Robinson, James Charles

James Charles Robinson – Fiona (alto)

James Charles Robinson was born on 25th December, 1893 (according to his service record). He had come to Australia as an orphan aged 9 and was cared for in Caulfield Melbourne by his Uncle who became his guardian. James’s parents had been living in India breeding racehorses in Calcutta and had both died of cholera.

James joined the Navy after doing a Secretarial Course at Stotts Business College in Melbourne. He could have been a Hansard Reporter but chose to join the Navy which he did in March 1912 aged 18 and his rating was a 3rd Writer (part of the clerical infrastructure on board ship). He served on a variety of ships leading up to the Gallipoli campaign. On 1 January 1915 he was assigned to Submarines, where he served until 30 June 1915.

Captain Stoker and his crew

Captain Stoker and his crew

The submarine in question was the AE2, one of a pair of Australian subs that had been commissioned in 1912 and built in England. Crewed predominantly with RN sailors, James was one of a handful of Australian sailors to form part of the crew.

After action in German New Guinea, the AE2 was assigned to the Dardanelles campaign, and having successfully penetrated into the Sea of Marmara, ‘ran amok’ for five days before being damaged. Commander Stoker ordered the vessel to be scuttled, and the crew were taken prisoner.

Mysteriously, James was not on the AE2 when it was attacked and scuttled (as advised in the letter from Captain FF Haworth-Booth, Naval Representative in the High Commissioners Offices, London) but he was definitely in the crew when entering the Dardanelles.

Letter - Captain FF Haworth-Booth

Letter – Captain FF Haworth-Booth

Amongst the family it was said that James was off the vessel ‘posting letters’ on the fateful day—but there is nothing in his service record to indicate precisely where he was at the time that the AE2 was scuttled, and how he escaped spending the next four years as a prisoner-of-war.

The next entry in his service record shows that he was assigned to HMAS Cerberus (home base, Melbourne) from 1 July 1915 through to 21 October 1916. He was promoted to 2nd Writer in March 1916, and then to HMAS Encounter from 22 October 1916 to 7 October 1918. Encounter provided convoy escort and patrols in Australian waters over this period.

As a career Navy officer, James remained with the service beyond the end of the war, with several further promotions to his credit.

Appearance: James is described as being 6’1/2” in height, with brown hair and blue eyes.

More information about the AE2
Catalyst ABC TV The Silent Anzac broadcast 28 August 2014
HMAS AE2
The Australian submarine AE2 – Australian War Memorial, presentation by Ian Hodges, 30 April 2003

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