Robert (Boomerang) GORDON DSO, MiD

GORDON, Robert

Service Number: Officer
Enlisted: 11 October 1899
Last Rank: Lieutenant
Last Unit: 1st Queensland Mounted Infantry
Born: Townsville, Queensland, 22 December 1866
Home Town: Townsville, Townsville, Queensland
Schooling: Brisbane Grammar School & Hobart High School
Occupation: Military Officer
Died: Heart Disease, Bulawayo, Rhodesia, 1944
Cemetery: Not yet discovered
Memorials: Brisbane Grammar School Boer War Honour Board
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Boer War Service

11 Oct 1899: Enlisted Australian and Colonial Military Forces (Boer War / Boxer Rebellion), SN Officer
12 Oct 1899: Involvement Australian and Colonial Military Forces (Boer War / Boxer Rebellion), Lieutenant, 1st Queensland Mounted Infantry, The Boer Offensive

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 Robert Gordon DSO

by Robert Simpson of the Maryborough Military and Colonial Museum

Robert Gordon was born in Townsville, Queensland on 22nd December 1866, a son to James Gordon and Jane Phelps. James had been born in Nunbank, Dumfriesshire Scotland, in 1822 and at some stage had migrated to Australia. Jane had been born in Pembrokeshire, Wales. By the 1851 census she was a servant, still in Wales, so she must have migrated to Australia after that. They married in Sydney in 1856, and that was where they had their first son, James, in 1858. James discovered Port Denison, and was for years Magistrate and Mining Commissioner at Townsville. He was the first Government Officer appointed to Townsville, arriving there in 1865. Some of his roles included Police magistrate, Sub-collector of Customs, Harbour Master, Shipping Master, Clerk of Petty Sessions, Postmaster, and Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Robert was their fourth son of six, but two died early. He also had three sisters. James died in 1885. In 1937, an article about the Anglican Church in North Queensland included “the name of James Gordon stands out as one to be remembered with respect and gratitude.” It goes on to discuss his life, some of what he did and his character.

Robert attended Brisbane Grammar School and then the High School at Hobart Tasmania. Afterwards he returned to Queensland. A Robert Gordon, born in 1867, left Glasgow in late 1884 on the Cloncurry and arrived at Townsville on 7th January 1885. It is not known if this is the same person, but he may have visited Scotland and relatives before commencing his working life. In 1890 he enlisted in the Queensland Mounted Infantry. The Government Gazette of 28th June 1890 has under the headings “Northern Military District. Kennedy Division. Townsville Mounted Infantry. Robert Gordon is appointed to be a Lieutenant, provisionally. 11th June, 1890.” The date of First Commission was listed as 1st July 1890. He was listed as a Lieutenant in the Queensland Gazette of 12th December 1896 in the Mounted Infantry. He was one of a number of officers whose names appeared on the Unattached List (Defence Force Division) and were to be placed on the Retired List. As there was a very limited possibility of active service for Australian servicemen in this period, Robert may have paid his way to India to have some active service, and obtain permission to join a regular British Army regiment. Arriving in India in September 1897, he was attached to the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders. He fought with the Gordons during the Tirah campaign, including their storming of the heights of Dargai. During this action, two Victoria Crosses were awarded to the pipers in the regiment who kept playing, although wounded which inspired the men to continue the attack under murderous fire. Lieutenant Gordon was Mentioned in Despatches for his part in the battle, and received the Indian General Service medal with the clasps Punjab Frontier and Tirah 1897-98. The medal roll for the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders showed he was entitled to the medal and the clasps as indicated, and he actually belonged to the Queensland Mounted Infantry. He was wounded in the action of Doorn River. The medal was engraved: Lt. R. Gordon Qld. Mtd. Infantry. A sports day was held during December 1897 at Shinauri India; as recorded in the Regimental History, at which “Lt. R. Gordon of the Australian Horse attached to the Battalion, gave a wonderful exhibition of the use of the boomerang”.

The Queensland Gazette of 22nd April 1898 had a copy of a letter from the General Officer Commanding Tirah Expeditionary Force to the Adjutant-General of India, which was forwarded to The Honourable Chief Secretary of Queensland which stated “In continuation of my telegram …..the officer Commanding 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders, has reported favourably on the services rendered by Lieutenant R. Gordon, Queensland Mounted Infantry, while attached to that Battalion on Field Service. I would suggest that the favourable opinion expressed by Lieutenant-Colonel H. H. Mathias, C.B., should be communicated to the Government of Queensland.”

Robert returned to Australia in 1898. His rank of Lieutenant was listed as of 10th October 1899. Another entry on 28th October 1899 has “Lieutenant Robert Gordon, Retired List (Defence Force Division), is appointed to be a Lieutenant in the active List of the Queensland Defence Forde (Land). 9th October 1899.” At the start of the Boer War, he was involved in the selection of horses for the 1st Queensland Mounted Infantry contingent. He had volunteered his services with the contingent, pending final selection, which was approved on 26th October. The Roll for the Queensland Defence Force (Land) as a recruit on engaging in the contingent for South Africa has his description as follows: date 22nd October 1899, Robert Gordon from Townsville, nationality certified Queensland, age 32 years and 10 months, height 5 foot 9.75 inches, weight 10 stone 5 pounds, chest measurement 33.5 to 35.75 inches, with fair hair, gray-blue eyes and fresh complexion. He also had a transverse scar on the nearer side of his left thigh and was accepted. Former service was with the Queensland Defence Force and he was single. The roll was signed by Major Ricardo. He left as part of the First Contingent on 1st November 1899 in the steam transport Cornwall. In South Africa he fought with them at the battle of Magersfontein. On 23rd February 1900, he was transferred to D Company of the 1st Gordon Highlanders Mounted Infantry as their commanding officer. This was part of the famous 6th Mounted Infantry under Colonel de Lisle, which was involved in many a hard-fought action. The Regimental History states “Captain ‘Boomerang’ Gordon was favourably known to 1st Battalion veterans, having served with them in Tirah, where his prowess with the weapon of the Australian aboriginal before Afridi Jirgas had earned him his nickname.” He was promoted to Captain on 20th March 1900. While in Bethlehem he came across an old schoolfellow who had been with him at the High School in Hobart, and had called him Bobby.

He was heavily engaged in the action prior to the capture of Pretoria. It was recorded that “a dozen Boer wagons were trekking towards the capital. Captain Gordon wheeled the leading files of “D” Company and went for them; the escort bolted; the last two wagons were taken actually within the city boundary. Thus the Gordon Mounted Infantry Company was the first British unit to enter the enemy’s capital!” From the wagons they got a Vickers-Maxim gun and ammunition, food and uniforms, which were put to good use by the mounted infantry. Afterwards, Robert was sent with his company on a short horse-commandeering job, where he secured many useful mounts from isolated farms in the mountains, as most farmers preferred to sell to the British, rather than have the Boers just take them. Diamond Hill and Wittebergen battles followed, and, by January 1901, they were fighting in the desert area called the Karroo. Gordon’s batman kept a unit diary which read “In these hot, rocky glens there were many snakes and ‘Boomerang’ had lived with snakes all his days. Jumping from his saddle Gordon seized a ten-foot serpent by its tail and pulling it rapidly towards him crushed its head beneath his heel. A big one was cornered, rose to strike, turned to escape; this happened twice, then ‘Boomerang’ got a favourable opportunity to seize its tail when he gave it a crack as of a stockwhip and the head flew off.”

After returning from a foraging expedition, they came to a swollen river. Captain Gordon put his horse into it and reached the other bank after a hard struggle, but the horse could not climb out, fell back into the river and swam back to the other bank. Gordon was left on the other side, so he took his clothes off, swam back to the horse and swam it over again. After putting his clothes back on, he rode downstream to find a suitable crossing. The company crossed the next morning, six miles below the scene of the adventure.

Following the retreating Boers led them into the Boer lands and rough mountains that were unrideable. The Boers were occupying very strong hills commanding the drifts of the Brandiwine River, near Clanwilliam, Cape Colony. Robert, on orders to see if certain ground was practicable for horses in front of the British lines, took out a three-man patrol on 29th January 1901. As night fell they were ambushed by a large party of Boers. The other two Gordon Highlanders were killed by the volley of fire; but as Robert had dismounted to view the tracks, he was only severely wounded, and was able to mount his horse with difficulty, break through the ambush while under fire, and reach the British lines. He was taken to hospital and was invalided out of action. His friend mentioned it thus; “Some months afterwards he was badly wounded in the foot, and invalided to Netley Hospital. His two mates were killed at the same time. Gordon’s wound was severe, and I fear put a permanent end to his soldiering. Poor Bobby!” He was Mentioned in Despatches for his actions in South Africa, and was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order, which was presented to him by King Edward VII in June 1901. The DSO was promulgated in the London Gazette of 19th April 1901: “Robert Gordon Capt., Queensland Mounted Infantry. In recognition of services during operations in South Africa”.

His record of war services was listed as follows: South African War 1899 to 1901. Operations Cape Colony November 1899 to February 1900, Operations in Orange Free State February to May 1900 including action at Paardeberg 17th to 26th February, Poplar Grove 7th March, Vet River 5th and 6th May, Zand River 10th May, Operations Transvaal May and June 1900 including actions near Johannesburg 29th May, Pretoria 4th and Diamond Hill 11th and 12th June, operations Orange River Colony July to 29th November 1900 including action at Wittebergen, operations Transvaal and Orange River Colony 30th November to January 1901 (severely wounded). He was issued a Queens South Africa medal with the clasps Paardeberg, Johannesburg, Diamond Hill, Wittebergen, Cape Colony and South Africa 1901 on 2nd June 1902 (19th May 1903 for the 1901 clasp) as recorded in the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlander roll with the remark QMI. In 1901 Major Robert Gordon was given an award at Victoria Barracks by Lord Lamington (Governor of Queensland 1896-1901). He retired from the 1st Contingent, Queensland Mounted Infantry on 5th October 1902.

 Robert settled in Rhodesia after the war, and was a Justice of the Peace and District Commissioner there. Robert was listed in the Graduation List of Reserve of Officers in the 1st Military District as a (Brevet) Major in the Queensland Mounted Infantry from 1st July 1903. The Queensland Gazette of 1904 still had him listed in the Reserve of Officers for the Queensland Mounted Infantry as a Major from 10th December 1904. His name appeared in a list of all ranks engaged in the South African War as Lieutenant R Gordon, B Company, single. Address: Cluden, Townsville, Queensland.

His mother, Jane, passed away on 2nd October 1904.

As a Major, Robert was one of the officers instrumental in raising the Northern Rhodesian Rifles at the outbreak of World War One. They were a force of about 300 volunteers. Initially he commanded a unit that was involved in border raids against the Germans. Later the Rifles were being used solely for garrison duties. Robert was then appointed Intelligence Officer in German South-West Angolaland and on the borders of Northern Rhodesia, resigning from the command of the North Rhodesian Rifles. He became head of Rhodesian Intelligence. A party of Germans of the Camel Corps were trying to break through from German South-West to German East Africa. Robert pursued and captured them with a party of Northern Rhodesian Scouts, after they had penetrated far into Angola. Lieutenant-General Smuts sent his congratulations to Major Gordon on this capture. For the latter part of the war, he commanded Remount Depots in British East Africa, at Mombasa and then Maktau, Daressalaam, Kilwa and Linde. Robert was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and was Mentioned in Despatches, which was promulgated in the London Gazette on 8th February 1917 on page 1353. In early 1918, he was sent to Rhodesia to procure supplies of cattle for East Africa Forces.

Robert returned the EF9 form to request his medals on 4th April 1921, with his address shown as Bulawayo Club, Rhodesia. His medal card shows the theatre of war he first entered was German South West Africa on 21st July 1915 with the North Rhodesian Rifles as a Major. Previously the Secretary of B. SA. Coy forwarded the nominal roll of individuals entitled to emblems on 21st September 1920. His 1914-15 Star was issued on 28th March 1922 to Continental Defence Force. His British War and Victory medals were issued on 17th July 1924 with the bill to be claimed by Imperial Remounts, East Africa. His address, when they were issued, was given as C/O Standard Bank of South Africa, Bulawayo Rhodesia. His Emblems were issued on 17th July 1924 also. The card also shows him as being in the Imperial Remounts and Special List as a Major. His Mention in Despatches was entered in the London Gazette on 8th February 1917, page 1350, as Major, Australian Reserve of Officers, Remount Department. The Supplementary medal roll for the 1914-15 Star for Northern Rhodesia Rifles (Scouts) shows Robert was a Major, DSO OBE, and he was released from service on 15th August 1915. The medal roll for his pair has no other information that is not already mentioned.

He was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1918, and created a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1919. He also received Chevalier Leopold II (Belgium) and the 1935 Jubilee Medal.

Robert retained his army interests throughout his life. At the age of 70 in 1936, he was the president of the “Old Gordons” association in Johannesburg, which he formed on 10th October 1936. He supplied a list of old members of the regiment, including their name, rank, service number, year enlisted and campaigns fought. He was mentioned in South Africa Who’s Who in 1940.

Unfortunately, there is no known record of his passing. 


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