DRIVER TALBOT PRESTON ROBERTSON
AUSTRALIAN FIELD ARTILLERY
7TH OCTOBER 1917 AGE 19
BURIED: ETAPLES MILITARY CEMETERY, FRANCE
Talbot Robertson Preston had the signed permission of both his parents when he joined up at the age of 18 and 3 months on 26 August 1916. He needed it as without this permissio, he would not have been able to go abroad until he was 19. This means that he was still only 18 and 7 months when he embarked for Britain on 23 December 1916. But as his headstone inscription asks - How could I stay? This wasn't just a simple statement but the last line of a very patriotic piece of verse written by James Drummond Burns who, like Talbot Robertson, was a former pupil of Scotch College in Melbourne.
The bugles of England were blowing o'er the sea,
As they had called a thousand years, calling now to me;
They woke me from dreaming in the dawning of the day,
The bugles of England - and how could I stay?
The banners of England, unfurled across the sea,
Floating out upon the wind, were beckoning to me;
Storm-rent and battle torn, smoke stained and grey,
The banners of England - and how could I stay?
O England, I heard the cry of those that died for thee,
Sounding like an organ-voice across the winter sea;
They lived and died for England, and gladly went their way -
England, O England - how could I stay?
Robertson arrived in Britain on 17 February 1917 and on 22 August went to France. He was wounded barely a month later, on 29 September. Evacuated to a Casualty Clearing Station, he was operated on the next day for 'severe gun shot wound of left thigh'. On 1 October he was admitted to No. 26 General Hospital at Etaples where he died six days later.
James Drummond Burns, the author of the verse, had been killed in Gallipoli in September 1915. Although Burns' words are quoted relatively frequently one way or another on headstone inscriptions, Burns' own headstone quotes Henry Newbolt's Clifton College:
Qui ante diem periit
Sed miles sed pro patria.
Who died before his time but as a soldier and for his country.