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Neville Arthur Robinson, June 1945

Corporal Neville Arthur Robinson

 

Unit : Anti-Tank Platoon, Support Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion

Army No. : 6855132

 

Neville Arthur Robinson was born at Epsom, Surrey, on the 3rd August 1924. He was educated at a Prep School and then Epsom College, where, in 1941, he joined the Officer Training Corps. He enlisted in the King's Royal Rifle Corps (60th Rifles) on the 22nd August 1941, a few weeks after his 17th birthday, but after the completion of his training volunteered for the Airborne Forces, passed the selection course at Hardwick Hall and was then sent on parachute course 36 which ran at RAF Ringway from the 5th to 12th November 1942. In December 1942, he embarked for North Africa aboard the SS Strathallan, which was torpedoed en route. On arrival he was sent as a reinforcement to the 2nd Battalion, who were recovering from their heavy losses on the Oudna operation, and thereafter served with them for several months on the front line in Tunisia. He was then promoted to Corporal and assigned to the Anti-Tank Platoon, with which he saw action in Sicily in July 1943.

 

"I was one of those torpedoed on the way to North Africa. After we jumped off the sinking, burning S.S. "Strathallan" we were taken into Oran aboard H.M.S. "Pathfinder", a fast destroyer, later sunk in the Far East."

 

"On joining the battalion in Tunisia I was placed in the Intelligence Section at B.H.Q. [Battalion Headquarters] and we operated as line infantry until just before the final attack on Tunis and Bizerta in 1943. During that time I was fortunate enough to work for some excellent I.O's [Intelligence Officer's] and often accompanied Lt-Col. 'Johnny' Frost on his recce's, acting partly as a map and document carrier and partly as defence while he examined the ground and discussed things with the [Royal artillery] Battery Commander. In that regard I learned a great deal, particularly at the Battalion 'O' [Orders] Groups."

 

"Interestingly enough, years later I was C.O. of the 2nd Battalion, The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada and during a winter exercise in Alberta was congratulated by the then Commander of the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade Group, Brig-General (later Lt-General), Stan Waters on the technique I used during a difficult battalion 'withdrawal by night' formal order. In fact I was using a method used by John Frost in 1942 that I had learned in the hills around Medjez-El-Bab!"

 

"I was with B.H.Q. at the 'Happy Valley' and Tamera/Cork Wood battles and we got pretty well mixed up in the fighting, even fixing bayonets during the night-attack that recaptured the ground we had given up and when B.H.Q. fixes bayonets [you know] things are getting a bit ropey!"

 

"After the end of the Tunisian Campaign I was promoted to Corporal and later posted to the Anti-Tank Platoon (Lt. Levien) near Sousse, where we took off for Sicily with two P.I.A.T's in my section. I guess the P.I.A.T. is pretty laughable now, but then the Germans and Italians had a lot of respect for that "drainpipe with a spring and its noisy bombs!" [1]

 

Robinson was then selected to become an officer and was sent back to the UK, where he attended the War Office Selection Board (WOSB) at 148 Pre Officer Cadet Training Unit at Wrotham, Kent. He was an Officer Cadet from the end of 1943 until the 29th July 1944, when he was granted an emergency commission (army number 330991) in the Parachute Regiment and posted to the 11th Parachute Battalion in Leicestershire. On the 18th September 1944, the Battalion took-off for Arnhem, but Robinson remained behind with the Rear Party. On the return of the remnants of the Battalion, it was merged with the 3rd Parachute Battalion.

 

In 1945, the 3rd Parachute Battalion was transferred to the 6th Airborne Division, and prior to their planned move to India for operations against the Japanese, Robinson was selected to precede them as Second-in-Command of the Battalion's advance party. In the event the war in the Pacific came to an end before the remainder of the Division could be deployed, and so the advance party was ordered to rejoin the Battalion in Palestine. Robinson left the 3rd Battalion in 1946 when he was sent to Greece as a Training Officer to the Greek Army during the civil war of 1946-47. He was subsequently posted to the MEDLOC Transit Camp in France as Acting Adjutant. On his return to the UK in 1948, he was promoted to Acting Major and, until 1951, commanded "C" Company of the 10th (T.A.) Battalion The Parachute Regiment.

 

"I only remember "Loopy" Levien as I was with [the Anti-Tank] platoon a very short time. After Sicily and coming out of 104 Field Hospital I was sent to the War Office Selection Board near Constantine and, from there, directly to Algiers to board a troopship for the U.K. I then went to Pre O.C.T.U. at Wrotham, Kent and then to O.C.T.U. at Douglas, Isle of Man."

 

"I was commissioned into 11 PARA, then we amalgamated with 3 PARA at Melton Mowbray. We then replaced 1 CANADIAN PARA in 6 AIRBORNE DIVISION and went to the Far east on the "Maloga" - from there to Palestine with 3 PARA and then to Greece with the U.K. Training Teams attached to the Royalist Army."

 

"Perhaps I should mention that we called Lt. Levien (now Major. Levien and doing a great job of holding the PARA 2 CLUB together) "Loopy" in an affectionate way! All the Platoon Commanders in the 2nd Parachute Battalion in North Africa and Sicily were a little crazy!" [2]

 

In late 1951, Robinson emigrated to Canada and was gazetted to the Canadian Army (as a Lieutenant), Royal Canadian School of Infantry, as an Instructor, O.C.P. 1952-53. He served in Korea from 1953-55 as a Captain and Second-in-Command of "D" Company, 1st Battalion The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada. On his return he took up the post of Acting Training Officer to the Battalion at Calgary, and in 1958 he spent a year at the Canadian Army Command and Staff College at Army Headquarters. From 1959-63, he was posted to the Directorate of Infantry and was subsequently promoted to Major. He returned to the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada in 1963 as Second-in-Command of their 2nd Battalion. During the following year he was posted to the Canadian Contingency Force in Cyprus as Deputy Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General. In 1967, he returned to Canada to take command of the 2nd Battalion before becoming a Senior Staff Officer at NATO Headquarters in Brussels from 1968-72. For the final move of his military career, Robinson returned to Canada and served as Deputy Commander Vancouver Military District from 1972-75, then GSO-I (promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel) of the British Columbia Military Area 1975-79, and finally before his retirement, to Vancouver District (as a full Colonel) from 1979-82.

 

"I spent the next 31 years in the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada (Regular). I went to Korea with 2 Q.O.R of C, then Europe, two tours in Cyprus with U.N.F.I.C.Y.P - one as C.O. and Commander Kyrenia District and served at N.A.T.O. HQ in Brussels for four years as a Senior Staff Officer to the Canadian Military Representative to the N.A.T.O. Military Committee."

 

"From there I went to Vancouver B.C. as Deputy Commander of the Military District and then was promoted to full Colonel as Commander of the District from where I retired in 1982 after 41 years of military service." [3]

 

The following is an extract from an interview in Canada:

 

"Almost as we got our [parachute] wings, the group I was with, was told that we were on our way to join the 2nd Parachute Battalion, which had already gone overseas. We then went up into Tunisia, into the line, which had some similarities at that time with the First World War in that there was a sort of a trench system. But instead of being very close to the Germans, like the First World War, we were usually on both sides of a valley. They were on one side and we were on the other side. And there was a lot of patrol work."

 

"The 1st Parachute Brigade, that we were part of, was really, it was called "The Fire Brigade," that was because we were part of the 1st British Army. They moved us wherever there was a dangerous break in the line or where an attack needed to be done to retake some ground that had been lost and so on. And so that was what the 1st Parachute Brigade did. And that's where we earned the name the Red Devils, because of the maroon beret that we wore. The Germans got to call us Die Roten Teufel. Die Roten Teufel in English means the "Red Devils." I think afterwards, we were told that we had caused more casualties to the enemy than any other brigade in the 1st Army and also had taken more prisoners than any other brigade."

 

"We went back and started training, back in the parachute role, ready for the invasion of Sicily [July 1943]. We jumped on the Primosole Bridge, which ran near the coast of Sicily, near the east coast, over the Simeto River. And the idea was for us, the 1st Parachute Brigade, to jump and take the bridge so the [British] 8th Army, under General Montgomery, would come up and grab the bridge in order to get across into what was called the Catanian Plain. Four hundred of the 1,800 paratroops, of the 1st Parachute Brigade, that had taken off from Sicily, only about 400 actually dropped on the correct drop zone. But we did hang on and the 4th Armoured Brigade of the 8th Army came up and the bridge that we had had for a few hours, we had to let it go, but we were keeping the Germans off it by simply firing at it from the hills from the south of it. And we kept the Germans from occupying the bridge until this armoured brigade turned up with the tanks. And then they took it."

 

"And from there, at that time I was a corporal, and from there I was selected to go to the War Office selection board for a commission [as officer]. And one day, they paraded us, and said that we were going off to somewhere unknown and that our only instructions were not to ask any questions at all of anybody and just to do as we were told."

 

"Off we went, loaded onto a train in London and arrived at Edinburgh Castle, and we were again told not to ask any questions and we were also told we had to sign the Official Secrets Act. We were part of a thing called [Operation] FORTITUDE NORTH, but it was part of what Churchill called the "Barricade of Lies." We were told that we would be moved as necessary, and that we would receive instructions on how to use the set and what to say in them on the radios on a one or two-day basis. Each time we were moved, they'd come with a truck and pick us up and move us but we always seemed to finish up at the top of some hill or mountain somewhere. And then a dispatch rider would arrive and just give us a piece of paper which was simply the messages we had to send on that radio set, at the time that was given on the piece of paper which we then had to destroy after we'd used it."

 

"And what we'd been doing, we were part of the British 4th Army, which of course didn't exist, other than on the radios. And the whole thing we were up to was sending messages that the Germans could easily pick up, which when they put them together, looked as if we were getting to invade Denmark and Norway. And apparently, it worked, because the Germans kept several hundred thousand troops in Denmark, Norway and didn't move them because they were afraid that an invasion was coming from that part of Scotland and the British 4th Army. And, of course, we were only there for a certain part of it, but it was all to do with D-Day and making sure that the Germans didn't move troops down into Normandy."

 

"We were allowed actually down into pubs every now and again, and there were lots of pubs in Scotland. But the common factor was, about the pubs we seemed to go to, was that whenever we seemed to go and be able a chance to go and get a beer, that two extraordinarily attractive WAFs [Women's Air Force] would appear. And they always seemed to turn up wherever we turned up. As a matter of fact, one of the guys finally took one of them out. When he came back, he wouldn't say a word (laughs)."

 

After emigrating to Canada he served in the Canadian Army from 1952 to 1982, sixteen of those years with The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada. Postwar tours and postings included Egypt, Palestine, Greece, France, Korea, Cyprus, and Belgium. Under his leadership as Commanding Officer of 2nd Battalion of The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, the battalion won numerous awards, and many of his officers went on to distinguished careers, four of them becoming generals. He retired from the military in 1982 as Commander Vancouver District after 41 years of army service. He also saw considerable service outside of the army:

 

        Appointed Honorary Aide-De-Camp to the Governor General of Canada in 1980

        Past President of the Royal United Services Institute

        Past Commissioner of the Delta Police Board

        Past member of the Delta Citizens Advisory Board

        Member of and past director of the Beach Grove Golf Club

        Member of The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada Association

        Member of The Parachute Regiment Association

        Member of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion Association

        Member of the 'Para 2 Club' (1940-45)

        The National Defence Committee of the Federation of Military Institutes

        Past member of the Board of Governors of the Outward Bound School

        Member of the Dominion Institute Memory Project

        Member of the Health Administrators Association of BC

        Served as the Administrator of the Canadian Red Cross for BC and the Yukon.

 

Neville Arthur Robinson died on the 25th August 2013. The following tributes were paid to him:

 

Major General John Sharpe, CMM, CD, ex-The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, former Commanding Officer 1st Bn Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, former Commander of 1st Canadian Brigade Group and Canadian Forces Europe. "I only served once with Robbie Robinson - First Battalion at Calgary in the late 1950s. He was a Captain and the 2IC of our rifle company. During an annual summer concentration at Wainwright I will always remember his complete dedication to improving the knowledge of the junior officers and NCOs. No one took training more seriously - particularly tactical training. I can still recall standing in line for lunch with him as he continued to pepper me with questions about various tactical scenarios confronting a leading platoon in the advance to contact. He was an excellent role model and all who came under his guidance benefited greatly. He also had an excellent sense of humour. Later, during another summer concentration at CFB Wainwright when he was CO 2 QOR of C, he invited all the officers of 1 QOR of C to a dinner at their tented Officers' Mess in the southeast corner of the training area. The vehicle park was some hundreds of metres away from the Mess. As we made our way single file to the Mess we were ambushed with rifle and machine gun fire, thunder flashes, artillery simulators and - best of all - mortars firing wet and very sticky spaghetti! They must have practiced this before our arrival as they had the range down to a T and we were covered with the stuff. The stains remained on our combat clothing for several washings! Great fun to start off a fun evening, building up the spirit of the Regimental officers."

 

Major General Herb Pitts, MC, CD, former Commanding Officer, 1st Bn The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, Regimental Commander, Canadian Airborne Regiment and Commandant, Canadian Forces. "I have known Robbie since 1955 when he returned from Korea and reported to the 1st battalion in Calgary. Our careers paralleled each other for many years of regimental and other duties. It was an honour to serve as his Operations Officer (having been "pulled" from D Company) during his term as Acting CO at Wainwright in 1964. We were a happy battalion having only four majors left in the unit for the summer and Robbie ran it well. I was his PMC at Wainwright when the incident described by John Sharpe (above) took place. My memory is slightly different as the organizer of the event in that we got the attendees from our sister battalion to sit for a photo (along with Robbie as decoy) so the range of the "spaghetti mortar" was known! Robbie was a tribute to his regiment, his battalion and his country throughout his service and after retiring. I had the opportunity, on behalf of the Rifles, to tell him this and to thank him, a day before his passing as his wife, Brenda, held the phone to his ear. A good friend and excellent soldier has left the square for well-deserved rest. We'll miss him but remember him. "Thanks Robbie from all of us"."

 

Col Paul F. Hughes, CD, former Honorary Colonel, The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada. "When I joined The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada in 1962, Robbie Robinson had already been in the army for almost 20 years, had served in the British Army's Parachute Regiment since its formation in the early 1940s and had been under fire in North Africa (where he was wounded) as well as in Sicily and Italy. The Queen's Own was fortunate that when he came to Canada in early 1950 he chose our regiment in which to continue his military career. He served for 30 more years in the Canadian Forces, commanding the 2nd Battalion The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada until 1968. He is remembered respectfully and fondly by those who served with him as having shaken the hand of every member of the battalion on parade on that fateful day in 1968 when, following an emotional parade at Calgary's Currie Barracks, the 2nd battalion stood down for the last time, victim of government cutbacks. On behalf of all members of The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, particularly those members of the regiment who proudly wear the wings and maroon beret identifying them as airborne-qualified riflemen, I offer our condolences to his family. He was a great soldier and comrade and we are proud and privileged to have known him and to have had him march in our ranks."

 

Col Richard (Dick) Cowling, CD, former Honorary LCol The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, former Commanding Officer 3rd Battalion PPCLI and Commander, Canadian Airborne Regiment. "Whenever I think of Robbie I see a smiling face with a hint of mischief in the eyes and the most pleasant, gentlemanly demeanor. He was a brave soldier; loved by his troops and admired by his peers."

 

LCol John Fotheringham, CD, former Commanding Officer, The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada. "Colonel N.A. 'Robbie' Robinson, CO 2nd Battalion QOR '66-'68, joined his fellow warriors in the sky at 2005hrs August 25 2013. If there are spirits for good in this world, their number is one stronger. "Salute.""

 

Colonel Lawrence N. (Larry) Stevenson, Honorary Colonel, The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, former member The Canadian Airborne Regiment. "As I read Colonel Robinson's biography I was reminded why his generation has often been referred to as the "Greatest Generation". His illustrious career spanned 41 years and he served in two wars, the Second World War and Korea. He was an outstanding leader who had a gift for nurturing talent and getting the best out of people. As a fellow paratrooper I can say with certainty that Colonel Robinson will be missed by many current and former members of that elite fraternity."

 

Captain Hamilton (Ham) Whitty, British Army exchange officer from The Buffs, an allied regiment of The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada since 1914. "I was very sorry to hear about the death of Col "Robbie" Robinson. Although I served at Currie Barracks for two years, 1965-67, initially as a company 2/IC and then OC recce platoon, my time with the battalion was very short. The 2nd battalion was selected for UN duty in Cyprus so thereafter I was attached to Brigade HQ. I do however have happy memories of my time with Robbie's battalion amongst the "mozzies" at Wainwright and eating oysters flown in from English Bay whilst training at a TA camp somewhere in the Okanagan valley. Also I was very grateful to Robbie for giving me the last place on a parachute course subject to my getting all the others on the course "in shape", and for letting his tame Brit accompany any company or platoon to experience different parts of Western Canada. I have happy memories of my time with 2 QOR of C and the many kind friends I made, not least of whom was CSM Olmstead who taught me how to survive in the snow and lent me all sorts of kit I am sure he shouldn't, with which to go camping round Canada and the U.S. Robbie was a fine soldier who will be greatly mourned."

 

Wayne Dehnke, President Canadian Airborne Forces Association, Branch #8 - Bornewest. "Robbie was a great soldier, paratrooper and rifleman. He was an outstanding leader and many young officers were trained by this wonderful leader/warrior. He will be sorely missed by his family, friends and fellow soldiers. On the Airborne side Robbie was a member of 1 Canadian Parachute Battalion Association and the Canadian Airborne Forces Association."

 

[1] Letter from Colonel. N.A. Robinson to 'Bob' Hilton. 15 December 1998.

[2] & [3] Letter from Colonel. N.A. Robinson to 'Bob' Hilton. 9 February 1999.

 

 

My thanks to Bob Hilton for this account.

 

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