Oliver Francis (Ollie) ROBINSON


ROBINSON, Oliver Francis

Service Number: 1393
Enlisted: 29 September 1914, Liverpool, New South Wales
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 13th Infantry Battalion
Born: Young, New South Wales, 3 October 1891
Home Town: Grenfell, Weddin, New South Wales
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Motor Mechanic
Died: Killed in Action, Gallipoli, Gallipoli, Dardanelles, Turkey, 28 April 1915, aged 23 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Lone Pine Memorial, Gallipoli Peninsula, Canakkale Province, Turkey
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Grenfell Great War Memorial, Lone Pine Memorial to the Missing
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World War 1 Service

29 Sep 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Liverpool, New South Wales
11 Feb 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 1393, 13th Infantry Battalion, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli
11 Feb 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 1393, 13th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Seang Bee, Sydney

Ollie's Story

Ollie’s Story
(“I not being on the spot, Ollie went”)

Francis Oliver Robinson, as he was christened, was born on 3rd October 1891, a Saturday, on his parent’s farm, “Moss Vale” at Moppity, Black Range via Young. He was the third eldest and second son, of John Robinson and Bridget (nee McInerney). He quickly became known as Ollie and was raised in a decade punctuated by drought, financial failure and death. In 1896 his Grandfather, also John, died and family inherited his farm which encompassed part of the Black Range itself. Ollie would have been an observer at the several “kangaroo and wallaby drives” his father organised for sport among the scattered landowners around about. But times were hard as drought ravaged the land in the late eighteen nineties and John Robinson opted to sell up and moved the family to Grenfell where he hoped to become a successful merchant.

The local Grenfell newspaper applauded John’s faith in the town:
The Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser Saturday 29 July 1899.
Sale of Property. - Mr. Thomas Reynolds, auctioneer, &c, Young, reports the sale of Mr. G. J. Webb's produce store and business in Main-street Grenfell, to Mr. John Robinson, of Young. Evidently the people of the latter town and district are favourably impressed with the prospects of Grenfell, and we trust their opinions will be justified.

But they weren’t. Despite heavy promotion in the local press John struggled to make a go of the business and by early 1900, only after seven months he was forced to close and relocate to a store at Warraderry, which also quickly failed. With a family of nine children to support John took a job on the Railway which was under construction from Koorawatha to Grenfell. This proved to be the last tragic step in his short 38 years as he suffered a fatal sunstroke on 24th November 1900, dying that evening:

The Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser, Saturday 1 December 1900 p 2:

A SAD DEATH from sunstroke occurred here on Saturday last. Mr. John Robinson, formerly a farmer at the Black Range, near Moppity and who afterwards succeeded Mr. Webb in Amor's old store, subsequently removing to Warraderry, received a sunstroke during the day, and died the same night. He had only just obtained employment on the railway, and was at this unaccustomed work when he was stricken. The family were in very reduced circumstances, but, as usual in Grenfell, a number of good people came to their aid. Mr. Joseph Thompson rendered much assistance and organised a subscription and his efforts in this direction were seconded by Messrs. J. Dwyer and J. McFarlane. Deceased leaves a widow and nine children.

The Robinson family struggled on. In 1905 Bridget married again to a successful local farmer and musician, Rupert Coralie Morris, who would have given the family financial security.

By the time he was seventeen, Ollie has discovered a love of cycling and there are numerous references in the local paper to his participating in cycle races and related events. His bike of choice was a B&B and in 1909 he secured the Mr. C. E. Wales trophy for first home on a B&B in a 10 mile race. In the same year he is listed as being the Hon. Secretary of the Grenfell Bicycle Club and becomes a prominent figure in promoting and participating in the sport in the local area.

In early 1911 his love of bikes almost caused him grief when he was attacked by a dog while riding down Grenfell’s main street. In his efforts to escape the dog Ollie, collided front-on with a team of bullocks being driven in the opposite direction. The Grenfell Record noted that; after a good deal of kicking and bucking on the part of the bullocks, Mr. Robinson got clear without receiving any injury.

Later that month, on Australia Day, Ollie won a gold medal when he came first in a one mile cycle race in Grenfell. Jean Phelps has the medal, which has B&B inscribed on the front and "O Robinson, 1st Prize, 1 mile Cycle Race, Grenfell, 26.1.11." inscribed on the back. Ollie’s win wasn’t without controversy though as the ‘scratch’ rider was interfered with by another competitor who was subsequently banned for six months.

In 1911 Ollie was employed by Purdie & Co in Grenfell. They were general storekeepers who sold a very wide range of goods and were a large employer in the town. At the annual picnic that year Ollie spoke in support of a presentation given to the Manager.

In October 1913 Ollie travelled down to Sydney to be the best man at his older brother’s wedding. John Joseph Robinson married Mabel Grace Hart in St. Michael’s Church Surry Hills on 15th October 1913. Their second child and first daughter, born on 3rd February 1917, was named Olive after her Uncle Ollie.

Ollie’s love of bikes morphed into a love of cars and by 1913 he was working as a Driver/Mechanic for the Empire Garage in Grenfell. In November of that year he completed a round trip to Melbourne, the trip from Grenfell to Melbourne ‘only’ taking from Saturday afternoon until midday on Monday, the roads in many places being very bad.

By late 1914 the clouds of War were rumbling across Europe and young men everywhere were hastening to join up to fight for the “Mother Country” – a huge patriotic surge grew into a giant wave that carried all before it and Ollie along with many others presented himself for service. His Attestation Papers were signed on 29th September 1914. His service number was 1393 and he was allocated to the 2nd Reinforcements, 13th Battalion. His occupation is given as Motor Mechanic. He was 23 years and 3 months old, 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighing 10 stone 6 pounds with a chest measurement of 38 inches. His complexion was fair, his eyes blue, his hair dark brown and his religion Roman Catholic.

The 13th Battalion AIF was raised from late September 1914, six weeks after the outbreak of the First World War. The battalion was recruited in New South Wales, and with the 14th, 15th and 16th Battalions formed the 4th Brigade, commanded by Colonel John Monash.

In early November 1914 Ollie was back in Grenfell on leave and on the 10th participated in the annual Eight-Hour Carnival, driving a car belonging to Gordon Procter (invalided). The Grenfell Record notes that the vehicle was driven by Private O. Robinson, of the Australian Expeditionary Automobile Corps.

In her book "the ANZACS" Patsy Adam-Smith says the 13th Battalion was called the "Battalion of the Big Men". She writes - 'So many presented themselves (for enlistment) that the doctors were unusually selective and for the duration of the war, the 13th Battalion was called the 'Battalion of the Big Men'. The Ordnance Stores Staff used to ransack the back shelves for 'outsizes' for the battalion. When someone found 'A bag of elevens' he was told, 'Send them to Rosehill' where the 13th were camped. A bundle of OS tunics? 'Put them in the 13th heap!' They selected their largest men for guard duty and could turn out guards patrols who averaged' well over 6 foot in height and fourteen stone in weight' (page 27). At 5' 7'' and weighing 10 stone 6 lbs Ollie clearly wasn't one of the 'big men' and probably was never put on guard duty.

The easygoing country boy made friends quickly and was well respected in the Battalion. His mates included Albert Pyle from Benambra in Victoria, Andy Hall from Maitland, Lewis McIntyre from Camden, Alex Chrystal from Wellington and Bill Hunt from Albury.

"The 'Battalion of Big Men', the 13th, set off to war by train, going down to Melbourne via the golden wheatfields of the Eastern Riverina where the whistling of the train engines brought farmers and families and townspeople out to wave and cry 'Good Luck!'. They roared on through the vineyards of the Murray to where the ladies of Albury had food awaiting them and the townspeople gave them a rousing farewell. They arrived at Broadmeadows to mud and more mud. So tenacious was this mud claimed to be that the New South Welshmen swore that in Egypt and Gallipoli there were still 'Broadmeadows mud marks on our clothes'." (p 42).

Ollie did travel down to Melbourne and spent time at Broadmeadows, as a set of his 'Attestation Papers' were signed there on 21st December 1914. For some reason he did not leave Melbourne with the 13th Battalion which had left with the rest of the 4th Brigade in late December. After a brief stop in Albany, Western Australia, they proceeded to Egypt, arriving in early February 1915. Australia already had an AIF division there, the 1st. When the 4th Brigade arrived in Egypt it became part of the New Zealand and Australian Division.

Ollie returned to Sydney in December. He embarked from Sydney per HMAT (His Majesty's Australian Transport) "A 48 Seang Bee" on 11th February, 1915 for Egypt. He joined the MEF (Mediterranean Expeditionary Force) at Alexandria on 12th April 1915.

On Sunday 25th April 1915 Ollie was on a ship anchored off Suvla Bay waiting for his turn as the first landing barges crashed into the now sacred sands of Gallipoli. The 4th Brigade landed at ANZAC Cove late in the afternoon but is not clear if Ollie landed with the main part of the Brigade or if he was called into service some days later. There is considerable conflict in the statements given by witnesses about when Ollie landed. Pte. L McIntyre (418. B Coy, 13th Battalion) testified that he came in the 1st Reinforcements to the 13th and landed about 1st May. Sgt. A.G. Pyle (429 B Coy. 13th Battalion) testifies that Ollie was on ANZAC Cove on the 28th April. Corporal T. Maher recalled seeing Ollie for a few minutes on the first Tuesday (27th April 1915) at the Dardanelles. The Turks were attacking heavily at the time. On 2nd June 2015 the Brigade Major officially reported Ollie as ‘missing’ as from 26th April – the day after the initial landing. The only thing that is clear is that almost immediately in that barbarous feast where bullets were the entrée and death the main, Ollie Robinson disappeared - ‘missing in action’.

In May his brother, Eugene, put his age up a year and enlisted. By August he was treading the Gallipoli sands. He asked those who had been there since the beginning; “Do you know of my brother Ollie”, but those who did know were already dead, evacuated or on Hospital Ships back to Australia. In his letters home he could offer his mother no hope.

I suppose you know in Grenfell now that Ollie Robinson is dead and buried in Shrapnel Green Cemetery.

These chilling words, contained in a letter by a soldier named Jefferies dated 24th September 1915 and published in The Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser on Tuesday 23rd November 1915, were the first indication of the fate of Ollie. These were the dreaded words that his Mother and family hoped never to read ever since the Army has officially declared Ollie ‘missing in action’ in June. But beyond this one brutal phrase there was no news of Ollie for over twelve months. In edition after edition of the Newspapers Ollie was listed among the ‘missing’.

In April 1916 the Army held a Court of Inquiry at Serapeum, taking evidence from soldiers who knew Ollie in order to determine his fate. The Army concluded that Ollie was killed in action on Wednesday 28th April, 1915. But even among these statements there is variance and even contradiction:

Pte. A. R. Hall (1352) C Co 13th Btn. A.I.F. testified on 18th March 1916 that he was a member of the 2nd Reinforcements with Ollie and stated that ‘Robinson was killed in the 2nd May 1915 in the charge on the position known as Dead man’s ridge between Pope’s Post and Quinn’s Post. Witness was there and actually saw him dead.’

Pte. L McIntrye (418) B Coy 13th Btn. A.I.F. testified on 18th March 1916 that Ollie came ashore at ANZAC with the 1st Reinforcements on about 1st May. Ollie was killed soon after the landing. McIntrye saw his body at the top of Shrapnel Gully near Quinn’s Post. His body was almost covered under the edge of a new road which was being made. Witness and three of his friends who know ‘Olly’ Robinson well saw the body lying partly covered with earth. Robinson had been shot through the head. He was a young, dark, thin featured, well-spoken fellow.

Cpl. W. Hunt (1345) 13th Btn. testified on 18th April 1916 that he knew Ollie well. On 2nd May he saw Robinson advancing to the top of a ridge between Quin’s Post and Pope’s Hill. This was about 10 o’clock on the Sunday night. A few hours later when he was helping a wounded man to the rear and while near this ridge Pte A. Chrystal, 2nd Rfts., called out to him “Poor old Robbie has got it”. The next day he made further inquiries and was quite satisfied that Robinson had died during the night. Robinson was a close friend of his. He was clean shaven about 20 to 30, thin brown hair, square chin about 5’7” or 8”.

Sgt A. G. Pyle (429) B Coy. 13th Btn. A.I.F. testified on 1st May 1916 that on 28th April 1915
Robinson was working a telephone on the side of a hill when he was hit in the head by a bullet probably fired by a sniper. He was alongside at the time and afterwards helped to bury Robinson close to where he fell. Colonel Rea read the burial service. Robinson was about 21, about 5’ 7”, medium build, dark.

On 26th May 1916, The Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser published this article about Ollie
Roll of Honour
Private Ollie Robinson
The mystery veiling the fate of Private O. F. Robinson, reported missing after the eventful landing of the Australians at Gallipoli last year was solved by an urgent wire received by the Rev Father McAlroy, on Saturday, from Colonel Luscombe, Victoria Barracks, Sydney: "Officially reported that No. 1393, Private O. F. Robinson, 13th Battalion, previously reported missing, Court of Inquiry finds killed in action 28th April, 1915. Please inform Mrs R. C. Morris, Orchard Ave, Grenfell, and convey deep regret and sympathy of their majesties the King and Queen and Commonwealth Government in the loss that she and the army have sustained by the death of the soldier." Mrs Morris was duly made acquainted with the contents of the telegram above quoted, and a Requiem Mass was celebrated at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church.
The following letter from Sergeant A. G. Pyne, dated May 17th, (1916) and written from the Soldiers' Club, Sydney, has been received by deceased brother in law, Mr. J. Galvin, Grenfell:

"Dear Sir,
I am sorry I cannot call to see you, as I leave to-morrow for the bush fox-shooting, but if you address letter to 148 Reservoir-Street Surry Hills, my wife will send it on. I cannot tell you the date for sure, but it was in the first week of May that I buried poor Ollie. He and I were pals when we joined at first, but we left him behind in Melbourne. He caught us up in Egypt. I was called to work the phone the day he was shot. I not being on the spot, Ollie went. A few minutes after I came back I was sent up to take charge of the phone. I found Ollie shot. He was shot through the head and still had the phone in his hand. I put another man on the phone, and carried Ollie out of the fire-zone, and our minister and Pts Mappeson and Goodlad (these three since been killed) buried him. We did the best we could to his grave. I put a cross, with his name, number, and battalion on it. Ollie was respected and well liked by all who knew him; he was a game lad, and one of the best behaved in B battalion. As I said before I am sorry I cannot see you but anything I can do for you I will only be too pleased to do it."

The final addition to the puzzle came in a letter written in July 1916 by Cpl. T Maher to his sister in Grenfell and published in the Grenfell Record on 15th August:

I had a letter a couple of days ago telling me that Mrs Robinson had received word that Ollie had been killed in action last year. I remember seeing him for a few minutes the first Tuesday we were at the Dardanelles. The Turks were attacking us heavily at the time, and that was the last I saw of poor Ollie. But I heard afterwards that he was killed going down off Quinn's Post for water in the gully just below. I heard his death was almost instantaneous, the bullet striking him in the head. At that time we used to bury our comrades just at the rear of the firing line, and I think that Ollie is amongst those brave boys who sleep their last long sleep just at the foot of Quinn's Post. Ollie was an old schoolmate and comrade in-arms of mine. He has given his life for a great and noble cause, and I hope the memory of this will be to his mother the best of all earthly consolations. I would have told you of this before, only I was not quite certain about his death. I know plenty of chaps, supposed to have been killed, who turned up all right after.

The letter from Sergeant Pyne fits in with the other witness accounts of Ollie's death in that it says he was shot in the head and it happened in the first week of May, not the 28th April. The discrepancy may be accounted for in that the grave dug by Pyne et al may have subsequently been disturbed by the construction of the road. I have not been able to find a Sergeant A. G. Pyne in the Army records and he was almost certainly Albert Gordon Pyle (#489, joined 25/9/1914 13th Batt, RTA 30/10/1915) – the same person who provided the statement above. The others who assisted at the burial were Pte Oliver Goodlad (#1037 13th Batt, ) from Clydeville, Cowra and Cpl Hector Maplesden (#286) a New Zealander who had enlisted in Sydney on 26/9/1914. Oliver Goodlad was born in Lerwick, Shetland Islands and he was killed in action on 29th May, 1915 at Gallipoli. Hector Maplesden came from Wellington, New Zealand and he died of wounds on Sunday 3rd December, 1916 in Bernafay Wood and is buried in the British Cemetery, Somme, France. I have found a couple references to the Chaplain, Colonel Rae but have been unable to discover anything definite about him.

If Ollie died on the 2nd May he fell in a major offensive aimed at dislodging the Turks from the heights above ANZAC Cove. In his book "Gallipoli" Les Carlyon describes the events leading up to, and the charge of May 2nd. The Turks and the Anzacs had dug in following the initial landing on April 25th and the attack had turned into a siege. He writes: “Hamilton also needed to change his style. He couldn't sit and let the enemy come to him, howling in the dark like a nightmare. He didn't have the numbers for an offensive, nor anything like the artillery ammunition needed: but he had to go forward.
Birdwood also needed to do something (at Anzac). The Turks had to be thrown off Baby 700, which meant they also had to be thrown off the Chessboard, their grid of trenches in front of Pope's, off Dead Man's Ridge and the Nek. The Turks at these places could fire into the back of Quinn's, the most forward of the Anzac positions, now held by Monash's 4th brigade. Quinn's was an affront to military logic, a fortress built by desperates. The Australian and Turkish lines were only yards apart: the Turks knew Captain Quinn's name and imitated some of his common commands. Behind Quinn's and Pope's the east wall of Monash valley is a cliff. Troops climbed it at night by hanging onto a rope. Someone said that one looked up to Quinn's as one might look at a haunted house.
Birdwood told Godley to take Baby 700. It was on Godley's side of the front. Godley agreed readily enough: he was always pleasant to his superiors. Birdwood wanted an attack involving Godley's troops - the New Zealand Infantry Brigade and Monash's 4th Brigade, which would capture Mortar Ridge and advance along it. General Walker had taken over the 1st after MacLaurin's death. He thought the plan muddle-headed and said so. His concerns were the exhaustion of his troops and the gap between his forces and Godley's. Walker talked Bridges, his divisional commander, out of the attack. Monash also thought the plan flawed - his engineer's mind didn't like the half-baked - but Monash had not the sway of Walker, the professional soldier. He could not talk Godley out of it. Godley, Monash later said, belonged to the 'Army Clique'; he didn't take 'amateurs' seriously. His forces would attack alone.
The attack - it had to be at night - was set down for May 2. Monash received Godley's orders at 2:15 pm, five hours before the attack was to begin, which him little chance to discuss them with the Otago and Canterbury battalions which would be going forward on his left.
Monash's troops ran into a storm of fire when the bombardment ended. Those waiting to support them could be heard singing 'Tipperary' and 'Australia Will be There'. The Australians dug in about 100 yards ahead of their starting point. Baby 700 was too far away. And the Otagos had not turned up. They were still filing up Monash Valley when they should have been on the ridge. Johnson, now over his illness and commanding the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, had mistimed things; he would fumble many more times before this campaign was over. When they did arrive, the Otagos were promptly shot up badly. The earlier Australian attack had warned the Turks, who were now firing star shells over the Anzac front. Some of the New Zealanders took two or three steps over the crest and were killed. About half the Otago troops were killed or wounded; the Quinn's Post cemetery is thick with their headstones.
Chaos set in. Johnston and Godley didn't know what was happening. This didn't stop them assuming things they had no right to assume. Godley figured the Otagos must be near Baby 700 and ordered the Canterburys to attack over the Nek. He then sent British marines to support Monash.
Dawn revealed a panorama of confusion: dead and wounded Australian and New Zealanders all about, men dribbling back, others trying to hold the trenches they had dug in the night, men looking for their officers, men looking for orders, British marines unsure of what they were supposed to be doing. The last Australians returned to their starting trenches on the night of May 3. One thousand casualties and no ground gained. The Turks had been presented with new trenches that they worked into the Chessboard. Monash's brigade, which had a nominal strength of 4,000, was down to 1770 men."
Few things could have been certain in the horror and confusion of those initial days at ANZAC Cove.
We can never be sure what day Ollie died, but it seems he was on Gallipoli prior to 1st May and may have landed as early as April 26th. The evidence of Sgt Pyle seems to be the most complete and reliable but even he provided two different dates – 28th April and ‘the first week of May’. The only point of agreement among the witnesses is that Ollie was shot in the head. His burial place is ‘unknown’ according to the official record yet we have three potential graves sites: Shrapnel Green Cemetery, ‘close to where he fell’ or the foot of Quinn’s Post.

Yet we do know some things for certain. Ollie Robinson died in good company and lots of it. He was well respected and liked by his mates and in taking Sgt Pyle’s place at the phone he epitomises the story of every Australian who answered the call - he died while doing a favour for a mate.
The final twist in the story of Ollie Robinson is a small article that appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 27 May 1916, Page 16 - In Memoriam.
ROBINSON -In loving remembrance of our dear friend, Oliver Francis Robinson, who was killed in action at Lone Pine, Gallipoli, April 28, 1915. A soldier and a man he proved. Inserted by his loving friends Rose Harper and Elma Jukes.

What was the connection between Ollie and Rose Harper and Emma Jukes? Both were married, living in Sydney with no apparent connection to Ollie, his family or Grenfell. It is possible they corresponded with Ollie once he joined the army or perhaps he boarded with one of them during a stay in Sydney. Perhaps we will never know.

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