily Telegraph obituary.
  8. And the point of this is...............
  9. mso

    mso LE

    Smeg-Head is correct. The words are not mine.
  10. Understood, no criticism intended.
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