James was born in the Halifax area of Yorkshire on 7th July 1884, the son of Farquhar. His brother, Kenneth, was born two years earlier at Slead Hall, Brighouse, Yorkshire, and lost his life in action on 7th November 1914 at Ploegsteert Wood on the French/Belgian border. The brothers' paternal grandfather, William, hailed from Aberdeen.
Both Kenneth and James FORBES-ROBERTSON were educated at Cheltenham College (the latter from 1897 until 1902) following their parents' move to the town around 1890. The family first lived at Langton Lodge, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham before moving to 2 Keynsham Bank, off London Road, Cheltenham. James was commissioned into the Border Regiment during 1904, gaining promotion to Lieutenant two years later, and by the outbreak of war he was a Temporary Captain (appointed Staff Captain on 28th November 1914), by which time his brother, Kenneth - a Captain in the Seaforth Highlanders - was dead. Farquhar FORBES-ROBERTSON had passed away during 1912, and lies buried in Cheltenham Cemetery, where his fallen son is also commemorated on the headstone.
T/Major James FORBES-ROBERTSON was awarded a Military Cross during 1916, receiving his medal in June 1917 - the same month the London Gazette revealed a DSO was also coming his way. The citation reads:
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in charge of his battalion during...an attack.
He collected all the men he could find, and, taking up a position on the outskirts of the village,
brought the hostile advance to an end by his fire. He undoubtedly saved a very critical situation by
his promptness, bravery and example".
A Bar to his DSO was Gazetted on 23rd March 1918: "He led his battalion with great dash and determination in a successful attack. Later, during continuous enemy attacks, though he was wounded in the eye and unable to see, he was led about by an orderly among his men in the front line, encouraging them and inspiring them by his magnificent example of courage and determination". Over the period 11/12th April 1918, the British lines were under the most severe pressure, and with little or no immediate reserves available to bolster the already beleaguered defences. Field Marshall Sir Douglas HAIG, Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces on the Western Front, issued his famous Order of the Day: "There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man. There must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight to the end". During the Battle of Estaires in France, Acting Lt-Col (James) FORBES-ROBERTSON carried out this directive almost to the letter, and received a Victoria Cross in the process:
"For most conspicuous bravery whilst commanding his battalion through heavy fighting. Through his
quick judgement, resource and untiring energy and magnificent example, (he) on four separate
occasions saved the line from breaking, and averted a situation which might have had the most
serious and far-reaching results. On the first occasion, when troops in front were falling back, he
made a rapid reconnaissance on horse back in full view of the enemy, and under heavy machine gun
fire and close range shell fire. He then organised and, still mounted, led a counter attack, which was
completely successful in re-establishing our line. When his horse was shot under him he continued
on foot. Later on the same day, when the line of troops to the left of his line were giving way, he
went to that flank and checked and steadied the line inspiring confidence by his splendid coolness and
disregard of personal danger. His horse was wounded three times and he was thrown five times".
"The following day when the troops on both flanks were forced to retire, he formed a post at
Battalion Headquarters, and with his Battalion still held his ground, thereby covering the retreat of
troops on his flanks. Under the heaviest fire this gallant officer fearlessly exposed himself (to danger)
when collecting parties, organising and encouraging. On a subsequent occasion, when troops
were retiring on his left, and the condition of things on his right was obscure, he again saved the
situation by his magnificent example and cool judgement. Losing a second horse, he continued alone
on foot until he had established a line to which his own troops could withdraw and so conform to
the general situation".