James Robertson
Service Number 1916

 

Gunner James Robertson was among the tens of thousands of soldiers, enemy and allied on the Western Front, who suffered the scourge of trench foot during World War One.

The condition was caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp and cold and was exacerbated by the filth in muddy trenches inhabited by rats and other vermin.

By the end of 1914 alone, an estimated 20,000 British troops had become casualties of trench foot – some even having their feet amputated after gangrene set in.

During the winter of 1916-17, the most severe in northern France in 36 years, James Robertson, a Beaudesert farmer serving with the 14th Field Artillery Brigade, would have been knee-deep in almost freezing mud.

On January 19, 1917, he was on the sick list in a French field hospital. By the end of the month, he was being transported by ambulance train to England suffering oedema, or swelling of the feet, indicating a serious case of trench foot.

James was admitted to Southwark Military Hospital on February 1 and treated until March 17, when he was allowed two weeks’ furlough before reporting to the Perham Downs training depot in Wiltshire.

It was not until October 8, 1918, that James returned to France and rejoined his unit.

Less than three weeks later, and in the last weeks of the war, he became a casualty of a German poison gas attack on October 25. He was just one of an estimated 16,000 Australian troops exposed to this new and sinister chemical weaponry during the Great War.

“A Beaudesert farmer serving with the 14th Field Artillery Brigade.”

He had initially been assigned to reinforcements of the 5th Light Horse.

James was admitted to the 12th General Hospital and was recovering at Rouen when the war ended on November 11.

On May 15, 1919, he embarked on the Orontes and arrived in Australia on July 1. He was discharged from the Army in August 1919, after almost four years’ service.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, James had been married to Lucy Franklin and had one child when he enlisted in Brisbane at the age of 23 in September, 1915.

He had initially been assigned to the 13th reinforcements of the 5th Light Horse and left Australia on the Kyarra, on January 3, 1916.

James arrived in Egypt in February just as the 5th Division Artillery was being formed. He was transferred from the Light Horse to the 53rd Battery of the 14th Field Artillery Brigade and left for Marseilles, France, in June.

If he had ever dreamed of glorious cavalry charges as a Light Horseman, James would have woken to the nightmare of life as an artilleryman on the Western Front.

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