William Leefe Robinson was born on 14th July 1895 in India where his father, Horace Robinson, owned a coffee estate. He was educated at St Bee’s College, Cumberland. He entered Sandhurst on 10th August 1914 (10 days after the outbreak of war). He was commissioned into the Worcestershire Regiment in December 1914 and was posted to FortTregantle near Plymouth where he found life uninteresting and looked for a posting elsewhere.
Having failed to get a posting to West Africa he was accepted into The Royal Flying Corps in March 1915, and in May while working as a spotter he was injured when the aircraft he was in experienced a near miss with an A/A shell. The explosion caused the aircraft to buck and whirl. This resulted in William having 2 pieces of shrapnel removed from his right arm.
By early 1916 he had learnt to fly and was posted to Hornchurch where he was part of the London Defences and specialized in night flying against German airships.
On the night of 2/3rd September 1916 he attacked and shot down an airship over London. This was the first airship to be shot down over Britain. His exploits quickly made it to the papers and by the end of the week he had been presented with the Victoria Cross by King George V at Windsor.
His Citation reads
“For most Conspicuous bravery. He attacked an enemy airship under circumstances of great difficult and danger, and sent it crashing to the ground as a flaming wreck. He had been in the air for more than two hours and had previously attacked another airship during his flight.”
London Gazette, 5th September 1916.
After this event he received a great deal of public adulation, as well as promotion to Captain.
In March 1917 he returned to France where he, while leading six new Bristol fighters, engaged in a short, fierce battle that resulted in his being shot down and taken prisoner by the Germans. While in captivity he became notorious for his escape attempts. He was court-martialled and sentenced to a month in solitary confinement after trying to escape four times in as many months. He was then sent to Holtzminden where the commandant disliked him. After an escape attempt there he was persecuted ceaselessly.
On his return to England following the end of the war he was a very weak man as a result of the treatment he had received. He contracted influenza and on 31st December 1918 he died, aged 23.
Lieutenant Robinson’s Victoria Cross is the only VC of the Worcestershire Regiment not on display in the Worcestershire Soldier gallery. It is part of Lord Ashcroft’s V.C. collection and is currently on display at the Imperial War Museum.