Last week the late Captain John Robson spoke about the ships he sailed upon, and his two close encounters with death, this week he reminisces on various aspects of his naval career, most notably his shore leave in Belfast when he met his future wife
“I met my wife at a Tea Dance in Belfast High Street, it was organised by the Women’s League of Health and Beauty I think. They organised tea dances for the services and they got the WRENS in to provide female company. She was Laura McKean but they pronounced it McCain.
Asked was it love at first sight? “I think so,” replied John. “I know I got her phone number and I then phoned her up, we met again, and it went from there.”
Asked how he found time for courtship when he was away at sea, John said: “Well we got a fair amount of leave, get leave every three or four months, a week maybe, once a year you probably got a fortnight off.”
While discussing the times he was courting his future wife, John pointed to a lovely black & white photograph on the wall.
“That photo was taken in the woods at Carrickfergus, in a forest nearby, actually I tried to find that very spot after the war, but never could. During the war we used to go walking and we walked all round the place. Once we got married of course we went further a field. Spending a weekend in Newry, or a week in Limavady, but that was after the war.” With pride John adds, “I took that photo. I set the camera then rushed back and sat down beside her, and that’s what came out.”
“The wedding would have been in St Peter’s but my mother-in-law was not well, so we got special permission from the bishop, and we were allowed to be married in the living room, so Laura’s mother could be there. I like telling people we were married in the living room.”
“My wife was in the WRENS. She joined up in Belfast as a duty WREN living at home. She was about 19 when I met her, and she was 20 when we got married. When she was 21 she was offered a commission so she went off and did her course and then got drafted to Liverpool where I would be sometimes harboured.” John paused for a moment and added: “very good of the admiralty that, making sure the wives got together when they could with their husbands.”
Captain and Mrs Robson would have two girls, Wendy and Carol. “Carol has two boys and a girl of her own,” added John.
Returning to his own wartime story John said: “When I was on a ship called Hastings, which was doing escort work, protecting convoys, we were based in Derry. We went to Freetown regularly from Derry.”
“Later I was navigator on an aircraft carrier. What we did was to ferry aircraft back and forth across the Atlantic. When that was over and we got the squadron trained up then we went out to the Pacific. Reached Sydney on St. Patrick’s Day! Big fun and games! Quite a lot of the crew were Irish.”
“Well we sailed out from Australia, up to Japan, and provided air cover to the fleet train of supplies. Every day we put four aircraft up, we did that continuously for about three or four months. We thought we were going to have to stay doing this type of work for the attack on Japan.”
“While lying off the coast of Japan,” said John who suddenly, as he recalled this moment in time, threw open his arms and with great expression revealed: “the war suddenly ended.” “It was such an amazing feeling” said John still moved by the news which bore such good tidings, that he received on August 14, 1945, when it was announced that Japan had surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.