Robson was born on 7th January 1855 at 7 Ebury Mews, near Victoria
His parents were, Ann, a domestic servant, and George Robson, a
coachman. Charles enlisted as a Driver in the Royal Engineers, on
the 30th April 1873, having previously worked with his father as
a groom. He was not a tall lad standing just 5' 5". He was
soon posted to Aldershot where he joined "B" (Equipment)
Troop RE Train, his home for the next four years. (It was during
this period that the first confusion began as to his first name,
and entries in the RE pay and muster rolls list him as James Robson
and Edward Robson).
Troop spent 11 months at Brompton Barracks, Chatham in 1875 before
returning to Aldershot. In December 1877, the majority of the troop's
Drivers transferred to 5th Field Company which was then forming
a mounted detachment. With such a large influx of men came to need
for new officers and on the 18th April 1878, one Lt.
JRM Chard joined the Company, Driver Robson being appointed
as his batman soon afterwards.
Company Royal Engineers arrived in Capetown, South Africa on the
2nd January 1879.
Upon arrival in Durban, Lt. Chard, Driver Robson and four men of
the 5th Company were ordered to proceed in advance of the remainder
of the Company, to join No. 3 Column at then moving down from Helpmakaar
to Rorke's Drift. The "Flying Sap" as Chard's little group
was called arrived at Rorke's Drift
on the 19th January, Robson riding his master's spare horse.
It is believed
that Robson took up a position along the front wall during the battle,
from where he could see the RE wagon/mule cart that had been abandoned
near the rough cattle kraal. Chard later stated that Robson paid
particular attention to the Zulus who were wrecking the wagon as
it contained what Robson described as "our things".
in his capacity as batman to John Chard for the remainder of the
Anglo-Zulu campaign, including the final battle at Ulundi
on the 4th July. He arrived home with Chard aboard the SS Egypt
on the 2nd October 1879. Once home Chard commenced an unofficial
tour, including a visit to Somerset, where he was greeted by a crowd
of some 4,000. The appearance of Driver Robson, accompanying Chard
on the visit, was also reported on,
Chard was accompanied by his military servant in full regimentals
and the appearance of this soldierly young fellow bearing an armful
of Zulu assegais and other trophies of the campaign excited much
interest" (source RE Journal 1/11/1879 page 205-206)
service with JRM Chard ended at the end of November 1879, when he
returned to the RE Field Park and Depot in Aldershot. He served
briefly with the 7th and 11th Field Companies before taking his
discharge to the Army Reserve on the 20th June 1881. He received
glowing testimonials from not only JRM Chard, but also Col. AG Durnford,
RE, the commanding officer at Chatham, and brother of Anthony
William Durnford killed at Isandlwana.
It would appear
that Robson remained as a servant to another RE officer and completed
his reserve service in Ireland and Chatham. He rejoined the Colours
on the 22nd August 1882, becoming batman to yet another RE officer,
Lt. FN Maude. Charles Robson completed 21 years service with the
army on the 30th April 1894, having spent just 305 days on active
He had married
Jane Elizabeth Farrand in 1883 and the union produced one child,
a daughter, Annie Lilian.The Robson's settled in Dorking, for a
number of years before moving to Swingate Lane, Plumstead. During
WW1 both Robson and his wife worked in the Woolwich Arsenal, Jane
in one of the 'danger rooms' packing cordite. Charles Robson retired
in 1919, to the comfort of his garden, where he kept chickens. The
family also had a dog called Gyp and an enormous cat called "Buller",
after Sir Redvers Buller VC.
Robson died at St. Nicholas' Hospital, Plumstead on the 19th July
1933, aged 78 years.
He was buried six days later in an unmarked grave in Woolwich Old
Cemetery. In 22nd January 1993, the grave was marked with a small
wooden plaque, and some years later the local RE Association paid
for a permanent headstone over the grave.
from "The Noble Sapper on the Box, Charles Robson, RE"
by Lee Stevenson. The Royal Engineers Journal Vol. 109, No.2, August