[this post last edited, new information and/or images added 24 February 2013]
Robert Lamont ORMSBY was born at 19 Regent Place, Shawlands, Glasgow, Renfrew, Scotland on 5 March 1892 to Henry ORMSBY and his wife Mary Jane LAMONT. His mother died five days after his birth and Robert went to live with his maternal grandmother Isabela LAMONT in Lockfoot Village, Kirkcudbright, Scotland for the first few years of his life. The 1911 census found Henry, 19, a medical student, at Gibbsyard, Ayr with his father Henry, brother James [James Henry ORMSBY], Uncle Andrew [Andrew ORMSBY] and grandmother Helen Ormsby [Helen STEEL]. Three months after the census was taken his brother James went to Singapore to where he worked for the Heap Eng Moh Steamship Company, a large operation which provided cargo and passenger services to Malaysia and the South Seas area. It is likely that James wanted Robert to join him.
About 1912 Robert left his medical studies and enlisted in the Officers’ Training Corps (OTC) at Glasgow University. He also heard from his brother James, in Singapore, about the opportunities for work and advancement in that area of the world.
[Right and below: Photo believed to be Robert Lamont Ormsby. The uniform is that of the Officers’ Training Corps (OTC) at Glasgow University. Photo taken about 1912. From the author’s collection.]
Robert became interested in the rubber industry and saw that as a potential career in Southeast Asia. The growing popularity and mass production of the motorcar, such as the Model T, created a significant demand for tires. Bankers and wealthy industrialists, including those in Scotland, were keen to exploit this demand. ‘Rubber planters’ usually educated men, were hired by estate owners to manage the rubber plantations in Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia. Newspapers of the time reported on the new industry and no doubt the opportunity for financial reward was discussed in the pubs and among the OTC students. And Robert’s brother James was already in Singapore.
Robert made his decision – he would leave Scotland’s damp climate and limited job opportunities, join his brother and become a rubber planter. He booked his passage to Singapore for June 1913. But first he attended to a personal matter.
[Photo believed to be Robert Lamont ORMSBY and Isabella Thow TURNER, about 1913, from the author’s collection]
On 10 June 1913, three days before he sailed, Robert, 21, occupation listed as ‘rubber planter’, married Isabella Thow TURNER, 25, a governess from Mauchline, Ayrshire. Isabella had grown up in St. Quivox the same parish as Robert; likely their families had been neighbours and they had known each other in childhood. They married in Glasgow, using a Sheriff’s Warrant license rather than go through the slower process of posting marriage banns. Perhaps they wanted to be married before Robert emigrated so that it would be easier for Isabella to join him once he was settled.
On June 13, 1913 Robert sailed from London to Singapore on the P&O ship Mongolia. In August 1914, little more than a year after Robert left Scotland, World War I (WWI) broke out. Britain and her colonies were at war and thousands of patriotic men and women enlisted; Robert was one of these. Isabella did not see Robert for another four years.
On January 1, 1915 five months after the declaration of war, Robert enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) at Blackboy Hill, Western Australia. It is not known whether Robert went to Western Australia purposely to enlist, or whether he was on leave after a spell in the tropical regions of Malaya as Western Australia has a dryer Mediterranean climate. There is no evidence that there were any rubber estates in Western Australia where he could work as a rubber planter. In his attestation papers he cited his previous service with the OTC from Glasgow University. Robert named his father Henry as next of kin, an indication that the Australian army did not recognize his marriage to Isabella since it was conducted outside the church.
Shortly after Robert enlisted he sailed for the Middle East where he served with the ‘Unit 4th Reinforcement to the 16th Battalion’ in the Gallipoli Peninsular campaign – a campaign that was a disastrous failure. Of the estimated over 250,000 allied casualties at Gallipoli, approximately half were due to sickness, chiefly dysentery, diarrhoea and enteric fever. Improper hygiene, poor sanitation and a breakdown in supply lines were exacerbated by the terrain and close fighting which did not allow for the dead to be buried. Flies and other vermin flourished in the heat, which caused epidemic sickness. Robert was one of the casualties of disease and was declared unfit due to enteric fever. He convalesced on the Royal Navy hospital ship ‘Somalia’ and military hospitals at Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt.
Robert returned to the Blackboy Hill military camp by August 21, 1916. Declared ‘temporarily unfit’, he served on home service duties in Australia, address Forest Street, Freemantle, Western Australia.
After five months Robert recovered. The war was going badly for the allies and there was a great need for men for the battlefields of France. On January 15, 1917 again at Blackboy Hill, Robert joined the 1st Anzac Corps Salvage Section, a group that recovered equipment from the battlefield. Robert listed Isabella as next of kin, although identified her as ‘a friend’ another indication that the Australian Army did not recognize the marriage. In order to ensure Isabella’s widow’s pension if Robert was killed in action the marriage needed to be formalized.
Robert arrived in the UK by March 1917. He was posted to Darrington, Salisbury Plains, Wiltshire, England. In early March he went ‘absent without leave’ for ten days. It seems likely that he travelled to Mauchline to see Isabella and arranged to be married in church to ensure the legality of Isabella’s position as his wife. As a penalty for his absence without permission Robert was sentenced March 21, 1917 to eleven days detention and forfeited 22 day’s pay. Although planned in March the marriage did not occur for five months as wartime marriages of military personnel were time consuming to arrange, particularly in this situation. First Robert spent his ten days in detention and possibly some time being confined to barracks. Then Robert requested permission to marry from his Commanding Officer and then requested leave to do so. Arrangements with the church took time as the banns had to be read on three successive Sundays. On August 17, 1917, the formalities completed, Isabella and Robert married in Mauchline, Ayrshire. In the eyes both of the church and AIF “Mrs I. Ormsby (Wife), Ayrshire, Scotland” was Robert’s next of kin.
In early October 1917 Robert sailed for France and carried out his duties of battle field equipment salvage. He did not return to the UK until March 1919 when he was admitted to King George’s Hospital in London as an Influenza casualty. He was discharged from the AIF in London on May 14, 1919.
For his war service Robert was issued three medals: the 1914/15 Star; the British War Medal (BWM); and the Victory Medal (VM).
There is no sign that Robert returned to rubber planting or southeast Asia after the war. Neither Robert nor Isabella appear in the records of passengers leaving the UK. He may have turned to a career as a journalist. At the time of Isabella’s death on February 15, 1947 she was ‘widow of Robert Lamont Ormsby, journalist’. Death information for Robert has not been found in a search of the Scottish records. A death record for a ‘Robert L. Ormsby’, in Pancras, London in 1937 requires further research.
Robert and Isabella may have had a daughter in 1928. Hopefully a family member or descendent will see this and help add more information so that Robert and Isabella can continue to tell more of TheirOwnStory.