Serjeant. 8th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment. Service number 12126.
John was born in Keighley on 22nd September 1890 to parents Robert Arthur and Ellen Robinson who were living at 4, Ash Street.
His father Robert was a french polisher. John was baptised at Keighley on 19th October.
In the 1891 census he was one year old and still living at 4, Ash Street, Keighley with his parents, and his sister Mary.
By the time of the 1901 census he was 11 years of age and had moved to 100 Spencer Street, Keighley, with his parents, sister Mary and brother Robert.
He was taught at the National School and in 1903 he entered the Keighley Trade and Grammar School aged 13 years of age.
After five years, he left school in 1908 with a scholarship for the Royal College of Science and after graduating he spent time teaching as a science master at Jerusalem.
John was looked up to by many people who knew him. There are several letters and opinions in the archive record describing how impressive he was as a young man, who was intelligent, talented and charming. It is highly likely that John was the driving force behind the All Saint's Church bible class meeting on Sunday 30th August 1914 when the whole group decided to enlist on Monday morning, the next day at the Drill Hall in Keighley. He was a natural leader and this was apparent with his swift rise through the ranks.
Whilst home on leave in August 1914 he joined the Army shortly after the war began. After training at Belton Camp near Grantham, the battalion moved later to Witley then they were posted overseas on S.S. Aquitania from Liverpool on 3rd July 1915 and John entered the Balkan theatre (Gallipoli) on 12th July 1915. The battalion bivouaced at Imbros for two weeks and landed at Suvla Bay on the 6th August. They suffered heavy losses on 7th, 9th and 12th August with quiet periods in between, notably in trenches at Chocolate Hill. John was killed in action on 21st August during an attack on the village of Anafarta when the battalion again suffered heavy losses.
The Keighley News, Saturday September 11, 1915:
A BRILLIANT SCHOLAR.
By the death of Sergeant Robinson a career of much promise is terminated at the age of 24. He received his early education at the Keighley National School, and the testimony of Mr. J. H. Bentley (head master) regarding him is that he was one of the brightest lads that had ever come under his care.
Afterwards he proceeded to the Trade and Grammar School, and thence obtained scholarships in due course for the Royal College of Science. At the close of his curriculum there he was accepted by the Church Missionary Society as a science master in the English College at Jerusalem, where his duties lay with the Mohammedan students who are being trained in Western methods. When war began Sergeant Robinson, who was home on leave, felt it his duty to join the colours, and his influence on the young men's Bible class at All Saints' was such that ten of his fellow members promptly associated themselves with his decision. As an indication of his sense of duty it may be observed that Sergeant Robinson decided to enlist as a private in order that he might share the same conditions as his fellow members. On enlisting his promotion to non-commissioned rank was rapid, and in a few months he was appointed sergeant; and it is understood that only a few days before his death his captain had promised to nominate him for promotion to commissioned rank.
Sergeant Robinson had been a member of All Saints' choir from boyhood, and as a vocalist his services were in great demand. His educational attainments were considerable, and it was his intention at the termination of the war to prepare himself for holy orders. He was unmarried.
The Keighley News, Saturday 11th September, 1915:
THE STRUGGLE IN THE VALLEY OF DEATH.
In the light of Sergeant Robinson's death, referred to in our casualty records, the soldier's last letters home have a pathetic interest. Writing within sounds of the guns, he said:-
"We landed in large steam shore boats, having travelled from the base in destroyers. The hour was something after 11 at night, and our regiment had orders to land immediately behind a second battalion. Both were accomplished without great difficulty. Three-quarters of a mile were covered with caution, but in close order, until marching over a slope we were hailed by myriads of rifle bullets. Since then movement has been continuous and rapid. At the break of dawn I was ordered with my line to cross the valley beyond. We went forward, ploughed up with shrapnel and high-explosive shell, in a single line which was kept steady, until, after several mad dashes we reached cover under a ridge at the base of the opposite hill. The men, shocked and tormented by the risk, held themselves like true britons. Every man was true to his country's honour and himself. Captain___ himself a candidate for "baptism of fire" could not help but exclaim, "Well, you are a great lot of men!" But the details of that day will be told better than I can express by some who observed but did not take part. I cannot tell you how many casualties there were. Every movement we make, either in entrenchments or behind them, is seized by snipers as an opportunity."
The Keighley News, Saturday 25th September, 1915, page 4:
A TRIBUTE TO A KEIGHLEY SOLDIER.
Mrs. Desémea Wilson writes us from Wallingford-on-Thames enclosing some exceedingly fine lines in memory of the late Sergeant J. E. Robinson, of Keighley, whose death in the Dardanelles fighting was recorded in our columns a few weeks ago. Mrs. Wilson will probably be better known to Keighley people by her maiden name of Desémea Newman. Since leaving Keighley she has been engaged to some extent in literary work, and has gained distinction as a writer both of verse and short stories. She refers in her letter to Sergeant Robinson as she knew him years ago as being very highly gifted and of a charming disposition. "I knew his qualities very well." she adds, "for I was for some years his teacher at the National Schools, and to us it seemed as though his uncommon brilliance should lead him to great attainments. This, alas, was not to be."
The lines enclosed on the letter are as follows: -
John Edmund Robinson, killed at the Dardanelles.
August 21, 1915.
Within his heart there stirred the lure of lovely things,
The poetry, the music, the love of life;
The lore of books was his, the magic power it brings,
And youth's proud emulation all he dreamed of strife.
He loved the quiet dawn, the grey-white mist wreaths curled
Over the level fields; the twilight's dusky fall;
Yet saw red dawn of carnage break o'er a sombre world,
And in a deadlier field met the last night of all.
...Oh gallant soul that shrank, yet deep of danger drank,
Oh, hesitant, reluctant feet that yet pressed on.
The cup is quaffed, the journey done. Within the rank
Your place is filled. But eloquent though you are gone,
Your voice shall speak to those who loved, and through all days
Circle your dead but deathless brows the victor's bays.
From a letter written by Sergeant Fred Smith of Silsden.
The Keighley News 30th October 1915, page 12:
"We were advancing under fire and I was leading the platoon, and before we got the order to extend, Gill, whom I had placed in charge of the leading section, was just behind me. When we got about 1,000 yards off we extended and advanced a little later by short sharp rushes, taking what cover we could until we were about 250 yards from the enemy, when, on account of the terrific fire they poured into us we sheltered behind a low ridge for a short time. When the fire had abated somewhat our captain gave the order to advance, and the sergeant in charge of the next platoon and myself jumped up and called to our respective platoons to advance. That was the signal for another terrible burst of musketry and machine-gun fire from the Turks. The sergeant on my left – Sergeant John Robinson, of Keighley – immediately fell dead with a bullet through his throat, although I did not know until an hour afterwards. A few yards further on the captain fell badly wounded, so I was left with a couple of platoons."
Obituary from the 'Keighlian' Magazine of December 1915:
John E. Robinson came to the school with a scholarship in 1903. He was one of the most promising young men who have passed through the school for many years. Gifted in scholarship, he was Head Boy of the school when he left in 1908 with an Exhibition to the Royal College of Science in London. His talents were high in many directions.
He was a sweet singer and a clever violinist. His rendering of Mark Anthony in one of our school concerts will always be remembered as a fine performance by those who had the pleasure of seeing it.
After gaining his diploma at South Kensington he went to teach at the College at Jerusalem in connection with the Church Missionary Society, and joined the colours whilst home on leave. His was a most charming personality and he posessed the love and respect of all who knew him. The teaching profession has lost by his death a young recruit of brilliant promise.
Letter from the 'Keighlian' Magazine of July 1917:
Particulars of his career have already been given in the issue of December, 1915. We should like to add the following tribute to his memory which was given in a letter home by Lance-Corporal W. Watmough, who was in the battle in which Sergeant Robinson was killed. "You talk about war," He writes, "there were thousands on both sides getting killed and wounded. I saw deeds of heroism that day which will remain in my memory as long as I shall live. Sergeant Robinson, of Keighley, earned a Victoria Cross many a time over if only his deeds had been seen by someone in authority, but he was killed, poor fellow."
John was posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, and the Victory Medal for his wartime service.
His father Robert was his designated next of kin and would have received John's personal effects, medals, a memorial plaque and King's certificate.
We know Robert received John's outstanding Army pay of £4 8s. 7d on 3rd December 1915, and a war gratuity of £6 on 6th August 1919.
There is no evidence of a war pension.
He is remembered on the following memorials:
Helles Memorial at Gallipoli.
The Royal College of Science roll of honour.
Keighley's All Saints' Church War Memorial - where he was a member of All Saints' bible class.
St Andrew's Church (Keighley Shared Church) War Memorial.
Keighlian Magazine roll of honour.
Keighley Borough Great War roll of honour book, at Keighley library.
John's family later had an inscription dedicated to John, added to the family gravestone in Utley Cemetery.
England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915
West Yorkshire, England, Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910
1891 England Census
1901 England Census
British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920
WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919
Army Registers of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929
Keighley News archives at Keighley Library
National Archives - British Army War diaries: 8th Battalion West Riding Regiment, WO95-1809-1.
Photographs supplied by kind permission of Jennie Trowbridge.