Friday, 18 January 2013

Rest in peace, Bob

If you've been accessing our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thegreatestraid, or the Commando Veterans' Association link below, you will have heard the sad news of Bob Wright's passing.   http://www.commandoveterans.org/cdoForum/posts/list/3795.page#13720 For those without a Facebook account, here is the posted text. 

Sad news today that Bob Wright, who I was privileged to interview on two occasions, has passed away. He is shown centre image below on the occasion of our last shoot with him. Those who knew Bob will remember him as a real gentleman, kind, helpful and self-effacing. For those new to Bob's story, here is an all-too-brief bio: his story in the raid is covered in full in 'Storming St Nazaire'.

Sapper Corporal Robert Earnest Wright was a member of A Troop, 12 Commando, having been originally with No. 267 Field Company R.E. He was born in Binton, Staffordshire, on December 24th 1918 and was therefore a mere 23 when he sailed up the Loire on board HMS Campbeltown. A chargehand joiner prior to the war, Bob was a keen sportsman, having ridden in motorcycle trials and played cricket and soccer for the village teams. Perhaps less predictably, he had also played piano accordion with a Latin-American dance band!

Bob was serving in Northern Ireland when he volunteered for Special Service, mustering in the City Hotel Londonderry (Stroke-City to those familiar with Ulsterese). 12 Commando then moved to the UK where, during a Snow and Mountain Warfare Course in Glencoe, Bob first met Gerard Brett, who would be his Party officer at Saint-Nazaire. He took part in Operation 'ANKLET', the Christmas 1941 raid on the Lofoten Islands, before being hand-picked to train in dock demolitions prior to embarking for Saint-Nazaire.

On the run-in to ramming, Bob was in the Wardroom with the others of his demolition party, making his way up to the main deck immediately after the ship hit the dock caisson. Bob was hit almost immediately, a chunk of enemy steel embedding itself in his knee. Where lesser men might have thought enough was enough, Bob - in spite of a serious wound - nevertheless got himself down onto the caisson and, carrying a dead weight of explosives in his pack, remained with Brett's party all the way through the attempted demolition of the inner dock caisson, all the time under enemy fire.

During the withdrawal Bob found refuge in a cellar with TSM Haines, Lance-Sergeant Challington, Lance-Corporals Howarth and Douglas, and Private Harding, all of who were determined to escape the tightening German cordon. Realising that he would only hold the others up, Bob allowed himself to be taken prisoner. He was eventually incarcerated in the notorious Lamsdorf PoW Camp, whose occupants were marched west late in the war to escape the Russian advance. He was eventually liberated by General George Patton's troops.

You were a brave man Bob, and you will be missed.

(Photo courtesy of Scott Van Osdol - www.vanosdol.com)
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