BC Black History Awareness Society (BCBHAS)

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” - Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr.

Pte. Robert Burt Gilbert



Robert Burt Gilbert was born on July 31, 1887 in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Both parents, James Gilbert & Matilda Rogers were born in the U.S.
1916: Lived at 846 Fisgard St. with his sister Tina Lee
Enlisted on January 29, 1916 Regiment: 706854, Canadian Infantry, 103rd Battalion Distinguishing Characteristics: Scar on forehead between the eyebrows.
1917 April 9 Battle of Vimy Ridge –German officer decorates Gilbert with his Iron Cross for Gilbert’s bravery and courage.
1918 Stationed at Willows Camp in Victoria

 After the Military:

1921 Census: Lived at 844 Johnson St. Victoria; Occupation: Labourer
1940 Vancouver Voter List: Lived at 612 Hasting St. E. Apt 9, Occupation: Longshoreman

He died in Vancouver on May 12, 1952 and was buried on May 14, 1952 at Mt. View Cemetery, Vancouver in the soldier’s section. Robert never married; his death was registered by his niece, Mary Johnson, Vancouver.

  Summary of the Newspaper articles:   

Colonist: May 30, 1917 (p.5): PRISONER GIVES HIS CAPTOR IRON CROSS

Captured German Officer Decorates Pte. R. Gilbert, a Victoria Soldier, Who Took Him and Twenty-Four Men.

This article recounts information from Mr. Charles Alexander of 1943 Mason Street who writes” yesterday I received an Iron Cross. It came by letter from Pte. R. Gilbert, one of Victoria’s colored soldiers who went away with the 103rd Battalion, Vancouver Island Timber Wolves, and has been on the firing line several months.” 

Colonist: September 7, 1917 (p.9): VICTORIAN TELLS HOW HE WON IRON CROSS

Pte. R Gilbert, Colored Soldier at Vimy Ridge Brought Out Forty Prisoners – Captive Officer Decorated Him

This is an extensive article written by Gilbert describing how he went into an enemy tunnel after the Canadian charge at Vimy Ridge and single-handed, captured some forty Germans, how the captive officer recognized his bravery and gave him his Iron Cross, and other details of the exploit, in which he was armed with a revolver, a pair of wire-cutters and some bombs, are described by Pte. R. Gilbert, a Victoria colored soldier, who went away with the 103rd Battalion, in a letter just received by Mr. Lorenzo E. Jones, 920 Caledonia Avenue. With the letter Pte. Gilbert sends the Iron Cross given him by the German officer.  It is suspended from a red and black striped ribbon.

Colonist: June 30, 1918 (p.5):  Photo of Pte. R. Gilbert (shown above).  The caption below the photo reads:   Pte. Robert Gilbert went oversees with the 2nd C.M.R. and some time ago returned to the city disabled after seeing much active service oversees.  He is now at the Willows Camp.  One of the boys in France, writing a few weeks ago to a friend here said: “I was glad to hear of Gilbert again.  Everyone in France who came in contact with him couldn’t help but like him, and if it were not for his colour I believe he would have had the Victoria Cross for his work on Vimy Ridge a year ago today (April 9).  The colour business is an awful drawback at times, but we all know he is the whitest black man that ever lived.” Gilbert’s single-handed captured twenty-five Germans and a machine-gun. Among the Germans taken was an officer who gave the Victoria boy his Iron Cross, which is at present on view in the window of the Colonist office.”