Lt. Col. Bart Robson
Affectionately known as the “Farmer’s Colonel”, Lt. Col. Bartholomew “Bart” Robson was held in high esteem by all ranks of the 135th Middlesex Battalion. Actively involved in the militia since his youth, he enlisted as a private with the 26th Middlesex Light Infantry and rose to become their commanding officer, a position he held when the Great War broke out in 1914.
In 1915 he was authorized to raise a battalion from Middlesex County, and according to a report in the March 30, 1916 edition of the Strathroy Age Dispatch “the recruiting record at the end of February 3 months after the authorization of the battalion shows close to 1,000 men on the roll.” The article goes on to describe the character of the Lt. Col., “Bart Robson is a farmer. He is a real son of the soil and his big farm at Ilderton is one of the best in the County of Middlesex. He is a soldier too, a real soldier in the words of his officers and men and the way he has brought the 135th to practically full strength is an indication of his ability. There is no stiff-necked adherence to all the forms and usages of so-called military etiquette in Col. Robson. There is more real democracy in the 135th than in many of the Canadian battalions where democracy seems to be the keynote of organization, but there is strict discipline with it. There is no slipping up when decisive action is needed and no one tries to put one over the Colonel. The men of the 135th are to him the, “boys”, and they know and realize it.”
The 135th Middlesex Battalion sailed for England on August 22, 1916. In 1917 Lt. Col. Robson returned to Canada as Commander of the 1st Infantry Brigade, retiring in 1920 as Colonel. Bart Robson died on January 23, 1925, one day before his 66th birthday, and was laid to rest in Telfer Cemetery, London Township.
To honour his efforts to recruit and train a local battalion, Middlesex County Council presented Lt. Col. Robson with a beautiful hand-sewn Union Jack flag, bearing the inscription “135th Batt. Presented by County Council of Middlesex 1916”. Fanshawe Pioneer Village is privileged to have this important artifact in our collection along with Lt. Col. Robson’s swagger stick that he would carry when on parade with the battalion. Also in the collection is a ceremonial sword that was used by Lt. Col. Robson when the troops were reviewed by the Prince of Wales at Carling Heights in October 1919.
The March 30, 1916 Age Dispatch article helps to put Lt. Col. Robson’s career achievements in perspective, “Commanders of the overseas battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force come from many walks of life. Many, in fact the majority, have been professional men, though there has been a good sprinkling of merchants and not a few newspaper men among them. The farmers, however, are not so well represented. This is not strange in view of the arrangements under which the Canadian militia training camps were arranged. The summer camps were always in the farmers busiest season and few could afford to take the time from their farms to attend the camp. However, there is one outstanding exception to a farmer-colonel in the first military division with head quarters at London, and that is Lieut.-Col. Bart Robson, commanding the 135th Bn.”