May 25, 2009 - Lest I Forget - Uncle Jimmy - My Namesake and Genealogy

25 May 2009

The navigator, Flying Officer Robertson was on the Flight Deck but failed to survive the ditching and was not seen again.1
I never mourned my Uncle Jimmy…
MISSING BELIEVED DROWNED. Flying Officer, James Duncan Alexander, ROBERTSON (D.F.C.) (R.C.A.F.).2
I was born about six years after... Six years after his young and untimely death. Missing, believed drowned...

Just when does it happen? Exactly where does one have to be? How does one become committed to a thing called Genealogy? Could be a ditching in the Indian Ocean? Don’t know? Could be that little question about the hook on your nose? Could be the two middle names? Maybe that strange handle of a last name you couldn’t spell properly until your teens? Maybe your name is as simple as Jim Smith?

Mine is… Actually, James Kenneth Lloyd Smith… And I’ve grown up with the most common English name on this planet… Just Jim Smith… Friends and family always made sure, when I was young, I was Jimmy… just like Uncle Jimmy. And then I decided I needed to find out as much as I could about my namesake, Uncle Jimmy.

I have spent quite a bit of time searching for information on Uncle Jimmy, James Duncan Alexander Robertson. He was lost in action in 1945, at the age of twenty-two, in the Bay of Bengal in the East Indian Ocean. And at this point of the search I'm pretty pleased with myself as I've been able to trace him all over the world, which sort of parallels my greater families' movements and travels.

Uncle Jimmy was born in Jamaica and lived there, and then moved up to Lachine in Montreal, Quebec, to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. Family lore praised his decision and my grandfather’s connections in Montreal assisted. Somehow through a web-surf I was able to link up with a gentleman in Manitoba, Canada, who had a collection of the records and documents of Squadron 160… the same Squadron Uncle Jimmy, flew. A review of the records revealed a three page summary of the final hours of the Liberator bomber, the crew, and my Uncle Jimmy.

Next, as Uncle Jimmy flew with the RCAF I contacted the Sergeant-at-Arms at the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. I discovered that his name is recorded in the Book of Remembrance. He is memorialized every November twenty-third in the Memorial Chamber of the Parliament of Canada.

And then on to Kranji in Singapore… Uncle Jimmy’s memorial is at Kranji. There are 4,461 War Graves there with 1,289 being unidentified. The Memorial Panels are inscribed with the names of over 24,000 casualties who have no known grave, one of which is Uncle Jimmy. Via the Internet, a contact in London put me on to a friend in Australia who was on his way to Singapore. This Australian friend sent me pictures. He is posing, pointing to and touching Uncle Jimmy’s engraved name. Amazing stuff… amazing people!

I next received my grandfather's papers from a cousin in Fort Lauderdale who got them from a cousin in Vancouver, British Columbia, who got them from my aunt, her mother, who had brought them from Jamaica. And there in the midst of the pile was a folder that my grandfather had created on Uncle Jimmy. I've since discovered that my Uncle Jimmy was to have his name (including my Uncle Stuart, his brother) memorialized on a Clock Tower in Kingston, Jamaica...

So that we may remember. Cross Roads Clock Tower Memorial. £455 More Needed to Erect The Cross Roads Tower. A memorial to our War Dead, the estimate for which is £1600. THIS IS AN APPEAL to the General Public to subscribe to the above sum to this worthy effort to beautify this busy spot and to supply Public Time."3
Was the Cross Roads Clock Tower Memorial ever built? Yes it was. Subsequent reports in The Daily Gleaner which posted the public subscriptions and donations seem to indicate the fact. To date I’ve discovered over 45 articles from 1946 to 1991 describing the campaign and a restoration of the Clock Tower Memorial. I even discovered a copy of a letter from my grandfather; F. H. Robertson that he sent to ensure the spellings of the names of the two sons that he had lost.

A friend of mine, who was working in Kingston, and sat out the last two hurricanes with rum punches, checked out the Clock Tower at Crossroads for the Memorial. No luck… yet. But reading through the primary Jamaican newspaper, The Daily Gleaner, news clippings and my grandfather’s correspondence from 1946 and 47, I’m not sure if the Memorial part of the Clock Tower exists today. I need to check that out.

Recently, my mother, Uncle Jimmy’s youngest sister, discovered his name in the Book of The Royal Air Force at St. Clement Danes in London, England. St. Clements has been the central church for the RAF since 1958.

Now I am searching, with the help of the Montreal Anglican Church Archive Department, for a stained glass window in a church somewhere in Westmount, on the island of Montreal, that was put up in memory of my Uncle Jimmy. I’ve found a plaque with his name in another Anglican Church in Westmount, but no stained glass window…

News flash:

FLYING OFFICER J. ROBERTSON MISSING… The Gleaner regrets to learn that Flying Officer Jimmie Robertson of the R.C.A.F., second son of Mr. F.H. Robertson, Trade Commissioner, and Mrs. Robertson, was reported missing on operations on the Burma Front on May 1."4
Mother says that his name was never spelled “Jimmie” . The Daily Gleaner in 1945 must have got it wrong. Uncle Jim was Jim, like me, and Jimmy as me too. Goes to show how a record can get changed and how the change can reflect some difference through the years. And The Daily Gleaner continues:

It was only a few days ago that the news came that he had been decorated.

Flying Officer Robertson joined up in 1942 and a year ago was posted to the Coastal (Bomber) Command in Burma.

Mr. and Mrs. Robertson had eight children serving in the Armed Forces. Their eldest son, Squadron Leader Stuart Robertson, was killed in action in Britain in 1942.
"5
Uncle Jim was in Burma – today’s Myanmar and eight children in the Armed Forces. That’s eight aunts and uncles, from one family, all serving in World War II. And one killed and one missing and I need to find out. I need to find out everything.

To date and thus far I’ve travelled the optic cabling of the Internet in my search for Uncle Jim. From Jamaica to Lachine, to Manitoba… to Burma and the East Indian Ocean, and on to Ottawa, to London and Singapore, on to Kingston, to Montreal and to Westmount, and from Vancouver, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, and I just keep searching and researching for all and any trace or hint. And sixty-four years later I am mourning and celebrating Uncle Jimmy. Celebrating as I build our family tree.

With thoughts,

Jim

Footnotes:
1. Officer Commanding No. 160 Squadron Secret Written Report. Ref.160S/752/25/F.I. 17th May 1945
2. Ibid
3. "So that we may remember", The Daily Gleaner: 18 October 1946: Kingston, Jamaica
4. Flying Officer J. Robertson Missing, The Daily Gleaner: 8 May 1945, Page 9, Kingston, Jamaica
5. Ibid


Inserts:
1. Photograph - Uncle Jim before 1945, RCAF
2. Photograph - Uncle Jim circa 1938, Jamaica
3. Clipping - The Montreal Daily Star, 1st May 1942, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
4. Page 559 - Canada's Book of Remembrance, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, Canada
5. Photograph - Kranji War Memorial, Singapore
6. Photograph - Engraving, Kranji War Memorial, Singapore
7. Envelope addressed from Ceylon to his Mother in Jamaica
8. Letter to his parents
9. Clipping - The Daily Gleaner, Kingston, Jamaica, circa 1946
10. Clipping - The Daily Gleaner, 8 May 1945, Page 9, Kingston, Jamaica

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