The LSO in World War I: Roy Robertson

By | September 1, 2014 at 11:00 am | No comments | Archives | Tags:

The third blog in our series exploring the Members of the LSO who served in World War I tells the story of violinist Roy Robertson.

“Sympathetic reference was made in regard to those members of the Orchestra whom had joined His Majesty’s Forces, viz: Messrs W H Reed, Philip Lewis, E Carwardine, H Ralph, T Peatfield, E R Wilby, R Carrodus, B Reillie, S Freedman, J Meacham, A Tibbetts, A Ives, C Woodhouse, C B Jones, F Hawkins, Roy Robertson, E Yonge, C Dorling, P Kilburn, R Garnet, C A Crabbe, A Maney, C Blackford, R V Tabb, J H Silvester, R Murchie, F Almgill, E J Augarde, H Thornton, A Penn, H Jackson, E Hall, S Moxon, E T Garvin. Deep regret was expressed at the untimely death of Sydney Moxon, killed in action in France, whilst conveying a wounded man to a place of safety.”

The story of Roy Robertson shows one of the major difficulties that we have encountered whilst researching this subject – the use of names other than the ones they were given at birth. There are several Members in the list above whose first name is different to what they would use in official documents – sometimes even the surname is different! Unusually, Roy Robertson’s name appears in full in the Board minutes of 27 July 1917,  unlike some of the others for whom we had no idea of their first name, so initially hopes were high that we would find Roy easy to locate amongst the  records. We were wrong!

It took several attempts before we discovered why we couldn’t locate Roy – his name was David! A lucky break led us first to his military record for the Scots Guards, in which he gave his profession as ‘musician’. This was later confirmed by his entry in the Royal Society of Musicians’ database (1900–1949) in which his name appears ‘(David) Roy Robertson’. Despite this breakthrough we still found him and his family difficult to locate in the census records, so our knowledge of his home life is fairly sketchy.

David Roy Robertson was born on 24 January 1899 in Edinburgh. His parents were John and Elizabeth Robertson, and he had a sister, Christina.  John was a joiner from Stirling and Elizabeth was from Stirling. Christina, who was two years older than David, was also born in Edinburgh.

As we can only locate the family in the 1901 census when they were still in Edinburgh, we don’t know when they all moved to London. However by 1916, when David joined the Army, the family lived together in Essex Road in Acton. David (although by now calling himself Roy) had joined the LSO as a Second Violinist, first appearing in the concert programmes on 3 April 1916. Perhaps the family had moved south for the talented 17-year-old violinist to start a career? After all, according to the Board minutes of 15 March 1916, Roy had been nominated for membership by none other than the Leader W H Reed, and elected unanimously at a special meeting on 20 March. Poor Roy got off to a rather shaky start though – he was late for the very first rehearsal in April, and again in May. Both times he was required to write to the Board to provide an explanation, although his excuses seem to have been accepted – fortunate at a time when players were routinely fined for lateness, even through the travel difficulties of wartime!

Roy (although back to calling himself David!) joined the Army on 18 October 1916. At this time conscription had just been introduced for men aged 18–40; however, it appears that David lied about his age in order to bring himself into this bracket! He gave his date of birth as 1898 and age as 18 years and 8 months – a whole year older. His reasons for being so keen to serve remain unrecorded. He joined the Scots Guards (3rd battalion) as a Private and was immediately posted to Wellington Barracks in central London. The 3rd Battalion was raised to provide troops to the 1st and 2nd Battalions already serving in France, however David would never make it that far.

As a musician, it seems that David was drafted into the Scots Guards Band. It’s still in existence today as one of the regiments of the Household Division that guards the British Monarchy – frequently seen at Trooping the Colour and the Remembrance Day Parade wearing their trademark red tunics and Busby hats. David may have played in several different ensembles as a violinist, but it’s known that he also played a woodwind instrument (maybe more than one?) which he had perhaps had to learn in order to join the Guards.

This seems to have been his undoing. In July 1917 it was reported that he had suffered ‘dilatation of the heart’ (when the heart muscle becomes stretched and thin) as a result of over-exerting himself whilst playing a wind instrument during 5 weeks continuous parade duties. He was put on half duties, but even this seems to have been too much for him. He was sent to hospital in August 1917 with severe headaches and was given glasses, but it was noted that the change in his eyesight was not enough to account for the severity of the pain. In the September he was sent to a heart specialist, who noted his breathlessness. By the November it was clear that he was not ever going to be fit enough for war service, and so he was discharged. He was given a war pension (a pensioner aged only 18!) until 1920.

Despite his health difficulties brought on by musical activities, David/Roy continued his music career after the war. He was admitted to the Royal Society of Musicians in 1928, at which time he said he was Musical Director to The Producer Distributing Company, a short-lived Hollywood film distribution company. He lived in the NW London area for the rest of his life, living in Wembley until about 1935. He died in Ealing on 19 February 1970.

Having not served for very long in the Army, it seems that David/Roy did not apply, or perhaps was not entitled to, any medals, and therefore does not have a medal card at The National Archive. We are therefore not able to remember him (yet) in our Community on the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War site, but felt that David’s keenness to play his part in the war, despite being too young, should be commended.

How can you help?

There are many things that we don’t know about David/Roy:

  • How did he come to be a musician? How was  his early talent spotted?
  • When and why did the family leave Scotland?
  • What did he do after leaving the LSO?
  • Was his health a problem throughout his life?
We also do not have any photos of David/Roy.

Are you related to David/Roy, or know of any of his living relatives? Do you have any photos of him, or the LSO, during the war? If you can answer any of the above questions, please do get in contact with our archivist Libby Rice on libby.rice@lso.co.uk.

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