By Gillian Slade on November 7, 2017.
He was killed in action 100 years ago at Passchendaele, and on Monday he was honoured and remembered in Medicine Hat for his conspicuous bravery.
Pte. John Peter Robertson, a CPR engineer in Medicine Hat before enlisting in the First World War, was posthumously awarded one of only 1,355 Victoria Cross medals ever given.
On Robertson Hill on the north side of the South Saskatchewan River adjacent to the Trans-Canada Highway, a crowd gathered for the ceremony on Monday afternoon. In Belgium where Robertson is buried, a similar ceremony was also taking place, said the master of ceremonies, Bill Cocks.
There would have been a “sea of mud” confronting soldiers like Robertson 100 years ago, said Cocks, calling him a “son of this city.”
When Robertson’s platoon was held up by uncut wire and a machine gun causing many casualties he dashed to an opening on the flank and rushed towards the machine gun. After a desperate struggle he was able to turn the machine gun on those of the enemy that remained. His own platoon was able to advance. His own determined use of the machine gun kept down fire from the enemy. When two of his own platoon were wounded he rescued them while under severe fire. Robertson was killed as he returned with the second man.
Members of Robertson’s family were at the ceremony on Monday. That he is still remembered 100 years later is “special,” said his great-niece Lynne Tebay. Since she was a child she remembers being told the circumstances of his courage and bravery that led to being awarded the Victoria Cross.
“It makes my heart swell with pride,” said Tebay.
That Belgium was holding a ceremony to mark the significant anniversary was particularly significant, said Laurie Seitz, a great-great nephew of Robertson’s. In Europe the general population was more deeply affected by the First and Second World Wars than Canadians were. The hope is that younger generations in Canada will also continue to remember those who served.
The South Alberta Pipes and Drums commenced and concluded the ceremony. Details of Robertson’s circumstances and bravery were told by Cocks. Warrant officer Harold Smallbones played the Last Post.
Robertson’s great-great nephew from Calgary, Tim Kassner, felt the ceremony in Medicine Hat was a fitting tribute.
Robertson was born Oct. 26, 1883 in Albion Mines, N.S. to Alexander and Janet Robertson, who later moved to Medicine Hat. Robertson served from June 14, 1915 and was buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium.
In November 2011 a special ceremony was held at the Halifax Shipyards where a brand-new Canadian Coast Guard ship was named the CCGS Private Robertson V.C. Tebay and Seitz were present.
In Medicine Hat, a park, a street and the local Legion branch (Robertson Memorial Branch No. 17) all carry his name.
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