All Quiet on the Front

James (Jimmy) Robertson, the darling of the Robertson Clan.

#52Ancestors 52Weeks: Social Media (of the day)

Joining the War

James Robertson was 22 years old when he enlisted in the Argyll and Suthern Highlanders, 2nd Battalion in 1942. He and his fellow highlanders were shipped off from Plymouth to Malaya to quell the emerging Japanese invasion of Singapore.

On February 3rd the Argylls and Marines were amalgamated into a composite battalion known as the Plymouth Argylls. The Argyll’s old association with Plymouth, their influence on the creation of its football team, and the fact that the Marines were of the Plymouth Division were good reasons for this nickname. Lt Colonel Stewart trained the Plymouth Argylls emphasising cooperation between armoured cars and widely dispersed infantry.

For James, his enlistment in this unit was a family tradition that he wanted to uphold. His own father, James Cunningham Robertson, had also served in the Argylls.

On the night of February 8th 1942, the Japanese successfully crossed the Straits of Johore and gained a foothold on Singapore’s northwestern shore. As exhausted and demoralised Australian defenders withdrew, the Plymouth Argylls were ordered, late on the morning of February 9th, to advance northwards up the Bukit Timah Road and then westward along the Choa Chu Kang Road towards Tengah airfield.

This was the night I imagined that James wrote his letter home to his family. His letter was probably heavily censored and may not have reached his family until much later. Thinking of those brave soldiers waiting, fitfully sleeping, and drenched in mud and sludge, awaiting a fate that is too terrible to imagine.

Two more days of fighting followed as the Plymouth Argylls engaged the Japanese between Tengah and the Dairy Farm that lay east of the Upper Bukit Timah Road. Most of the Argylls were cut off when the Japanese brought their tanks down the road, smashing through two Plymouth Argyll roadblocks.

From images of the commanding officer Ian McAlister located in the historic sites of the Argyll and Suthern Highlanders, we can see the type of terrain the soldiers had to contend with; knee-deep in stinking mud.

Ian Macalister Stewart 2nd battalion Argyll and Southern Highlanders in Malaya

Letter from the Front

Letter (imagined) from James Robertson, youngest son of James and Janet Robertson, of 16 Windsor Road, Falkirk; showing how such a letter may have been redacted.

February 8, 1942

My Dearest Family,

I hope this letter finds you all in good health and spirits. I’m writing to you from the front lines in Malaya, where we’ve been stationed for some time now. I know you must be hearing some of the reports in the newspapers, and on the radio, and I know that you fear for my life.

As you may know, tomorrow we are to engage in a major battle against the enemy forces. I wanted to write to you before it all began to tell you how much I love and miss you all. I am confident that I can survive what’s coming next.

I think about you every day and am grateful for your love and support. It gives me the strength I need to carry on and do my duty for King and my country. I only hope that one day I’ll return home to you, safe and sound.

Please know that I am doing all I can to stay safe and to look out for my fellow Highlanders. I’m sure that our training and the bravery of my fellow soldiers will get us through this. We are in good spirits tonight as we read our news from home.

I must sign off now, as we have a busy day ahead of us, but I wanted to let you know that I am thinking of you always and that I love you all deeply. 

Yours truly,


Argyll and Suthern Highlanders, 2nd battalion

Battle Lost: The Thin Red Line

James was among the platoons who were caught up in the brutal onslaught of the Japanese 25th Army commanded by Lt Gen Tomoyuki Yamashita. They were immortalised as the Thin Red Line ‘eroes, in the poem Tommy by Rudyard Kipling.

Most of the Argylls were cut off when the Japanese brought their tanks down the road, smashing through two Plymouth Argyll roadblocks. The main body of Royal Marines escaped across the Dairy Farm and down the Pipeline to the Golf Course, stretchering away a wounded Argyll officer.

I wonder if that Argyll officer was connected to James’ platoon or company.

No sooner had they arrived back at Tyersall Park than the camp and the neighbouring Indian Military Hospital was destroyed in an air attack. In the confusion that followed and subsequent shelling and mortaring, there was a further dispersal of men including those wounded. When the surrender came on February 15th only some 40 Royal Marines remained in the trenches in the burnt-out Tyersall Park.

James was killed in action in Malaya as his record shows.

Soldier number 2284050

Casualty List No. 1947. Previously posted on Casualty List No. 774 as Missing 15/02/1942. Date of casualty recorded on original source as 10-11/02/1942.

Date of Death:



Killed in Action

The remaining Argylls and Marines at Tyersall Park were ordered by the Japanese to march to Changi on February 17th.

If you know your history of Changi, then you might say that James was fortunate not to have been sent there. So grateful his family might have been that he did not in June 1942 become part of the movement of POWs from Changi to Thailand to build the Death Railway.

Most of those who survived entered captivity in Sumatra at Palembang and Padang, but some 22 made it to Ceylon as did 52 Argylls. 31 Royal Marines were killed in action, died of wounds at Singapore, or were lost at sea assisting in the evacuation of civilians to Sumatra. 220 Argylls were killed in action or died of wounds in the Malayan Campaign.

James died (one of the 220 Argylls) fighting in a foreign country, under extreme conditions of hardship and danger. He was indeed the darling of the Robertson clan whose bravery needs to be remembered in their family history archives. His remains are somewhere in Column 83 at the Singapore Memorial.


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