|Kevin Robertson looks back at three generations of his family:
Henry Robertson was born on the 18th October 1875 at 5 Nellfield Place Old Manchar, Aberdeen, Scotland.
The first child eldest and son of Henderson and Agnes Robertson. Henry’s father, Henderson a stonemason, died on 16th June 1885 at the age of 34.
This untimely death left the widowed Agnes and her young family in dire straits.
Scotland was in the midst of hard times and workhouses of Aberdeen were no place to end up.
A year after his fathers death, on 3 July 1886, ten year old Harry with his mother Agnes and siblings Agnes jnr.(5) and James (3) immigrated to New Zealand.
This was made possible by the New Zealand Government’s Assisted Immigration Scheme.
Aboard the Royal Mail Ship Rimutaka, Henry travelled first to Tenerife then on to Capetown, a city that he would return to several years later.The Robertson’s arrived in Auckland on Tuesday 24th August 1886.
Seven weeks and three days after leaving England.
Agnes, Henry’s mother, worked as a housekeeper in Auckland.
The family lived and went to school in the Newton area. After leaving school Henry was employed as an apprentice painter.
A keen worker with a feisty attitude Henry for some reason was nick named “Harry” by his boss.
It was also about this time that “Henry Robertson” first came to the publics attention. Harry along with his mate, Henry Sarasan, appeared in the Auckland Police Court charged with “having furiously ridden a horse in a public place, to wit Symonds Street”. Was this the beginnings of the horse soldier ?
Harry Robertson’s association with the military began on 23 March 1892 when, at the age of sixteen he enrolled in the Newton Rifles. This was the militia or territorial type military unit…. civilians who trained as soldiers.
A year later, in 1893 , he transferred to the Auckland Engineers.
The Engineers had problems and were declared “non-efficient” before being disbanded on 11th April 1894. The following fourteen and a half month period was Harry’s only break in service in what was to be a thirty two year association with the New Zealand military forces.
Not content with this situation, Harry, on 27th June 1895 joined the Artillery and “A Battery”. He was a virile young chap, as time would tell. The Campbell’s lived down Newton Road. If this had been “Scotland of old” the Robertson’s and the Campbell’s would be sworn enemies! However, this was Auckland New Zealand and the 1890‘s.
Through his association, at school, in the neighbourhood and with the military Harry had become close to the Campbell family.
And even closer to Alice Barbara CAMPBELL.
RSM Henry Robertson, with Queens South Africa and Long Service Medals. at GHQ School Trentham August 1920.
Every new recruits nightmare - Regimental Sergeant-Major Henry (Harry) Robertson looks every bit the professional mounted soldier that indeed he was.
Harry and his pregnant girlfriend were married at the dwelling house of Mrs A Cooper at Union Street in Auckland on 23 January 1895. Both were twenty years of age. Later that year Harry and Alice Robertson’s first child Alice Barbara jnr. was born.
Shortly afterwards the threesome departed Auckland for Thames.
The family set up house at Somerset Street and Harry found work as a painter.
On 11th November 1895 Harry transferred to the Thames Navals the local militia unit.
Their second child and eldest son Henry James Robertson was born on 16 March 1896 at Somerset Street.
A third child, George Garden Robertson, was also born there the following year. On 25 October 1897 Harry transferred back to a land based unit the Hauraki Rifles. Here he won his first promotion, to corporal.
A year later, 1898, his youngest child George Garden died at Somerset Street aged eleven months.
It was time to leave Thames. Again pregnant Alice, Harry, Alice jnr and Henry left Thames and returned to Auckland taking with them the body of George Garden.
Harry purchased a double plot, Plot D 23 - 63, at Purewa Cemetery where George Garden was the first of the Robertson Clan to be interred. Back in Auckland they returned to a part of town that they knew.
A house at Devon Street, Eden Terrace.
Harry transferred to the now reformed Auckland Engineers and was promoted to sergeant. Three days later, on 30 November 1898, another child Colin Campbell Robertson was born.
1900 A new century and of cause a new baby, the Robertson clan expanded again.
With the arrival George Garden, the same as their deceased child.
Would this to be an unfortunate choice of name?
By 1901 Harry had been in the Militia for ten years and had risen to the rank of Company Sergeant Major in the Auckland Engineers.
The Boer War was raging and New Zealand soldiers were beginning a long journey that would continue through coming generations.
Fighting other peoples wars in far off lands.
Now unemployed , Harry and his brother in law James Thomas (Jim) Campbell signed up with the New Zealand Defence Forces for service in South Africa.
On 27th February 1901 Harry and Jim joined their unit.
The 21st Company, Auckland , Seventh Contingent of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles .
Harry Robertson was Squadron Sergeant Major .Regimental number 4048.
His brother in law Jim Campbell was lance corporal farrier.
They bid their families farewell and travelled to Wellington.
The 7th Contingent had been raised to relieve the 4th Contingent.
Their unit had been requested and funded by the Imperial Government.
Six Companies were formed from throughout New Zealand.
They were the 21st Auckland,
and 26th Supplementary Companies
Because their transport was not large enough, the “Seventh” was the only contingent not to take horses to Africa. They embarked from Wellington, onboard the SS Gulf of Taranto, on 6 April 1901. Arriving at East London, South Africa on 13 March 1901.
Within twelve days of landing in South Africa they saw their first action in the eastern Transvaal They encountered the Boers again at Bushman’s Kop on 12 June 1901 and Rietfontein two days later.
June 1901, while Harry was in action in Eastern Transvaal his seven month old son George Garden II died at Devon Street. He was buried with his name sake, in the family plot at Purewa. It was two months before Harry heard of his son’s death.
In July the “Seventh” entered Orange Free State and came up against Smut’s commando.
During September 1901, they travelled by train back to Paardekop in south eastern Transvaal.
Once there the New Zealander’s mission was to pursue General Bortha.
During the second week of December they crossed the Drakensberg Range and were back in the Orange Free State.
Their next assignment was to protect the building of a line of blockhouses between Vrede and Frankfort.
The likeness between the men in these two separate photographs are so close that it asks the question - are they both of Harry Robertson?
The lower photo we have set on the "Boer War Page"
and comes from the Alexander Turnbull Library and is titled as an "Unknown New Zealander in South Africa".
The Seventh Contingent was involved in some of the bloodiest actions undertaken by New Zealand forces during the Boer War.
By February 1902 the British had encircled de Wet.
South of the Vrede - Frankfort line, at Langverwachtde, de Wet’s troops attacked the “Seventh“ in a desperate attempt to break out.
This resulted in bitter fighting on 23rd and 24th February during which the New Zealanders suffered 65 casualties…..24 killed and 41 wounded.
The “Seventh” were later reinforced by 100 men from the 8th Contingent.
They continued to hunt the enemy moving through northern Orange Free State in March reaching the Natal border on 5th April 1902.
From here they crisscrossed Eastern Transvaal.
It was during this time, 25th April, Sergeant Major Harry Robertson’s horse fell crushing him.
Harry’s shoulders were injured as the horse rolled over him.
Battered and bruised he continued on for the next three days until the Contingent was entrained and travelled to Newcastle in Natal. It was here that they were visited by New Zealand Premier Dick Seddon.From Newcastle on 20th May they moved to Durban.
The Seventh Contingent’s tour of duty was complete and two days later, 22 May 1902, when they embarked for New Zealand on the S S Manila. After arriving back in New Zealand the unit was disbanded on 30 June 1902.
By now Harry Robertson had been promoted to Regimental Sergeant Major. He returned to his family in Auckland, where he was quick to make up for lost time. His wife Alice was pregnant again by July.
The Sergeant Major appeared before a medical board in Auckland on 18th August 1902 where he was found to have rheumatic pains about his shoulders. A result of the horse falling on him in South Africa. It was recommended that he undergo a spell of convalescence at the Rotorua Sanatorium for two months. He was re-examined after his spell in Rotorua and on 23rd October he was pronounced to be “in very good health“. Another baby, 3 April 1903 John William Robertson was born at Devon Street.
1st Auckland Mounted Rifles (AMR):
After serving with Engineers, for five and a half years, Harry transferred to and became Regimental Sergeant Major of the 1st Auckland Mounted Rifles (AMR) on 16th March 1904.
He remained with the 1st AMR until 1908 when he was transferred to Reserves. Harry and Alice Robertson’s second daughter Caroline Elsie (Topsie) was born on 15th June 1905.
For the next five years the Robertson’s were part of the Newton community.
Then on 4th March 1910 Alice Barbara Robertson (35) died three days after having been diagnosed with peritonitis.
Harry was now a widower with five children Alice jnr.(15), Henry jnr.(14), Colin (12), John (7) and Caroline (3)
Their mother of was buried at Purewa with her two infant sons.
Later that year, 15th December, Harry was presented with the New Zealand Service Medal by the Adjutant General “for long and efficient service in the New Zealand Forces”.
During 1911 Harry was still working as a painter and living at Devon Street.
The widower had employed Monta Elkington as housekeeper for his family.
Monta lived at Mangere and was soon to become more than an employee.
On 1st November Harry was accepted into the Regular Army as Staff Sergeant Major and joined Auckland Area Headquarters Group One.
He was appointed Quarter Master Sergeant of the 3rd Auckland Mounted Rifles. Four weeks later at St James Church Mangere Henry Robertson married Monta Harriet Elkington.
The best man was Jim Robertson, Harry’s younger brother, who two months before had been promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in the Corps of New Zealand Engineers.
With a government paid salary of One Hundred and Sixty Pounds per annum Harry’s credentials with the bank had improved. The newly weds and five children moved to a new home almost opposite the gates to Cornwall Park on Manukau Road.
Then there were six, Annie Monta (Sweetie), Harry and Monta’s first child was born on 14th August 1912.
And seven, Harry and Monta’s second child, another daughter, Rosa Harriet was born in 1914.
World War one had begun.
Harry as Quarter Master Sergeant 3rd AMR had responsibilities for recruiting and training in the Auckland region.
An area that stretched from Taupo to the top of the North Island.
He had a fern tattooed on both fore arms. It was said that if you could see Harry’s ferns …..“look out“! His sleeves were rolled up and he meant business.
May 11th 1917 James Allen, Minister of Defence for the Dominion of New Zealand appointed Staff Sergeant Major Henry Robertson Warrant Officer First Class (W.O.1).
The warrant was backdated to 1st November 1916.
Lieutenant Colonel Wynyard commander of the 3rd AMR recommended Harry for the New Zealand Long and Efficient Medal.
The award could only be gained after 16 years continuous service or 20 years broken service. It was awarded to Harry on 11th July 1917.
The last of Harry Robertson’s children was born to Monta in1919, Frank Neil (Dick) Robertson.( Dick a sergeant with the 21st Battalion was killed in action in Libya November 1941
Harry, the “Sergeant Major”, continued his Army career until he was admitted to Auckland Public Hospital suffering chest pains.
A few days later on 19 March 1924 he was dead aged 48 years.
Cause “heart decease”.
On 21 March the funeral left his home,“Bon Accord” for Purewa.
Harry was buried in the family plot with his mother Agnes, first wife Alice and his two infant sons George and George.
Monta was left with their three children, “Sweetie” (Annie Monta) (12)
Rosa Harriett (10) and the youngest of the family “Dick” (Frank Neil) (5). Along with Caroline (Topsie) (18) and Colin (26).
The Robertson’s had lost their first generation of the Mounted Soldiers. The legacy of the New Zealand mounted soldier, begun by Henry Robertson, would live on through two more generations of the Robertson family.
The second generation of Mounted’s
His eldest son Henry James (Sonny) Robertson joined the 4th Waikato Mounted Rifles prior to WW1.
Although keen to enlist for service at the outbreak of WW1 Henry James, or Sonny, was held in check by his father and his position on the Permanent Staff until almost reaching the required age.
Sonny did not go to war as a horse soldier, instead he joined the 2nd Battalion Auckland Regiment.
He was wounded in the first hours of the Battle of the Somme on 15th September 1916.
Harry rides as a passenger on one of the Mounted Rifles new acquisitions (circa 1918). As WWI drew to a close so did the era of the horse. The NZMR had a number of motorcycles by the time the unit was stationed in Palestine in 1918.
During the 1914-18 period Harry remained in New Zealand recruiting and training men for the Great War.
Henry James (Sonny) Robertson
The second generation of NZMR, Harry's eldest son. Sonny's war was brief - a few hours on the Somme.
Left to Right: Corporal J. Reeves. K.Little. D.Moore. McDill. N.Robertson. Gairn Robertson. Teed.
second: F.Walker. H.Headley. G.May. M.Ward. R.Croucher. N.Ward.
Twenty one years had passed since the Great World War of 1914 - 18 had finished. Little did these troopers realise that a second World War was about to be declared in five months time. Three generations on
A generation later Sonny’s eldest son Gordon James (Gairn) and his younger brother Norm also joined the 4th Waikato Mounted Rifles.
Both attended what was to be the last major camp for the Mounted’s, at Whangarei early in 1939.
Outside the recruiting office
Lance Corporal Gairn Robertson (seated centre) Norm Robertson (front). Although only 18 and 17 years old they were waiting outside the Auckland recruiting office the night before Kiwis began enlisting for service in WW2. They joined the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry (Div Cav) and were off to Egypt with the First Echelon. Warfare had changed and horses were replaced by the motorised armies. Like there grandfather and father before them they would be both become casualties of war yet survive and return to New Zealand.
Kevin comments: Warfare had changed and horses were replaced by the motorised armies. Like their grandfather and father before them they would both become casualties of war, yet survive and return to New Zealand.
Not all the Robertsons were so "lucky", the boys uncle - Dick Robertson paid the ultimate price, a sergeant with the 21st Battalion he was killed in action in Libya, November 1941