Welford, Robert Arthur

Robert Arthur Welford

1916 – 1977

Robert Arthur Welford

Robert Arthur Welford

The information below comes from an article written by one of Robert Welford’s daughters, Jan Hunter, which was published in the Darlington & Stockton Times’ Weekend Section on 20 January 1917 after she visited Scalby to see the newly-discovered Roll of Honour.  The photo and article appear here with her permission.

To me the most poignant name on the roll is that of my father, Robert Arthur Welford, the young butcher of Scalby, who was recently married to my mother, Margaret Leadlay, when he joined the RAF in 1942. He began his time at RAF St Angelo, near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, and then, in 1944, was sent to Egypt where he was stationed at 971, Balloon Squadron, Alexandria.

How I know this is that after he died in 1977, we discovered his war diaries. My mother who, knowing that I had aspirations as a writer, handed them to me and asked me to “do something with them”, and they turned out to be a fascinating read about his day to day life in the mess tent, where he was a cook. He writes about the films he saw, about his opinion of the officers – not good, and he was sometimes confined to camp for not showing them enough respect. The diaries reveal him sneaking out at night to cabarets and bars, and they contain vivid descriptions of the countries he visited, the hardship of losing friends and sleeping under lorries in the desert, the food he cooked and the nature that he loved.

“The path across the fields to the main camp cinema is covered with lizards, snakes and thousands of grasshoppers, and some large coloured flies as big as sparrows,” he wrote. “The dark sky is lit up by thousands of fireflies.”

He was stationed in Gaza in March 1944 and he describes the rows of tents, next to a swamp full of noisy bullfrogs which kept him awake at night, and a wood on the other side full of jackals. When three of his friends were shot in Tel Aviv, with one dying, he wrote: “I wonder what Hitler would have done in a case like this. This poor lad’s parents will get a ministry telegram telling them that their son has been killed on active service. What a hell of a world this is. It makes me wonder if there is a difference between right and wrong.”

The following day there were terrible sand storms which blew the tents away. A lot of the boys were ill with stomach disorders, and they missed their families. His entry is brief but is scrawled across a whole page: “Fed Up and Far From Home.”

After the roll of honour was discovered, I met Scalby historian Lesley Newton and we were able to link names on the roll of honour to people – my father’s friends who went to war with him – who he had mentioned in the diaries.

There was Walter Leahman, who worked in my father’s shop, and Pte S Swales, who was a good friend of my father’s and whose postings he recorded in the diary.

Another name on the roll, with a red cross beside it, is that of Sgt James Riby Boyes of the RAF Volunteer Reserve, who died on April 27, 1943, aged 25. In May 2013, his family went to a lake in Enkhuizen in north Holland to salute the relative they had never met, as the wreckage of his plane had just been discovered there.

And then there is another of his friends on the roll of honour, Walter Thompson. His name doesn’t have a red cross beside it, but in March 1942, my father wrote that he had been reported missing in Singapore.

So there is another story that needs to be completed.