Born c. 1889 at Alwent Hall, ‘Barney’ Robson was the eighth child of Anthony Robson, a farmer, and his wife Elizabeth. The family would later move to Catcote Farm near Hartlepool. While most of his siblings remained at home to help work the farms, his eldest brother, John Ernest Robson, fought in the Second Boer War, a Sergeant in the 55th (Northumberland) Company Imperial Yeomanry, and died of wounds at Elandsfontein, 1 October 1900. Robert also left the home farm to attend Bede College 1909-1911, attaining his Certificate in July 1911 with a distinction in Mathematics, and Latin as his optional subject: he went on to teach as an Assistant Master at Middleton Council School in Hartlepool. He was a noted sportsman, playing rugby (a forward) and captaining the college Boating team, memorably being part of the 1910 crew that first won the Grand Challenge cup at the Regatta for the college. He also played rugby for Hartlepool Rovers Football Club and County Durham, and cricket for Hartlepool Cricket Club. At the start of the war he entered 1/8th D.L.I. as a Private, and had been promoted to Lance Corporal by the time the Battalion was ordered up to Gravenstafel Ridge as part of the Second Battle of Ypres on 24 April 1915. 1/8th DLI had entered France only five days before, and Robson was among that half of the battalion ordered to reinforce a front line defensive position at Boetleer Farm, north east of Ypres. The human cost of the battle can be gauged by the number of Bede men found in the Register over this period. By all accounts Robson fought with distinction, several comrades writing home about his actions:
Corporal Wilson and Lance Corporal R. H. Robson went from a part of the line where the fighting was not so fierce to the place where it was thickest, and within a very short space of time both came back wounded. Poor Robson lay down and said 'Ah, well, lads, we have done our bit. Give it them hot.' I don't know what afterwards became of him.
Unattributed letter, 7 May 1915, quoted in The Bede magazine, June 1915.
It must have been about [five] that the German infantry made their first attack some little distance to our left. At this time a machine-gun in this sector became very short of men, and Barney Robson along with two others volunteered to fill the vacancies. Shortly afterwards he returned badly wounded, but after being bandaged he returned to the gun, and it was only when seven wounds had been inflicted on him that he gave up. Unfortunately he was taken prisoner and died at Roulers - and thus did not get the decoration he so richly deserved.
From 'Our Baptism of Fire' by T. S[hepherd, 8th DLI], published in The Bede magazine, December 1917.
W. G. Graham, a college prefect contemporary of Robson’s, wrote of him as the “bravest … who gave his life to cheer up a few weary and worn out Canadians. He was a hero if ever there was one.” (Graham himself would be killed in action a month later.) That Robson survived his capture is clear, as he wrote a postcard to his parents from Roulers, (or Roeselare): either he minimised his injuries so as not to alarm them, or he was not fully aware of their gravity. The Northern Daily Mail reported on 28 May that a nursing sister at the Redemptoust Convent at Roeselare informed his parents that “he took a turn for the worse and for the last few days was delirious. The wound in the back was very bad”. An account by an escaped prisoner of war, Lance Corporal J. Thomas of 1/8th DLI, captured in the same engagement, was published in The Bede magazine in June 1916 and provides some interesting details of the moments of capture and the conditions of their imprisonment and care in the following days.
Robson was buried in a German cemetery at Roeselare. Like C. S. Hall above, who also died of wounds as a prisoner of war, the location of his grave was later lost and he is memorialized at Roeselare Communal Cemetery, Belgium. A plaque was erected by his parents commemorating both his and his eldest brother’s sacrifice, at All Saints’ Church, Stranton; and his name is also recorded on another plaque in the same church. His name is honoured on the Bede College 1914-1918 Cross, Plaque, and Roll of Honour, and at Hartlepool Rugby Football Club.