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News > Heritage > Mac Robertson's First World War Diary

Mac Robertson's First World War Diary

Mac Robertson OB (C 1906-1909)
Mac Robertson OB (C 1906-1909)
7 Nov 2019
Heritage
Edmund John Macroy Robertson known as Mac Robertson was at Bradfield from 1906-1909.

One of the most poignant and personal items stored in the Bradfield archive is the diary of this young officer, killed in action in 1915. The pages were transcribed and typed up by his Mother and bound in a red leather volume which was then donated to the College shortly after his death. He was in Army house from 1906-09 and in his final year he was made prefect, before going on to receive his commission from Woolwich in 1910.

In August 1914 he went to France as a Lieutenant with the 70th Battery, Royal Field Artillery and this is where his diary opens:
‘Sunday, July 26, 1914
The foreign situation looks serious. Austria and Serbia have quarrelled, which may mean a big European war.’
To start with the entries are short and cheerful, describing the details of the regiment's preparations for war and Mac’s enthusiasm for action.
‘Saturday, August 8 
More horses arrived … from the depot. We are nearly complete. Spent all day in posting NCO’s and men ... teaming horses and making out nominal rolls. We are nearly straight now. A horse came for me. Quite a good one… I wish we could get off abroad. I hate hanging about here.’
As the months progress the diary entries become longer and more complex and describe in considerable detail the movements and offensives his division are involved in. There is a growing despair at the lack of resources, scarcity of information and unfolding chaos on the ground.
‘Friday, September 4
No baggage, letters, or news. Why don’t we advance? Slept round our campfire.
Saturday September 5
Rose at 2am and set out marching south. No maps available now, and no rations for two days….The Infantry seem very tired and so are our horses…heard our mail bags have been captured.’
The last few diary entries demonstrate Mac’s growing despair:
‘Friday, May 21
I don’t think Generals understand artillery; if they did we might have more efficient orders. You can’t register points in the dark.’
And his last entry, ‘Saturday May 22nd
Violent German bombardment at 6am … Our wires cut again … Lots of hate and frightfulness!’

Mac Robertson was killed during shelling form a German howitzer or ‘Black Maria’ while in an observation station not far from Festubert in Northern France. Due to the ongoing offensive, he was laid to rest the very same evening in a nearby orchard.

The diary compiled and bound by Mac’s mother includes the letters of condolence sent to her from his comrades, other senior officers and most poignantly, from Daulby his Driver and groom:
‘After having served and loved my master for 3 1/2 years, it has come as a sad blow to me, and this is shown by all the sad faces of my comrades. Even his horses loved him, and must certainly miss him as I shall do…’

The Battle of Festubert (15 - 25 May 1915) where Robertson lost his life, was one of the first attempts at attrition – weakening the German front line by continuous and sustained bombardment - under the orders of Sir Douglas Haig. In fact, the offensive failed to significantly damage the German defences as the Germans brought up reinforcements. However, in the attack following the heavy bombardment, the British did capture Festubert and advanced by 1.9 miles.

From the 15th to the 25th of May, the British lost 16,648 casualties and the Germans lost around 5000.

The cross, pictured below, is now hanging on the stairs leading up to Chapel from Bloods as one of the group of battlefield crosses at Bradfield. This is the original wooden cross from Robertson’s grave in the orchard near the observation station where he fell.
 

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