Major-General Jim Robertson
(Filed: 17/02/2004)

Major-General Jim Robertson, who has died aged 93, commanded the 1/7th Gurkha Rifles in Burma and the 1/6th Gurkha Rifles in Malaya; a formidable field commander, he was awarded two DSOs and was four times mentioned in dispatches.

In March 1944 the Japanese launched their offensive against Imphal as part of a plan for the invasion of India across the Chindwin into Manipur State. The Japanese 33rd Division threatened Tonzang, north of Tiddim, aiming to cut off and destroy 17th Indian Division far from its base. The 1st Battalion 7th Gurkha Rifles (GR), commanded by Robertson, then a lieutenant-colonel, fell back on Tiddim.

In May 1/7th GR, part of the 48th Indian Infantry Brigade, established a road block on the Tiddim-Imphal road. The Japanese, who found themselves deprived of supplies, attacked on four successive nights, filling the air with an eerie howling as they advanced, using tanks, artillery and mortar fire in a desperate attempt to dislodge the battalion. Once only did they manage to get a foothold within the perimeter wire, but were driven off by a counter-attack.

One night, Robertson laid an ambush, allowing eight enemy lorries to enter the position; all were destroyed. The battalion defied every attempt to oust it from its position and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. Robertson, who was badly wounded by grenade splinters in one assault, was awarded his first DSO; the citation paid tribute to his courage and inspirational leadership.

The son of an officer in the Indian Army Medical Service, James Alexander Rowland Robertson (always known as Jim) was born on March 23 1910 at Nainital, Uttar Pradesh, India. He was educated at Epsom College before attending the RMA Sandhurst. Commissioned in 1930, Robertson was attached to the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry for a year before being posted to the 1st Battalion 6th Gurkha Rifles at Razmak, Waziristan, on the North West Frontier.

After attending the Staff College, Quetta, Robertson joined the 1st Maymyo Brigade in the Shan States, Burma, in 1942 and served as brigade major in the retreat to India. He took command of 1/7th GR in February 1944 and saw some of the heaviest fighting in the war. The commander of 17th Indian Division, Major-General "Punch" Cowan, had the highest regard for Robertson's abilities. If there was a tough job to be done, he used to say: "Send for Jim."

In April 1945, in the final phase of the campaign, the battalion was ordered to attack Yewe, a village south of Meiktila which was holding up the advance. The Japanese, determined to prevent a large ammunition dump from falling into British hands, defended fanatically and, by nightfall, still occupied part of the village.

The battalion held on throughout the night, and the next day they attacked again. Robertson, who had had little or no sleep for 48 hours, moved among his forward troops, under continual sniper and mortar fire, exhorting his exhausted men to further efforts. Inspired by his dogged determination, the battalion cleared the village, killing large numbers of the enemy, and opened the road to the south.

Robertson was awarded a bar to his DSO and, as CO of the 48th Indian Infantry Brigade, took the surrender of the Japanese forces at Moulmein, south Burma. During the campaign, he was twice mentioned in dispatches.

Robertson returned to the Staff College, Quetta, as a Colonel Instructor before rejoining 1/6th GR as commanding officer, taking them to Malaya in 1948. It was the beginning of the 12-year Emergency, in which the Gurkhas played a key role in operations against the Communist terrorists, and he was mentioned in dispatches.

He was appointed GSO 1 at Gurkha Planning Staff and, subsequently, Malaya Command before he returned to England in 1950 and moved to the War Office. After a posting to 1 (British) Corps, BAOR, as Colonel GS, in 1955 Robertson took command of the 51st Independent Lorried Infantry Brigade at Tel-El-Kebir, Egypt. He commanded the brigade on operations in Cyprus during the Emergency; he was again mentioned in dispatches.

In 1957 the Sultan of Oman was threatened by insurgents and requested help from Britain. Robertson was appointed Commander Land Forces Persian Gulf, and took charge of the units which re-took Nizwa, the capital of Oman, from the Omani rebels.

In 1958 Robertson returned to Malaya on his appointment as GOC 17th Gurkha Division, Overseas Commonwealth Land Forces, and Major-General Brigade of Gurkhas. He moved to Aden in 1961 as GOC Land Forces, Middle East Command, before becoming Gurkha Liaison Officer at the War Office.

After retiring from the Army in 1964, he was personnel director of the Naafi until 1969. For many years he worked for the National Canine Defence League (now the Dogs' Trust).

Robertson was Colonel 6th Queen Elizabeth's Own Gurkha Rifles from 1961 to 1969. He was chairman of the Gurkha Brigade Association from 1968 to 1980, and president from 1980 to 1987.

Warm-hearted and with a genuine interest in people, Robertson had a host of friends from all walks of life. In retirement, he lived in London. An accomplished artist and sculptor, he also made beautifully-crafted dolls' houses complete with miniature furniture. Aged 85, he lost a leg in a freak accident - he was hit by the spare wheel from a passing lorry - but bore this reverse with resilience and humour.

He was appointed MBE in 1942; OBE in 1949; CBE in 1956; and CB in 1958.

Jim Robertson died on February 11. He married first, in 1949, Ann Tosswill; it was a cruel stroke when she contracted polio within a few days of the marriage and died. He married, secondly, in 1973, Joan Wills (née Abercromby), who predeceased him. There were no children.