Cpl. Robert Horsburgh Robertson
'Dead Man's Penny'.
In February 2022, we received this e-mail from Patricia Davies who lives in Hamilton:
‘Hello, I am looking for your help to find a worthy home for a First World War artefact to honour the memory of a young soldier killed in action. My late father picked up a Dead Man’s Penny in the Barras in the 1970s and he always felt something should be done to honour the soldier’s memory.
Over the years through Ancestry UK, I’ve found out a fair bit about the young man whose name is Robert Horsburgh Robertson from Rutherglen. I’ve made his tree public on Ancestry UK and it is well worth having a look. It is of particular interest to anyone in the Rutherglen area as his family owned a factory there around the time of the First World War. His name is on the memorial in Rutherglen.
I should be very grateful if you could suggest a suitable place to donate the penny to so that he is not forgotten’.
Left, Memorial Plaque for Cpl. Robert Horsburgh Robertson.
Image courtesy of Patricia Davies
Properly known as ‘Next of Kin Memorial Plaques’, these bronze medallions of condolence were given to families of members of the British Empire’s armed forces killed in World War I. Over 1.3 million Memorial Plaques were issued and were accompanied by a memorial scroll from King George V.
We approached Zen Boyd at Rutherglen Heritage Centre who was happy to receive Cpl. Robertson’s Memorial Plaque to add to the Centre's collection of local history artefacts.
Patricia’s research had uncovered a good deal of information about Cpl. Robertson, including the fact that he was born on 11th. October 1884, the second son of Robert Holmes Robertson and Mrs. Jessie Robertson of Stonelaw House, Rutherglen, and was educated at Stonelaw School and Glasgow Academy. Robert worked in his uncle’s paper manufacturing business in Devon.
When war broke out, he immediately enlisted in the London Scottish Regiment and was sent to France. He rose to the rank of Corporal and was about to be given a commission when he was killed 'in the trenches' on the morning of 6th. May 1915, aged 30. His Captain said of him that ‘He was a splendid fellow and had done so well that he was offered and had accepted a commission in the Regiment. He was greatly loved by his comrades.’
Right, Cpl. Robert Horsburgh Robertson in the uniform of the 14th Battalion, London Scottish Regiment
Image credit: Ancestry.co.uk
Cpl. Robertson was buried in an orchard in Richebourg, northern France, by the remainder of a group of his comrades known as the “five inseparables”, with a cross marking the spot.
The memorial plaque was officially donated by Patricia to Rutherglen Heritage Centre, South Lanarkshire Libraries Collections, on 10th March.
Left, Zen Boyd of Rutherglen Heritage Centre accepting the Memorial Plaque from Patricia Davies.
Photo: Carrick McDonald
Zen said “After some genealogy research I realised I had seen the name somewhere before. Thanks to the hard work of local historian Jim Holmes in researching The Rutherglen Hockey Club members I was able to show Patricia and Carrick actual photos of Robert H Robertson. He had been featured as one of the ‘Prominent British Hockey Players’ in a 1913 edition of ‘Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News’. I also looked into the family home of Stonelaw House, which is still standing today.”
Above, masthead of the Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News dated 11th. January 1913, which featured a photograph, right, of Cpl. Robertson.
We were very pleased to help Patricia find a home for Cpl. Robertson’s Memorial Plaque. We felt that Rutherglen Heritage Centre was the ideal place for this treasured item to end its journey.
Patricia added: "I want to thank Zen and Carrick for helping me pay tribute to Robert by making sure the plaque is now in a place where he was once loved. My Dad would have been so pleased to know the end of the plaque’s story and that this young man’s sacrifice will be acknowledged and remembered by the good folk of Rutherglen."
Above, Cpl. Robertson's name appears on Rutherglen's War Memorial. (inset) He was one of three local men who died in the Great War while serving with the London Scottish Regiment.
Photo: Carrick McDonald
Cpl. Robertson is interred at the Rue-De-Berceaux Military Cemetery, Richebourg-L'Avoue in the Pas de Calais region of northern France, which is overseen by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
© 2022 by Rutherglen Heritage Society.
This is a slightly expanded version of an article which appeared in the Rutherglen Reformer on 6th. April 2022.
Many thanks to Patricia Davies for sharing with us the story of Robert Robertson's Memorial Plaque. Thanks also to Zen Boyd at Rutherglen Heritage Centre for providing a fitting home for the plaque, and for her additional research. We are also grateful to Jim Holmes for his research into the Rutherglen Hockey Club.
Links and further information
Forces War Records website for more information about Memorial Plaques. Click here
Photos of the Rutherglen Hockey team can be found at the Mitchell Library, or viewed online. Click here
WW1 Roll of Honour press cuttings book available at Rutherglen Heritage Centre, Rutherglen Library. Click here
To find out about the work done by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Click here
Associated article on this website
Blog: Commonwealth War Graves Commission tour of Rutherglen Cemetery, November 2021. Click here
Rutherglen Old Parish Church: see section about Pte. James Richardson VC. Click here