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From Private to Field-Marshal

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From Private to Field-Marshal
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Author(s): William Robertson
Date Published: 2012/09
Page Count: 368
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-921-4
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-920-7

Scarlet coat to red-tabs

It is a common aspect of uncommon men that their lives are so exceptional that they cannot be adequately described in a few words. So much the better then that the author of this autobiography left posterity his remarkable life story. William ‘Wully’ Robertson was born in Lincolnshire in 1860 and became a servant in the household of the Earl of Cardigan. In 1877 he decided upon a military career and enlisted as a trooper in the 16th (The Queen’s) Lancers. He proved to be an outstanding soldier and encouraged by friends and especially the officers of his regiment, Robertson earned a commission in 1888. This was an incredible achievement at the time since only four or five ‘rankers’ were so promoted annually. Robertson transferred to the 3rd Dragoon Guards. Having no private means Robertson struggled to maintain the lifestyle of a Victorian cavalry officer and had to work hard to generate extra income. A posting to India gave him the opportunity to do so through proficiency in languages. By 1895 he was a captain serving in the Chitral Campaign and in 1998 attended the staff college at Camberley—the first ‘ranker’ to go there. The Boer War saw further promotion and during the First World War—after service in the B. E. F.—Robertson rose to become Chief of the Imperial Staff being appointed to full general in 1916. He became a baronet in 1919 and field-marshal in 1920—the first man who joined the British Army at its lowest rank and by his own abilities achieved its highest rank. This is nothing less than a fascinating account, touching as it does on many aspects of military life as well as minor campaigns and major conflicts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Recommended.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

While this final movement was taking place I was ordered to report on the practicability of the road leading from Dir down the Panjkora to Robat, the place to which I had already made a reconnaissance up the same river from Sado. A company of the 4th Ghurkhas was given me as escort, and the Khan of Dir provided two guides, who were said to be specially trustworthy men, one of them being known as the kazi. For the first two marches they were everything that could be desired, and most helpful both as to their knowledge of the country and in obtaining local supplies of food, but later they were not so satisfactory.<br>
I was suffering from dysentery at the time, and on the third day’s march gave my sword to the kazi to carry as I was unable to bear its weight round my waist. Being mounted, I gradually forged ahead of the escort, and was followed by the two guides only. Suddenly, and to my utter amazement, I was twice fired at from behind, and could not imagine what had happened. Looking round I saw the kazi rising from his knee, and in the act of throwing aside the smoking 12-bore breech-loader which he had been carrying since we left Dir, preparatory to achieving with his sword—or rather my sword—what he had failed to accomplish with his gun, for although he could not have been more than ten yards away when he fired he had missed me with both barrels. He was yelling with the fury of a madman, and I realised that he had become ghazi—a religious fanatic—not an uncommon occurrence on the frontier.<br>
The goat-track on the steep hillside along which I was riding would not permit me to move to the right or left, or to turn the pony round so as to face my man, and the only alternative was to dismount. In doing this I stumbled and fell, the result being that I was in a half-sitting position when the kazi arrived at close quarters and proceeded to slash wildly at me. As there was neither time nor opportunity to draw my revolver while this vigorous sword practice was taking place, I could only scramble to my feet and floor the fellow with my fist. Just as I did this I observed that the other so-called guide, kneeling on one knee a few yards away, was waiting his opportunity to fire the moment he could do so without hitting his companion.<br>
Whilst my attention was distracted in this way the kazi jumped up and the pair of them made off. Pulling out the revolver at last, I brought down the kazi as he was in the act of flying up the hillside, and then I remembered no more till the Ghurkhas arrived, they having hastened to the spot on hearing the sound of firing. They picked up the kazi, who had been hard hit but not killed, and a native hospital orderly did his best temporarily to patch up my wounds, which were later officially classed as “severe” but were not really serious.<br>
We then commenced the return march to Dir, where the kazi, who turned out to be an adherent of Umra Khan, in whose service he had previously been, was tried by court-martial and sentenced to be shot and his body burnt. The sentence was carried out by a sergeant and six men of a Highland battalion—I forget which. I thought at the time, and still think, that however indifferent a marksman the kazi may have been, he could not possibly have missed me with both barrels at so short a range but for the direct intervention of Providence.<br>
On becoming fit to travel I was sent back to India, and my connection with the Chitral Relief Force terminated. A “mention in despatches” and the award of the Distinguished Service Order, then a rather rare decoration, tended to alleviate, but did not entirely dispel, the mortification I felt at not having put up a more finished fight and accounted for both my assailants. I was chaffed a good deal at the time for having been cut about with my own sword, and for not acting up to the standard displayed at the Rawal Pindi assault-at-arms. I deserved to be chaffed.<br>
While serving with the Relief Force I became captain in the ordinary course of regimental promotion, and was unusually lucky in reaching that rank in less than seven years after being commissioned.