Sergeant Thomas Robinson’s role in the Great War

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BORN at Killeen, near Castlederg, the son of John and Ellen Robinson, Thomas Robinson decided to make his life in the Army, although his parents had hoped that he might take Holy Orders.

Born at Killeen, near Castlederg, the son of John and Ellen Robinson, Thomas Robinson decided to make his life in the Army, although his parents had hoped that he might take Holy Orders.

On 10 January 1882 Thomas joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers at St Lucia Barracks in Omagh and was given the regimental number 111, which had previously belonged to Hugh Browne. However, Browne transferred to another regiment in February, leaving his number available.

The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers had been formed in 1881 by amalgamation of the 27th (Inniskilling) and the 108th (Madras Infantry) Regiments, as part of the Childers Reforms of the Army. Thus every regiment started its regimental numbers at 1.

Thomas and six other men were assigned to the regiment’s 2nd Battalion when their training was complete. This took them to Singapore where the battalion was stationed and the beginning of a long period of overseas service for Thomas.

Private Robinson took well to soldiering and appears in the battalion’s records, or muster rolls, with full entitlement to good conduct pay in 1884. Then, on 1 October 1885, he was promoted to lance corporal and stepped up to corporal on 2 December.

A transfer to the 1st Battalion followed with a move to southern Africa where that battalion was serving in Zululand. But Thomas Robinson was attached to another unit, 1st Royal Scots, stationed at Simonstown.

He remained with the Royal Scots until 1 December 1887, by which time he had been promoted to sergeant. With the Royal Scots he had served in Simonstown and Capetown, to where the Inniskillings were moving from Pietermaritzburg.

The record shows that Sergeant Thomas Robinson was a remarkable soldier with sterling qualities but his family had a belief that he had been up and down the ranks like a yo-yo on account of his fondness for alcohol.

That belief stems from a demotion to corporal, the date of which is not certain but he certainly held that rank in 1897 when the Inniskillings were serving at home with A, B, D and F Companies at Ebrington Barracks, C and E Companies in Enniskillen, G Company at Finner, near Ballyshannon, and a detachment at Lifford.

Then came war with the Boers of South Africa. A photograph of the Sergeants’ Mess of 1st Inniskillings at Mullingar, shortly before the battalion sailed for South Africa, shows Sergeant Thomas Robinson restored to his former rank.

Sergeant Robinson was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for Cape Colony and the Relief of Ladysmith.

However, he was wounded during the war and appears to have served on detached duty with one of the ad hoc units that were formed. He returned withhis battalion to Londonderry and was still serving in 1910 when 1st Inniskillings were in Dublin.

The 1911 census shows Thomas Robinson living in King Street, Waterside, with his wife Martha and sons George Thomas and Fredrick. Army records are unclear on whether he was still a serving soldier. He was then 49 years old.

In 1914 the Great War broke out and Thomas was certainly back in the Army.

In the course of the war he served with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers with a new number (12095) and then with the Royal Irish Regiment, with the number 4371, and, finally, with the 16th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment as 47152.

So why the different regiments? The new Inniskillings number suggests that he may have left the Army and returned, joining awar-raised battalion of the regiment. However, the Royal Irish number indicates that he also served with that regiment.

It seems that he acted as an instructor with B Company of the 6th Battalion Royal Irish. Commanded by Major Willie Redmond MP, brother of the leader of the Irish Party John Redmond, B Company was raised in the city to encourage members of the Irish Volunteers, loyal to Redmond, to enlist in the Army.

Thomas was awarded the three Great War medals, the 1914–15 Star, War Medal and Victory Medal. Since he did not receive the August–November 1914 Bar to his 1914–15 Star, he did not serve with 2nd Inniskillings in France.

But he saw active service with the Royal Irish on the Western Front. Remember that he was then over 50 years old.

Sadly, Sergeant Robinson suffered gas poisoning and was invalided home. Even then he returned to duty with the Worcesters, thus accounting for his third regiment and fourth soldier’s number.

Thomas Robinson served for two years on the Western Front as indicated by the overseas’ service chevrons on his uniform tunic. When the war ended he returned to his family, now living in Orchard Street, Londonderry, but the effects of the gas poisoning were such that he had little time left to live.

On Saturday 27 March 1920, less than eighteen months after the Armistice, Thomas Robinson died. Since his death, at the age of 57, was due to his war service he was buried in a War Graves Commission plot in the City Cemetery.

Ironically, for a soldier who spent over 30 years of his service with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, that regiment is not mentioned on his headstone, which includes both the Royal Irish and Worcestershire Regiments.

Although Thomas Robinson qualified for an official war grave, his name is not on the War Memorial in the Diamond since he died after the cut-off date for inclusion.