He was the eldest son of William Horn of Woodcote, Midlothian and Myra Horn, nee Macandrew, and one of three Wykehamist brothers. He came to Winchester from Mr. A.J.C. Dowding’s school at St. Ninian’s, Moffat. He was a member of the First XI cricket team, and according to his mother’s privately printed memoir of her son, “Lieutenant Colonel Robert Horn DSO., MC: A Sketch by his Mother” “he worked well, played heartily and became a good oar”.
He left for Sandhurst in 1898 which he found less of a challenge than Winchester and “very slack after the Winchester Army Class”. In 1900 he joined the 1st Battalion Seaforth Highlanders in Egypt where he spent three years. Within a year he was a Lieutenant and Acting Adjutant, a responsible position for such a young officer and his commanding officer wrote: “I meant to have written before to tell you how well the boy has done as Acting Adjutant; he has astonished me beyond measure, and never forgets to do what you tell him”. In 1903 he served in India, which at first he hated although he later came to love the country.
He was still in India when the First World War started and at the beginning of September 1914 the 1st Seaforths embarked for France, arriving in Marseilles in October. With Horn in the battalion was his cousin, fellow Wykehamist Lieutenant Ian Maclean Macandrew (I 1905-1910) (killed in action, 23/12/1914 – see individual entry). Another Wykehamist, Captain Arthur Buchanan-Baillie-Hamilton (B 1890-1894, killed in action, May 9th 1915 – see individual entry) had joined 1st Seaforths in March 1914, and he and Horn became friends. They saw action for the first time together at Richebourg St Vaast on 29th October when they endured heavy shelling, after which they moved into trenches on the Estaires-La Bassee road, near Pont Logy and spent the next few months under constant sniper and shell attack. Horn wrote up the Battalion’s War Diary:
November 1st 1914, Neuve Chapelle: Strengthened line when not being shelled or sniped: collected some dead and wounded of other corps between the two lines. Casualties one killed, three wounded (one accidental).
November 5th, Neuve Chapelle: The whole line shelled all day; enemy entrenching and sapping up to within four hundred yards of our line in places, with Maxims. Very cold at night with thick fog. Casualties one killed, one died of wounds, and eight wounded.
On 7th November 1914 he recorded that his cousin, 2nd Lieutenant Ian Macandrew had been wounded and then on 22nd December he wrote to his parents that “Ian was killed last night doing splendidly gallant work… Can you do anything to prepare them [his parents] for the terrible news?” In late 1914 he wrote home that “The little farm-house where we repair at night for food, and orderly room, is shelled daily now. One shell burst on the roof as I was finishing a hurried breakfast at 0745, but the bags of grain we put there kept everything out, and only result a room full of smoke and a little dizziness… Shrapnel set our house on fire for good and all, confound them! And I’ve got my sword and some kit in it.” In 1915 the British recaptured this ground and Horn’s sword was recovered and returned to him, although it had been badly damaged in the fire.
By April 1915 Horn was acting as battalion commander. He had been recommended for a D.S.O., but when asked to endorse the recommendation substituted the lower award of an M.C.
He was badly wounded at Festubert on 9th May 1915 in which the Battalion lost half its men, with 10 officers killed, 10 wounded; other ranks 131 killed and 346 wounded. Horn, in the War Diary described it as “the worst day the regiment has ever experienced. One man, quite a level-headed orderly of mine, went clean off his head and put his arms around my neck and sang.” Horn, who as Adjutant had no role in the attack, had gone out to try and rescue some of the wounded men in No Man’s Land but was hit in the wrist and thigh whilst doing so, the latter from an explosive bullet. He was mentioned in Despatches for his efforts that day. He was transferred back to England and to the Royal Free Hospital in London where he received a visit from the King and Queen; a few days later Queen Alexandra also visited. Alexandra, who was almost completely deaf “stroked my hand and poor-thinged me a lot. Self and Queen Alexandra talked hard, simultaneously, and much amused the attendant ladies”. Whilst recovering from a gall-stone operation in November he was presented with his friend Buchanan-Baillie-Hamilton’s sword to replace his own, damaged, one. After a long recuperation he was finally back in France by the middle of June 1916 where he took up command of 7th Seaforths and saw action at the capture of Longueval, Delville Wood and Le Transloy. Later that year they went into battle again, this time at Warlencourt where they again suffered heavy losses, gaining only 200 yards of ground. Horn looked back on the battle in a letter dated October 16th: “I have just been in another bloody fight, and spent most of yesterday sleeping. The country is now nothing but shell-holes, some being bigger than others. One of our men was brought in alive today after lying out in that appalling weather, close to our trenches, for nearly nine days! His leg was smashed by a shell, yet now progressing well… ”
In February 1917 the intended Arras offensive was made known and prior to the attack on 9th April, Horn made a personal reconnaissance along the canal tow-path for several nights, as a result of which his men carried out a successful raid. He was mentioned in Despatches and was awarded his first D.S.O. in recognition of his work on those nights. Shortly after this he succumbed to trench fever and was out of action until the beginning of May, when he was granted 11 days home leave. Soon after his return he was assigned to act as a temporary Brigadier, though when the Battle of Menin Road began on September 13th he was, to his annoyance, kept from his battalion to serve as a spare Brigadier in case of need. He was very quickly back in the trenches however, and records the experiences of being heavily shelled at Hell-Fire Corner on 22nd September. He was slightly gassed, though he remained on duty.
Preparations were then in hand for an attack on the village of Passchendaele, the horrors of which he describes in letters home and in the war diary. He was on home leave later that year and on 24th November was in London to be presented with his D.S.O. by the King.
In March 1918, when the Germans undertook their first great attack in the West, Lieutenant Colonel Horn was in command of the 5th Army Musketry School, what he described as a “rotten job”. He immediately collected together an odd battalion out of 68 different units and led them into position at Aubercourt where they helped prevent the German advance across the river. Horn returned to his brigade on 17th April and was killed in action the following day at Scherpenberg in Flanders, when a German 8″ shell struck the brigade Mess Hut just after the officers had just finished breakfast. Horn was killed by shrapnel injuries to his head. He was 36 years old, and had just been awarded a Bar to his D.S.O.
Sources: War Diary of 7th Seaforth Highlanders, National Archives, Kew. Privately printed memoir: “Lieutenant Colonel Robert Horn DSO., MC: A Sketch by his Mother”.
- Surname: Horn
- Forenames or initials: Robert
- House: C
- Years in School: 1895-1898
- Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
- Regiment: Seaforth Highlanders
- Date of Birth: 30th May 1881
- Date of Death: 18th April 1918
- How Died: Killed in action
- Location in War Cloister: Outer A4
- Decoration: DSO and Bar; MC
- Burial Site: LIJSSENTHOEK MILITARY CEMETERY: Grave XXVII.G.21