This is a wonderful true and factual story sent in to me from Arlene Green about her great Uncle Bobby, a young sailor from Blantyre who died in the Second World War, aged only 22.
It was a lovely spring day in Blantyre and Jean carried a big bucket of soapy water out to her front door in Station Road. It was time to give those outside steps a good scrub. She did it every week. It was May 1940. World War 2 was well underway. As Jean scrubbed meticulously she heard a familiar voice behind her “Are you cleaning those steps again!”. She was sure of the voice but confused and she turned to see the silhouette of a sailor standing at her gate in the sunshine.
He walked in the garden path and the suns rays gave in so she could see the smiling face of her beloved younger brother Bobby. He cut a handsome figure in his navy uniform but Jean was so shocked and surprised to see him as he was supposed to be away at war on HMS Glorious, as a Radio Officer, stationed somewhere between Egypt and Malta.
After the excitement and surprise of his visit calmed down all he could tell her was that the HMS Glorious was being deployed elsewhere on a special mission but he could not and perhaps did not actually know any more details than that. It didn’t matter to Jean this was a great day, to see her baby brother unexpectedly especially in these most worrying of times when each day families dreaded the news and the arrival of telegrams with devastating news of loved ones at war never coming home. Yet here was Bobby large as life now sat in the kitchen having a cup of tea. Jean was 34 and was married with 3 children while Bobby was a young adventurer at 22 living his life on the high seas.
Not only that recently he had got himself a bit of fame. He was a talented lad and he had built a deckchair from scratch and had been pictured on the deck of the HMS Glorious sitting on it. This picture had made the front cover of the Picture Post, which on those days was like being on the Six O’Clock news. This made the whole family very proud of their baby brother.
Bobby sat happily chatting to his mother and nephew and two nieces before it was time for him to bid his goodbyes and return to say goodbye to his mother and also his He also his sweet heart, Matty Trueman, who came from High Blantyre.
When Jean waved cheerio to Bobby that day she was so happy for his visit it had really made her day.
JUNE 8th 1940
The North Sea, 170 nm W of Harstsad, Norway on route to Scapa Flow The HMS Glorious was sunk by German battlecruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Down with it went HMS Acasta and Ardent. They had been involved in the evacuation of Norway and had left the fleet to travel back independently to Scapa Flow. There was no air cover so the ships stood little chance. It would seem that the HMS Devonshire was in nearby waters at the time carrying the Norwegian King and governement to safety in Britain. This ship was under orders for strict radio silence and the commander decided to stick to his orders and mission and not go to the aid of the ship. It was 24 hours before the loss of the HMS Glorious and the location was known.
Only 40 survivors were rescued by a Norwegian Ship, 1519 sailors perished at sea while waiting to be rescued. Waiting hopefully on a passing ship to save them from the cold. Survivior accounts described some sailors in life boats freezing or holding on to debris and one by one committing themselves to a grave at sea when they could no longer hold on. Hundreds of young men brave to the very last breath. The talent, the spirit, the life not yet lived all lost in the cold waters of the North Sea. The world before them still to unfold but for them time had halted they would remain at that point in history remembered with all the others who did not come home.
Bobby was among them and no doubt thought of his childhood in Blantyre, his mother, father, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, Matty his girl – a sunnier day on board the HMS Glorious sitting on his famed deckchair. Who knows of the thinking of someone so young when they may realise their final moments are upon them, that the life at sea was about to take them.
In Blantyre spring had turned into summer. News of the sinking of the HMS Glorious started to come through, a few survivors. Everyone always hopes their own are the survivor but somewhere deep inside probably know they are gone. Then the telegram arrived – lost at sea. Jean and her family devastated at the loss. Tears start to flow that flow on for a lifetime at the undeniable tragic loss of men and women lost at war. The pain and hurt of never seeing them again, the never knowing how life would have been for them had they survived. The people they would become.
Two years later on cup final day 9th May 1942 Jean had another baby, a son and the midwife stated “that Bobby was back”. Indeed my dad was named Robert Hendry after the uncle he had never got to meet and also known as Bobby and he too can build a deckchair from scratch.
Jean, my gran, never let the memory of her brother go, she always told her grandchildren about our Great Uncle Bobby and we in turn tell our children. As a brownie and guide at the High Blantyre Cemetry for the Rememberance Day Parade I stood there seeing his name, Robert Hendry, on the memorial and recorded on the family headstone within the cemetery. His name, along with all the other war heroes is also in the history books at Edinburgh Castle and on the memorial at Plymouth. She always said that when the war had ended there was street parties and she let the children go but for her and her mother they felt unable to celebrate.
His sweetheart Matty managed to find love again. However, once in a club in London, a navy officer approached her and asked her if she had once been the girlfriend on Bobby. She replied “yes” and to her amazement he was one of the few survivors HMS Glorious and he had recognised Matty because he always saw her picture pinned on Bobby’s locker door on board ship. How many sweethearts did sailors and soldiers gaze upon photographs of and never return home to see once more in person.
For The Fallen
They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Robert Laurence Binyon
Dedicated to the memory of Robert Hendry (Bobby) and all the brave sailors who lost their lives on 8th June 1940 HMS Glorious.
by Arlene McWilliam Green