Private Ivor Rowbery
Unit : Signals Platoon, Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion The South Staffordshire Regiment
Army No. : 4928327
The following article was published in the Black Country Bugle on the 6th March 2019.
A soldier's moving last letter to his mother written on the eve of battle
by Richard Pursehouse
Ivor Rowbery, was the son of Arthur Thomas and Lilian May Rowbery, who lived in Curzon Street, Wolverhampton. When Ivor left school he went to work at the Boulton and Paul factory making Defiant aeroplanes, but yearned to 'do his bit'. He enlisted in the South Staffordshire Regiment and volunteered for the airborne forces, training for the airborne landings on Sicily in 1943. In 1944 he took part in the Battle of Arnhem - Operation Market-Garden ('Market' was the initial landings, 'Garden' was the armoured relief by XXX Corps). Ivor was killed in action near to the Old Church in Oosterbeek, near Arnhem, on Friday, 22 September, 1944.
The Staffordshire Regiment Museum at Whittington Barracks near Lichfield is planning to expand its exhibition on the airborne landings at Arnhem, ready for September 2019, the 75th anniversary of the landings. The display cases contain items donated to the museum, including the fighting smock of Major Robert Henry Cain VC. The exhibition will be expanded to cover the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment's two Victoria Cross recipients (Cain and also John Baskeyfield, from Burslem in the Potteries) awarded for actions at Arnhem, as well as dioramas, weapons and information.
In a book on sale at the museum By Land, Sea and Air on the 2nd Battalion South Staffords 1940-1945, the section on Arnhem landings includes an account on the death of Ivor Rowbery, written by Donald Marklew, also of the Signal Platoon:
"I lost a few good mates that day; they were in the same platoon I was in. First there was Ivor Rowbery, he was hit by a mortar grenade in the back, we shared the same gun-pit and I went out to the toilet and when I came back, I saw then he was killed. Together with another signaller we buried him near the Church, I reported this when I came back from a German POW camp."
Ivor Rowbery was later moved and reinterred at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery of Arnhem-Oosterbeek on 7th August, 1945. His friend Marklew comments in the book, "I once tried to read out his letter by his grave and I'm not ashamed to admit someone had to finish it for me."
In the summer of 1946 the makers of Basildon Bond writing paper held a competition for the Best Letter Written by a Members of the Armed Forces during the Second World War. Ivor's letter home won. The Staffordshire Regiment Museum has a copy of his winning letter, printed in the Tatler and Bystander in September 1946, which will be part of the expanded museum. The original two page letter is held at the Imperial War Museum [Correction: The family retains the letter]:
Usually when I write a letter it is very much overdue, and I make every effort to get it away quickly. This letter, however, is different. It is a letter I hoped you would never receive, as it is just a verification of that terse, black-edged card which you received some time ago, and which has caused you so much grief. It is because of this grief that I wrote this letter, and by the time you have finished reading it I hope that it has done some good, and that I have not written it in vain. It is very difficult to write now of future things in the past tense, so I am returning to the present.
To-morrow we go into action. As yet we do not know exactly what our job will be, but no doubt it will be a dangerous one in which many lives will be lost mine may be one of those lives. Well, Mom, I am not afraid to die. I like this life, yes - for the past two years I have planned and dreamed and mapped out a perfect future for myself. I would have liked that future to materialize, but it is not what I will but what God wills, and if by sacrificing all this I leave the world slightly better than I found it I am perfectly willing to make that sacrifice. Don't get me wrong though, Mom, I am no flag-waving patriot, nor have I ever professed to be.
England's a great little country - the best there is but I cannot honestly and sincerely say "that it is worth fighting for." Nor can I fancy myself in the role of a gallant crusader fighting for the liberation of Europe. It would be a nice thought but I would be kidding myself. No, Mom, my little world is centred around you and it includes Dad, everyone at home, and my friends at W'ton - That is worth fighting for - and if by doing so it strengthens your security and improves your lot in any way, then it is worth dying for too. Now this is where I come to the point of this letter. As I have already stated, I am not afraid to die and am perfectly willing to do so, if, by doing so, you benefit in any way whatsoever. If you do not then my sacrifice is all in vain. Have you benefited, Mom, or have you cried and worried yourself sick? I fear it is the other. Don't you see, Mom, that it will do me no good and that in addition you are undoing all the good will I have tried to do. Grief is hypocritical, useless; unfair, and does neither you nor me any good.
I want no flowers, no epitaph, no tears. All I want is for you to remember me and feel proud of me, then I shall rest in peace knowing that I have done a good job. Death is nothing final or lasting, if it were there would be no point in living; it is just a stage in one's life. To some it comes early, to others late, but it must come to everyone sometime, and surely there is no better way of dying. Besides I have probably crammed more enjoyment into my 21 years than some manage to do in 80. My only regret is that I have not done as much for you as I would have liked to do. I loved you, Mom, you were the best Mother in the World, and what I failed to do in life I am trying to make up for in death, so please don't let me down, Mom, don't worry or fret, but smile! be proud and satisfied. I never had much money, but what little I have is all yours. Please don't be silly and sentimental about it, and don't try to spend it on me. Spend it on yourself or the kiddies, it will do some good that way. Remember that where I am I am quite O.K., and providing I know you are not grieving over me I shall be perfectly happy. Well, Mom, that is all, and I hope I have not written it all in vain. Good-bye, and thanks for everything.
Your Unworthy son,
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