Hero’s VC nearly lost without trace

ON HIS METTLE... Henry Robson wearing his VC at South Shields Town Hall.
ON HIS METTLE... Henry Robson wearing his VC at South Shields Town Hall.

THE centenary of the act of bravery that earned South Shields soldier Henry Robson the Victoria Cross will be marked this weekend with the unveiling of a commemorative paving stone.

Yet not everyone may know that his VC, which eventually passed into the care of the museum of his regiment, the Royal Scots, came close to disappearing into obscurity.

Robson, by then looking to make his way on the other side of the Atlantic, sold his medal, to pay his way to Canada where he spent the rest of his life.

I’m obliged to Jarrow man Peter Hoy, compiler of that amazing database of those from South Tyneside who served during the First World War, for details of Robson’s early life.

He was born in Hampden Street, near Chichester in Shields, in 1894. His father Edward was a miner at St Hilda Colliery and his mother Mary (née Morris) a papermaker.

They had married in Sunderland in 1884 and by 1911, Robson, who had six brothers and one sister, was living with his family at Shotton Colliery in County Durham.

On December 14, 1914, Robson distinguished himself during an attack on the German trenches at Petit Bois, south-west of Ypres, by rescuing a wounded NCO, having crawled through mud under fire to reach him.

While trying to save another man, Robson was hit twice and was eventually invalided back to England. He was presented with his VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on July 12, 1915.

Three days later he attended a civic reception in Shields and later in the year was awarded the Freedom of the Borough. A total of £73 – nearer in value to £3,200 today – was raised for him through the Mayor’s Shilling Appeal. His old school in the town, Mortimer Road, also presented him with a gold watch.

Robson returned to France in November 1916 and was wounded on the first day of the Battle of the Ancre.

After the war he worked as a steward on oil tankers running between Britain and South America.

Subsequently – and it wasn’t uncommon at the time – he sold his VC to a doctor, for £80, using the money to pay his way to St John’s, New Brunswick, in the spring of 1923.

Later he married Alice Maude Martin, and they went on to have a son, Henry, and four daughters, Doreen, Patricia, Victoria and Betty.

Robson returned to England for the Coronation in 1953, and again in 1956 for the Victoria Cross centenary celebrations.

In 1951, his VC had been bought by a Dumfermline solicitor, who loaned him it to wear at the VC Review in Hyde Park. The medal was eventually presented to the Royal Scots Museum by Robson’s daughter Patricia.

Henry Robson later served as the Sergeant-at-Arms in the Ontario Parliament, in Toronto where he died in 1964.

This Sunday’s unveiling of the paving stone, in Robson Close, will be attended by, among other organisations, members of the Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, successors to his old regiment, the Royal Scots.