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12046 Driver Charles John Robson (5th Field Company, Royal Engineers)
By Lee Stevenson

Charles John Robson was born on 7th January 1855 at 7 Ebury Mews, near Victoria Station, London.
His parents were, Ann, a domestic servant, and George Robson, a coachman. Charles enlisted as a Driver in the Royal Engineers, on the 30th April 1873, having previously worked with his father as a groom. He was not a tall lad standing just 5' 5". He was soon posted to Aldershot where he joined "B" (Equipment) Troop RE Train, his home for the next four years. (It was during this period that the first confusion began as to his first name, and entries in the RE pay and muster rolls list him as James Robson and Edward Robson).

"B" Troop spent 11 months at Brompton Barracks, Chatham in 1875 before returning to Aldershot. In December 1877, the majority of the troop's Drivers transferred to 5th Field Company which was then forming a mounted detachment. With such a large influx of men came to need for new officers and on the 18th April 1878, one Lt. JRM Chard joined the Company, Driver Robson being appointed as his batman soon afterwards.

5th, (Field) Company Royal Engineers arrived in Capetown, South Africa on the 2nd January 1879.
Upon arrival in Durban, Lt. Chard, Driver Robson and four men of the 5th Company were ordered to proceed in advance of the remainder of the Company, to join No. 3 Column at then moving down from Helpmakaar to Rorke's Drift. The "Flying Sap" as Chard's little group was called arrived at Rorke's Drift on the 19th January, Robson riding his master's spare horse.

It is believed that Robson took up a position along the front wall during the battle, from where he could see the RE wagon/mule cart that had been abandoned near the rough cattle kraal. Chard later stated that Robson paid particular attention to the Zulus who were wrecking the wagon as it contained what Robson described as "our things".

Robson continued in his capacity as batman to John Chard for the remainder of the Anglo-Zulu campaign, including the final battle at Ulundi on the 4th July. He arrived home with Chard aboard the SS Egypt on the 2nd October 1879. Once home Chard commenced an unofficial tour, including a visit to Somerset, where he was greeted by a crowd of some 4,000. The appearance of Driver Robson, accompanying Chard on the visit, was also reported on,

"Major Chard was accompanied by his military servant in full regimentals and the appearance of this soldierly young fellow bearing an armful of Zulu assegais and other trophies of the campaign excited much interest" (source RE Journal 1/11/1879 page 205-206)

Charles Robson's service with JRM Chard ended at the end of November 1879, when he returned to the RE Field Park and Depot in Aldershot. He served briefly with the 7th and 11th Field Companies before taking his discharge to the Army Reserve on the 20th June 1881. He received glowing testimonials from not only JRM Chard, but also Col. AG Durnford, RE, the commanding officer at Chatham, and brother of Anthony William Durnford killed at Isandlwana.

It would appear that Robson remained as a servant to another RE officer and completed his reserve service in Ireland and Chatham. He rejoined the Colours on the 22nd August 1882, becoming batman to yet another RE officer, Lt. FN Maude. Charles Robson completed 21 years service with the army on the 30th April 1894, having spent just 305 days on active campaign.

He had married Jane Elizabeth Farrand in 1883 and the union produced one child, a daughter, Annie Lilian.The Robson's settled in Dorking, for a number of years before moving to Swingate Lane, Plumstead. During WW1 both Robson and his wife worked in the Woolwich Arsenal, Jane in one of the 'danger rooms' packing cordite. Charles Robson retired in 1919, to the comfort of his garden, where he kept chickens. The family also had a dog called Gyp and an enormous cat called "Buller", after Sir Redvers Buller VC.

Charles John Robson died at St. Nicholas' Hospital, Plumstead on the 19th July 1933, aged 78 years.
He was buried six days later in an unmarked grave in Woolwich Old Cemetery. In 22nd January 1993, the grave was marked with a small wooden plaque, and some years later the local RE Association paid for a permanent headstone over the grave.

Extracts from "The Noble Sapper on the Box, Charles Robson, RE" by Lee Stevenson. The Royal Engineers Journal Vol. 109, No.2, August 1995