Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthJune 1, 1897
Place of BirthKenora, Ontario
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinWilliam Robertson (father), 3738 Pine Crescent, Shaughnessy Heights, Vancouver, British Columbia
Trade / CallingClerk
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number28931
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion16th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentValcartier, Quebec
Date of EnlistmentSeptember 24, 1914
Age at Enlistment17
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathDecember 17, 1967
Age at Death70
Buried AtOcean View Burial Park, Vancouver, British Columbia

Robertson, Stuart

Private Stuart Robertson enlisted underage in September 1914, when he was 17 years old. He survived four years of war and returned to Canada in May 1919.

Stuart was the son of William Robertson and Bertha Louisa Thompson of Vancouver, British Columbia. William was born in Cupar, County of Fife, Scotland and Bertha in Lancashire, England. They were married in Lancashire in 1884 and their daughter Mildred was born in 1885, the first of at least 13 children. Later that same year the Robertsons immigrated to Canada and settled in the North-West Territories, in what would become the province of Saskatchewan. Two children were born there, Eleanora (1886) and John (1888). Their next daughter Edith was born in Syracuse, New York in 1889. After that the family lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba for a couple of years where they had two more girls, Bertha (1891), who died at age 5 months, and Marion (1892).

From Winnipeg William and Bertha moved to Rat Portage (later renamed Kenora) in northwestern Ontario, and they had seven more children: Edmund (1893), James (1894), Mary (1895), Stuart (1 June 1897), Alan (1899), Olive (1900) and Malcolm (1902). They lost two sons while they were living in Rat Portage, Edmund as an infant and Alan at age four, and both boys are both buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery. Lumbering was a major industry in northwestern Ontario and William worked as a bookkeeper and accountant for a lumber company. Around 1909 the family moved once again, this time to Vancouver. The Rat Portage Lumber Company owned mills in British Columbia and William was one of several employees who relocated there from Kenora.

The war started in August 1914 and Stuart and his brother James both enlisted that fall. Stuart was only 17 and he’d already been training with a local militia unit, the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders. Along with other volunteers he headed east by train to Valcartier, Quebec where the first contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was being assembled. At Valcartier the recruits underwent training, medical tests and inoculations. Stuart was 5’8′ and 145 lb, his apparent age listed as 18 years and 3 months, and he was found fit for overseas service. He attested on 24 September, enlisting with the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish). His unit embarked in October in a convoy of 32 transport ships and arrived in England two weeks later. They trained on Salisbury Plain for several months but when the 16th Battalion left for France in February 1915 Stuart was held back. He had just recovered from influenza and he spent another two months training with the 17th Reserve Battalion. At the end of April he was drafted to a new unit, the 13th Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada), and sent to France. The Highlanders had just been through the fighting at Gravenstafel and St. Julien, where they’d lost almost half of their strength.

Stuart had knee trouble that took him out of action for all of June and when he returned to the field he rejoined his old unit, the 16th Battalion. His brother James McLaren Robertson was also in the 16th Battalion. Over the fall and winter the Canadians held a section of the front line near Ypres. There were no major operations for them but the policy was one of aggressive activity against the Germans, including raids on their trenches. The battalions had regular rotations in the front lines and the men also spent time in working parties, digging and repairing trenches and dugouts, training and going on patrols. In April 1916 they were moved back to the Ypres Salient and the Battle of Mount Sorrel started on the morning of 2 June when the Germans launched a massive artillery attack followed by the explosion of underground mines. The 16th Battalion began to move to the front line late on 2 June, getting shelled along the way. Stuart suffered shell shock and he was evacuated to a field ambulance where he spent two days recovering. In mid-June he contracted a contagious skin condition and he was away from his unit for another two weeks for treatment.

The Somme Offensive began on 1 July and the Canadians were moved to the Somme area starting in late August. In less than three months there they suffered 24,000 casualties. The 16th Battalion took part in several battles in September and October, including the assault on Regina Trench that started on 8 October. The men ran into uncut barbed wire and faced heavy German counter-attacks, forcing them to withdraw and leave behind their wounded. Stuart’s brother James was declared missing in action on 9 October and presumed to have died. In mid-October the new 4th Canadian Division was brought in and the 16th Battalion left the Somme and moved north to the area across from Vimy. In December 1916 Stuart had ten days leave.

In 1917 the 16th Battalion took part in all the major Canadian offensives: Vimy Ridge (April), the Battle of Hill 70 (August) and the assault on Passchendaele (October-November). Stuart spent two weeks in an army rest camp in July and he had leave in the UK from 24 December 1917 until after the New Year. That winter and spring the Canadian Corps held a long stretch of the front line near Arras and the battalions had regular rotations in the trenches. Stuart was ill with trench fever in June 1918 and he spent a week recovering in field ambulances. That summer the Canadians were given eight weeks of intensive training in open warfare. The final period of the war, known now as the Hundred Days Offensive, began in August with the Battle of Amiens and ended on 11 November with the Armistice. Along with the rest of the Canadian units Stuart’s battalion was heavily involved in operations in those last three months. Following the Armistice he had his annual leave and in December his unit took part in the March to the Rhine, crossing into Germany on 6 December and staying there as an occupying force until 6 January 1919.

After a few more months in Belgium the 16th Battalion left for Le Havre on 22 March and embarked for England on 26 March on the King Edward. A month later Stuart returned to Canada on the SS Baltic, arriving in Halifax on 7 May and getting discharged on demobilization on 11 May in Port Arthur, Ontario. His father William Robertson had also enlisted, signing up in July 1916 at the age of 52. He served in France with the Canadian Forestry Corps and returned to Canada in December 1917.

Stuart returned to Vancouver at first but not long afterwards he moved to Victoria, where he found work as a motor mechanic. He was married in Victoria on 1 March 1920 to 19-year-old Eva Grace Aitken, a bookkeeper and stenographer. Eva was born in Victoria on 22 December 1920, the only daughter of Archibald Morgan Aitken and Maud Grace Stocks. Stuart and Eva had two sons, Donald and Keith. At the time of the 1921 census Stuart was a life insurance agent and within a few years he was working as an accountant. Around 1938 he and his wife moved to Vancouver and according to Stuart’s obituary he enlisted again in the Second World War.

Stuart’s mother passed away in 1921 in Calgary, Alberta and his father died in Vancouver in 1954, at age 91. Stuart retired around 1960 and passed away at Shaughnessy Hospital in Vancouver on 17 December 1967, at age 70. He was survived by his wife Eva and their two sons, Major Donald Robertson of Edmonton and Keith of Vancouver. Stuart and his parents are interred at Ocean View Burial Park in Burnaby.

By Becky Johnson

Robertson-Stuart-90 Robertson-Stuart-2

Obituary courtesy of Mike Melen

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