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Great War Pipe Major’s German South West Africa 1914-1915 Mention in Despatches and Battle of the Somme Delville Wood Attack on Waterlot Farm July 1916 Officer Casualty pair awarded to Lieutenant R.B. Thorburn, 4th Regiment of South African Infantry - the

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Great War Pipe Major’s German South West Africa 1914-1915 Mention in Despatches and Battle of the Somme Delville Wood Attack on Waterlot Farm July 1916 Officer Casualty pair awarded to Lieutenant R.B. Thorburn, 4th Regiment of South African Infantry - the Transvaal Scottish, formerly the Pipe Major of the Johannesburg Callies, a football team, as a Sergeant Piper and then Pipe Major with the 8th South African Infantry during the campaign in German South West Africa from 18th August 1914 through to 14th August 1915, he being promoted to Pipe Major in the field, and then belatedly Mentioned in Despatches in the London Gazette for 22nd September 1918, this being for his time in German South West Africa, when he had ‘by his cheerful example rendered conspicuous service in maintaining march discipline whilst in the Desert and during the forced marches to Otavi ‘ no doubt piping the men forward. In addition he showed unusual ability in training the Regimental Scouts to adapt themselves to local conditions, also did valuable work whilst in charge of scouting parties. Subsequently commissioned into the Transvaal Scottish, after brief service in Egypt, he saw service on the Western Front from late April 1916, and was present during the Battle of the Somme in the operations at Delville Wood as an officer with ‘B’ Company. It was on 15th July 1916 in the attack on Waterlot Farm, a strongpoint in a sugar refinery where the Germans had their guns in concrete reinforced dugouts, that he led his platoon and was killed in action whilst leading a covering party to protect those of his regiment who were endeavouring to consolidate the captured position. He was reputedly killed by a bomb thrown by “surrendering” Germans.”

British War Medal and South African bi-lingual issue Victory Medal with Mention in Despatches Oakleaf; (LT. R.B. THORBURN.)

Condition: Good Very Fine.

Robert Brown Thorburn was born in Jedburgh, Scotland, but then emigrated to South Africa, and worked in mining, as well as playing as the Pipe Major of the Johannesburg Callies, a football team. However with the outbreak of the Great War, his ability as a piper came to the fore when he then saw service as a Sergeant Piper and later Pipe Major (No.7430) with the 8th South African Infantry during the campaign in German South West Africa from 18th August 1914 through to 14th August 1915, he being promoted to Pipe Major in the field.

It was for his gallant and distinguished service during this campaign during 1914 to 1915 that Thorburn was belatedly Mentioned in Despatches in the London Gazette for 22nd September 1918.

The citation made out to him as Pipe Major reads as follows: ‘By his cheerful example rendered conspicuous service in maintaining march discipline whilst in the Desert and during the forced marches to Otavi; he showed unusual ability in training the Regimental Scouts to adapt themselves to local conditions, also did valuable work whilst in charge of scouting parties.’

In the meantime, Thorburn, who had been discharged at the end of the campaign in German South West Africa, he then re-enlisted on 18th August 1915, and been commissioned as a Lieutenant into the 4th Regiment of South African Infantry - the Transvaal Scottish. Having sailed for England, he then embarked on 29th December 1915 at Devonport, bound for Alexandria aboard the ‘Oriana’ and then disembarked at Alexandria on 23rd January 1916. Having then marched overland, he embarked aboard the ‘Macduff’ from Mersa Matruh on 18th February 1916, and once again disembarked at Alexandria aboard the ‘And-el-Monheim’ from Sollum on 2nd April 1916. Thorburn then embarked at Alexandria on 12th April 1916 aboard the ‘Oriana’ again and disembarked at Marseilles on 20th April 1916, in order to see service on the Western Front.

At this time Thorburn was a Lieutenant with ‘B’ Company, and images of him feature twice in the Regimental History. Thorburn then found himself embroiled in the Battle of the Somme and in action at Delville Wood, being killed in action whilst in command of a platoon in Delville Wood during the attack on Waterlot Farm on 15th July 1916.

Major Hunt wrote a diary which gives some idea of Thorburn’s fate.

“July 15. Left Montauban, 2.30 am, and advanced rapidly towards Delville. Macleod with A and D Companies into Delville. B and C Companies under me to small orchard south of Longueval to 5th Camerons. Midday to Waterlot Farm. Kirby wounded. Sent Brown’s and Thorburn’s platoons to flanks north and south of farm. Thorburn killed.”

A soldier, Private Bert Higgins, later recalled the attack on Waterlot Farm. “George Thorburn who was Pipe Major of Johannesburg Callies, was Pipe Major of the 1st and 2nd (SAI) in South West Africa, led the remnants of the Camerons to take a sugar refinery where the Germans had their guns in concrete reinforced dugouts. The Germans sent over a terrific bombardment with coal boxes and very heavy shells, and all that could be seen was black smoke, shell-holes and blokes falling all over the place.”

Major Hunt’s diary continues: “Lieutenant R.B. Thorburn had served with the Cameronians. He re-joined as a Pipe Major in the Transvaal Scottish for South West Africa and was subsequently promoted in the field. He showed remarkable courage and skill in organising an excellent line of trenches at Waterlot Farm. Thorburn was killed while gallantly leading a covering party to protect those of his regiment who were endeavouring to consolidate the captured position. He was reputedly killed by a bomb thrown by “surrendering” Germans.”

Thorburn is buried in Delville Wood Cemetery at Longueval. Aged 39 at the time of his death, he is shown as the son of James and Eliza Stark Brown Thorburn.