Stories

Robert Gillies Abercrombie (1924 - 1994)

Robert Gillies Abercrombie was born at 243 Hospital Street in Glasgow's Gorbals on 25th February, 1924. His parents were Lennoxtown-born Plumber William Alexander Abercrombie and Gorbals-born Christina Weir Macartney who had been married at the Macartney family home of 40 Abbotsford Place in the Gorbals.

Robert was named after his paternal grandfather Kilsyth-born Robert Gillies Abercrombie, a former miner and retired draper who at the time of young Robert's birth was residing at 20 Apsley Place in the Gorbals with his wife Jean Gracie Abercrombie née Linn.

Robert had a twin named Frederick Abercrombie who died at the same address aged just two days. The Cause of Death was Premature Birth and Infantile Debility. Frederick had been named after his maternal grandfather Gorbals-born Watchmaker and Jeweller Frederick Macartney who had died some eight years earlier in Belfast. His widow, now Head of Family, Isabella Brown Macartney née Baxter was residing at 40 Abbotsford Place.

1951 map showing location of 243 Hospital Street at its junction with Cathcart Road.1951 map showing location of 243 Hospital Street at its junction with Cathcart Road.National Library of Scotland

The 1951 map pinpoints the location of 243 Hospital Street in the Gorbals. It is shown near the centre of the map, next to the Cathcart Bar at the junction of Hospital Street and Cathcart Road (known as Cathcart Street at the time of the Abercrombies' residency.) The building would have been a traditional Glasgow tenement of 4 storeys with two shops and a close entrance at street level and 3 upper storeys each containing 3 apartments, with each housing a separate family. The close led to the upper storeys and through to a back court where the middens would have been located and where washing would have been hung out to dry. It is likely that each half-landing would have had a water closet shared by the three families on each landing.

The church at the top of the map is of course Alexander 'Greek' Thomson's iconic Caledonia Road Church, built in 1856 and still standing today albeit in a seriously neglected state. This church would have been a very striking feature immediately obvious to the Abercrombies when they exited the close mouth at no. 243.

Hospital Street ran north on the east side of the church and Cathcart Street ran north on the west side.

Alexander 'Greek' Thomson's Caledonia Road Church (1917)Alexander 'Greek' Thomson's Caledonia Road Church (1917)National Library of Scotland

1892 Map c.f. modern-day aerial view.1892 Map c.f. modern-day aerial view.National Library of Scotland

The aerial photo on the right shows the exact modern-day location of 243 Hospital Street. It is still pretty well at the point at which Hospital Street meets Cathcart Road which is just north of the junction of Cathcart Road and the re-routed Caledonia Road. Note Pollokshaws Road running south west, a route that the Abercrombie family were soon to take.

The Valuation Roll for 1925 shows the 9 occupiers residing at 243 Hospital Street. If there is any logic to the ordering of the names then it appears that the Abercrombie family lived one flight up. The two shops at 239 and 241 are shown, and at that time the public house next door at no. 245 (at that time probably not called the Cathcart Bar) was occupied by a certain James Flanigan who paid significantly higher rent than his neighbours!

Property Valuation Roll for 1925Property Valuation Roll for 1925Scotland's People

Tenement block incorporating 243 Hospital StreetTenement block incorporating 243 Hospital StreetGorbals in the 70s, Stenlake Publishing

This photo, taken in the 1970s, shows the building at the junction of Cathcart Road on the left and Thistle Street on the right. The pub at the gushet end is the Govanhill Bar. The Caledonia Road Church can just be seen protruding on the left side. The far end of the tenement on the left is where Cathcart Road met Hospital Street. Just out of sight therefore is where number 243 was or would have been. The building at that address would have been of exactly the same construction and design as the one on the photo. The narrative accompanying the photograph states that the block was built around 1877 and includes...

... the skewed corner design of the tenement is to accommodate Thistle Street merging at an angle with Cathcart Road. The stonework around the first floor windows is quite attractive, suggesting this building was intended for a better class of tenant. The pub outlived the tenement and survived as a single storey structure, stranded on a little island on Cathcart Road until the 1990s.

Gorbals in the 70s, Stenlake Publishing

The photo shows the building some 50 years after the Abercrombies resided there and looks in remarkably good repair and not at all like some of the properties that gave Glasgow some notoriety for its slum dwellings.

Govanhill Bar in 1991Govanhill Bar in 1991Pinterest

Young Bobby Abercrombie with his grandparents.Young Bobby Abercrombie with his grandparents.Family Album

The photograph above shows young Robert Abercrombie, known as Bobby from a very early age, aged about 2, with his mother Christina and his grandparents, namesake Robert Gillies Abercrombie and Jean Gracie Abercrombie née Linn. Also present is another Abercrombie sister. William had seven sisters, 5 of whom never married and most remained with their parents. At this time, in around 1926, Robert and Jean were still residing at 20 Apsley Place in the Gorbals. However, the building does not appear to be the back court of a Gorbals tenement building. No other address is suggested by what we know of the family history.

Bobby with Rober and Jean AbercrombieBobby with Rober and Jean AbercrombieFamily Album

Bobby is here pictured with his grandparents on the same day and in the same location as in the previous photograph. Robert would have been about 74 at this time and had retired from his most recent occupation as a Drapery Warehouseman. His wife Jean would have been 73.

Young Bobby is pictured below with his cousins Robert Gillies Abercrombie and William (Bill) Young Abercrombie who were the sons of of William's older brother David Abercrombie. The boys' mother, Margaret Stevenson Young, David's first wife, died when they were very young (ages 4 and 1) and the boys were substantially raised by the Abercrombie sisters.

Robert, Bill and Bobby AbercrombieRobert, Bill and Bobby AbercrombieFamily Album

The dwelling behind is clearly the same as in the previous photos and is not a tenement building. It is likely to be a similar style to the building in the backgound which gives the appearance of being a two storey semi-detached villa. Such dwellings were very rare, or perhaps even non-existent in the Gorbals area of Glasgow and is likely to have been located elsewhere in a suburban neighbourhood.

Abercrombie Family c1927Abercrombie Family c1927Family Album

Another Abercrombie family photograph taken at the same back door in the same location. Young Bobby, holding his mother Christina's hand, looks to be about 3 years old suggesting that the year would be 1927. It is believed that this photo was taken at the time of the wedding of William's elder brother George Linn Abercrombie (the bald gentleman in morning suit), then aged 36 and employed as a Commercial Traveller, who married Susan Ann King on 14th June, 1927. However, the marriage took place in Aberdeen and we are left to assume that the family dressed for an early morning photograph before heading for the train to Aberdeen. The two other smartly dressed youngsters in the photo are Bobby's cousins Robert and Bill.

Young Bobby spent the first few years of his life as the sole object of his parents' attention. Plumber William was employed by William Weir who operated (for a while at least) from an office and workshop at 26 Dunmore Street, just south of Gorbals Cross.

Bobby and William AbercrombieBobby and William AbercrombieFamily Album

Bobby aged about 3 years

Bobby is shown again, still of pre-school age in this studio photograph.

On 4th December, 1927, Bobby's younger brother, James Macartney Abercrombie, was born at the family home of 243 Hospital Street.

On 9th April, 1929, Bobby, who was just over 5 years old, was admitted to Abbotsford Primary School, at 129 Abbotsford Place in the Gorbals. His home address was still recorded as 243 Hospital Street. The admission register also records that on 25th April Bobby was exempted from Religious Instruction, as were many other pupils on the same day.

Abbotsford Primary SchoolAbbotsford Primary Schoolwww.caingram.info/Scotland/Pic_htm/glasgow_school_buildings.htm

However, Bobby did not remain at Abbotsford Primary School for long. William and Christina and their two young sons moved their home from Hospital Street in the Gorbals just over a kilometre south west, down Pollokshaws Road to 85 Cromwell Street in Strathbungo/Govanhill. It is likely that the Abercrombies moved to superior accommodation almost certainly with an inside toilet. Although we have already suggested that the dwelling at Hospital Street was probably in fair condition, the housing stock in the Gorbals had been quickly deteriorating and large parts were already in slum condition although major demolition of the area did not take place until the 60s and 70s. Further, the apartment at 243 Hospital Street faced a railway goods yard and was less than 300 metres north of the Govan Iron Works (known as Dixon's Blazes on account of the furnaces lighting up the night sky) and would have been a noisy and dirty neighbourhood.

The tenement in Cromwell Street, however, had been built in 1896 and the Abercrombies' new accommodation would have been a mere 30 years old. At the south end of Cromwell Street lay the vast open space that was Queen's Park and the Abercrombie family would have been afforded a very pleasant living environment.

Below is a remarkable photo of the tenement at 85 Cromwell Road at the corner of Prince Edward Street under construction in 1896. These were among the last tenements to be built with locally quarried blonde sandstone. Builders switched to pink stone from Ayrshire and Dumfries around 1895.

The tenement at 85 Cromwell Street under construction in 1896.The tenement at 85 Cromwell Street under construction in 1896.Source:

85 Cromwell/Niddrie Road in modern times.85 Cromwell/Niddrie Road in modern times.Google Street View

The 1930 Valuation Roll shows that there were 12 tenants residing in the four storey tenement at 85 Cromwell Street in Strathbungo and it is likely that the Abercrombie family occupied a top floor flat.

1930 Property Valuation Roll for 85 Cromwell Road1930 Property Valuation Roll for 85 Cromwell RoadScotland's People

After the summer holidays, on 19th August, 1929, Bobby, still 5 years old, enrolled at his new local school - Cuthbertson Primary School in Cuthbertson Street.

On 9th January, 1933, Bobby's younger brother Jim, then aged 5 years, followed in his elder brother's footsteps and he too enrolled at Cuthbertson Primary School.

Cuthbertson Primary SchoolCuthbertson Primary School

On 22nd February, 1936, William and Christina had their third son, William Alexander Abercrombie, named after his father, but always known as Sandy. The birth record shows that Sandy was born at 85 Niddrie Road following the renaming of the former Cromwell Road in about 1933.

Bobby, now aged 12, left Cuthbertson Primary School and, having passed the qualifying exam, on 1st September, 1936 enrolled at Strathbungo Higher Grade Secondary School located at 83 Craigie Street, a mere block to the east from the family home in Niddrie Road. It would have taken Bobby only a couple of minutes to walk from home to school.

South-facing aerial view showing 85 Niddrie Road and Strathbungo Higher Grade Secondary School located at 83 Craigie Street.South-facing aerial view showing 85 Niddrie Road and Strathbungo Higher Grade Secondary School located at 83 Craigie Street.Google Maps

Strathbungo Public SchoolStrathbungo Public SchoolSource:

One teacher of some note who had taught at Strathbungo Secondary was John MacLean (1879-1923) the revolutionary socialist of the Red Clydeside era. He was notable for his outspoken opposition to the First World War.

The Abercrombies' new home was situated in a fairly pleasant neighbourhood which was dominated by the sprawling Queens Park.

Queens ParkQueens Park

Bobby with his mother and brothers on Titwood Road c.1937Bobby with his mother and brothers on Titwood Road c.1937Family Album

Many day trips were made to the Clyde coast and William was always ready with his camera and consequently rarely appeared in any of the family photographs.

Doon the watter!Doon the watter!Family Album

Bobby spent two years at Strathbungo Secondary and left on 16th June, 1938 at age 14.

Strathbungo Secondary School (c.1938)  Bobby is second row down and third from right.Strathbungo Secondary School (c.1938) Bobby is second row down and third from right.Family Album

On leaving school, Bobby entered the grocery trade and became an Apprentice Grocer, most likely employed in a shop in the local area. Victoria Road, Pollokshaws Road and Allison Street were major shopping thoroughfares.

Grocery staff with Bobby second from left.Grocery staff with Bobby second from left.Family Album

On 1st September, 1939, 11-year-old Jim Abercrombie enrolled at Strathbungo Secondary School to commence his own secondary education. This date has a very special significance in world history as the start of the war in Europe is generally held to be that date, beginning with the German invasion of Poland; Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. The records show that Jim was 'removed' from school on Friday, 7th November, 1941 just one month short of his 14th birthday.

William had been employed by William Weir's plumbing business for some 25 years but was now ready to go into business on his own account. John Law was a plumber who operated a well-established family business in Rutherglen from his premises at 20 Farmeloan Road. John Law died, aged 60, at 37 Mill Street on 11th June, 1941. In around 1937, some of the unmarried Abercrombie sisters had moved to Rutherglen to 4 Watson Avenue and now alerted William to the fact that Law's business had been put up for sale. Family lore has it that the sisters loaned William the money to purchase the plumber's business. William duly bought Law's business and moved his family to Rutherglen to 22 Farmeloan Road, a flat directly above the plumber's shop at number 20. These circumstances probably explain why young Jim Abercrombie was 'removed' from school on 7th November, 1941. This date probably marks the time when the family moved home from Strathbungo to Rutherglen. It is not clear whether Jim enrolled at a school in Rutherglen.

On leaving school, Jim embarked on a plumbing apprenticeship and began working in his father William's new business.

Plumber's Shop at 20 Farmeloan Road and the adjacent close entrance at no. 22 (1953)Plumber's Shop at 20 Farmeloan Road and the adjacent close entrance at no. 22 (1953)Family Album

Bobby was 15 when the Second World War broke out and of course was too young to participate. However, as the war dragged on, it must have weighed heavily on the family that there would come a day when it would be his turn to be called up. That day was Monday, 16th November, 1942 when Bobby joined the Royal Navy and entered under the National Service Act 1939 at the age of 18 years and 9 months.

Bobby's address at the time of his call-up was 22 Farmeloan Road in Rutherglen and his calling or trade was recorded as Apprentice Grocer. He had continued on the apprenticeship after the family moved to Rutherglen. It had now been almost 4½ years since Bobby had left school. It is not clear where Bobby would have worked at the time of his call-up.

Bobby shortly after enlistment.

On joining the Royal Navy Bobby was recorded as being 5ft 9¾in with a 36½in chest measurement, fair hair, brown eyes and a fresh complexion. It was also noted that he had a scar on his left eyebrow.

His first posting at the substantive rating of Ordinary Seaman on Monday 16th November, 1942 was to HMS Ganges, Royal Navy shore establishment in Shotley, 10 miles south-east of Ipswich, in Suffolk. This post was administered within the Port Division of Chatham. HMS Ganges had been a boys' training centre but on the outbreak of the Second World War had its use temporarily changed to a centre for 'Hostilities Only New Entry Training'. By the end of the war 60,968 ratings had passed through Ganges and it was returned to its original use as a boys' training centre.

So it was on Ganges that he obtained his first training in seamanship. One of the early requirements, as might be expected, was to obtain a swimming qualification, which he did on 19th November 1942. Presumably his time spent at the beach and possibly at Govanhill Baths on Calder Street had borne fruit.

Bobby's stay at HMS Ganges for the early part of his training was fairly short-lived and he left this establishment on Thursday 7th January 1943. It is unlikely that he would have been able to return home for Christmas. His record shows that after just 6 weeks his character was rated on 31st December as "Very Good" and it would remain as that throughout the duration of his service.

However, before leaving HMS Ganges, he participated in a group photograph with his fellow trainees (3rd from right, 2nd front row).

Trainees on board HMS Ganges (1943)Trainees on board HMS Ganges (1943)Family Album

Bobby's next posting commenced on Friday, 8th January 1943 and was to HMS Victory, which as every schoolchild knows was Lord Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar. Victory had been in dry dock in Portsmouth Royal Naval Dockyard since 1922. Those in naval barracks and at the dockyard at Portsmouth were nominally posted to HMS Victory.

Bobby's posting to HMS Victory lasted just 2 weeks and on Friday 22nd January 1943 he was posted to another shore establishment - HMS Europa, under the administration of Port Division of Lowestoft.

Europa was the name of the Central Depot for the Royal Naval Patrol Service in Lowestoft from early in the Second World War until she was decommissioned in 1946. Prior to being named Europa, she was named Sparrows Nest, and Pembroke X. With this posting, Bobby's future in the Royal Navy and his role during the Second World War was settled. He would remain in the Royal Naval Patrol Service for the duration of his service.

The Royal Naval Patrol Service (RNPS) had its origins in the trawlermen and fisherman who belonged to the Royal Naval Reserve Trawler Section in the period leading up to the war. When the Royal Naval Reserves were mobilised in August 1939, HMS Europa, usually known as Sparrow's Nest, became the Central Depot of the RNPS. It was located at Lowestoft, the most easterly point of Great Britain, and was then the closest British military establishment to the enemy.

The RNPS fought in all theatres of the war, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean from the Atlantic to the Far East, involved in convoy duty, minesweeping and anti-submarine work. Most particularly they kept the British Coast clear of the mines that were wreaking havoc with merchant ships.

The officers and seamen were mainly ex-fishermen who had manned the trawlers, fishing in all weathers off Iceland, and were some of the best seamen in the world although they did not take too kindly to Naval discipline. These men also took very high casualties in the early part of the war, so their numbers were made up by "hostilities only" men like Bobby who had had very little or no connection with the sea before the war.

When Bobby commenced his 10-week posting to HMS Europa, his substantive rating was now Stoker, 2nd Class. For this he would be paid the sum of 2s 6d per diem.

On April 6th, 1943, Bobby was posted to HMS Midge, which was another shore establishment just a few miles up the coast at Great Yarmouth. This was one of the major coastal force bases on the East Coast and several flotillas of Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs) were based there. This posting lasted just 6 weeks and on 16th May, 1943, Bobby returned to the RNPS Central Depot, HMS Europa, at Lowestoft and remained there until 27th July 1943, at which time he was posted to HMS St Christopher in Scotland.

HMS St Christopher was a Coastal Forces Training Base of the Royal Navy and was located in and around Fort William, Scotland.

Commissioned in October 1940, HMS St Christopher was in service for a total of four years, until being decommissioned in December 1944. The base existed to train the crews of a variety of different inshore patrol craft. To enable this, an Admiralty Floating Dock was moored at Corpach in Loch Linnhe for some of the time. Most of the courses lasted a number of weeks and involved such activities as firing torpedoes from MTBs. A Westland Lysander or a Blackburn Skua would occasionally fly over the base to allow practices on anti-aircraft guns. Over its time in service, the base is estimated to have trained around 55,000 personnel from a number of different allied countries.

The base had a staff of several hundred, billeted in hotels around the town, with extra space being provided by Nissen huts. Most of engineering and mechanical works were based at Corpach, and consisted of a number of sheds and slipways. The base was defended by a number of anti-aircraft guns and searchlights, which were also used to defend the town of Fort William herself.

By April 1942 there were around 80 to 90 boats at the training base, comprising a number of different flotillas. They consisted of nine motor torpedo boats, thirty-seven motor gun boats, fourteen high speed motor anti-submarine boats, and a number of motor launches. Several harbour defence motor launches were also attached to defend the base. A number of different boats were attached at different times to serve as depot ships, training vessels and accommodation ships.

www.mbriscoe.me.uk/page7.html

The record suggests that Bobby spent most of his time training aboard HDL 1373, which was a Harbour Defence Launch. It is likely that, as a Stoker, a large part of his training would be concerned with the operation and maintenance of the propulsion and other mechanical machinery on board, as well with battle and emergency procedures. These would have been unfamiliar activities for an Apprentice Grocer.

Bobby at HMS St ChristopherBobby at HMS St ChristopherFamily Album

Naturally, Bobby would have made new friends and shared experiences during his training. Reproduced below are photographs of friends with the inscriptions recorded on the reverse.

Bobby's Navy buddies.Bobby's Navy buddies.Family Album

The reference to ML1373 suggests that Ping was a fellow trainee at HMS St Christopher at Fort William. As the photos have the same studio backdrop, Lew would likely have trained there too.

On 21st December 1943, over a year since Bobby had joined the Navy, his training appeared to have come to an end. His posting to HMS St Christopher terminated and he was posted back to HMS Europa, the RNPS Central Depot. It would be comforting to think that he was allowed to spend Christmas and New Year at home in Rutherglen, as he would surely have passed very close to there on his way back to Lowestoft. Whether Bobby knew it cannot be clear, but he was about to be given his first overseas posting.

This commenced on 14th January 1944 when he was posted to the eastern Mediterranean to the shore establishment HMS Nile and its tender HMS Mosquito. Mosquito was a Royal Navy coastal forces base at Alexandria, Egypt, operational from 1942 to 1945 as a repair centre and base for coastal forces boats.

Mosquito was commissioned at Mahroussa Jetty on 15 February 1942. The base and slipways were situated alongside King Farouk's palace. The accounts were centralised at HMS Nile and Mosquito was established as an independent command. She had a nominated depot ship, the 16 foot Dinghy No. 1955. The base was in operation until being paid off to Care and Maintenance on 1st December 1945.

By this time, Bobby's substantive rating was Stoker (P.S) - the P.S. was probably an abbreviation for Patrol Service. A Stoker was responsible to the senior engineer on board for the operation, smooth running and maintenance of the propulsion and other mechanical machinery on board, including the generation of electricity, as well as fuelling, watering, structural maintenance and repair, damage control and fire-fighting when required.

Although posted to a shore base, Bobby would nevertheless have spent considerable amount of his time at sea and on patrol. The small boats as used by the Royal Naval Patrol Service were not ideally suited to long periods at sea and it is likely that Bobby would have slept most nights on dry land at his shore base.

This was by far the longest continuous posting that Bobby experienced during the war and was to last over 16 months until 24th May 1945. Fortunately, the battle for the Mediterranean was substantially over by the time Bobby was posted there.

The Battle of the Mediterranean was the name given to the naval campaign fought in the Mediterranean Sea during World War II. For the most part, the campaign was fought between the forces of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina), supported by other Axis naval forces, and the forces of the British Royal Navy, supported by other Allied naval forces.

Each side had three overall goals in this battle. The first was to attack the supply lines of the other side. The second was to keep open the supply lines to their own armies in North Africa. The third was to destroy the ability of the opposing navy to wage war at sea.

Outside of the Pacific, the Mediterranean saw the largest conventional naval warfare during the war. In particular, Allied forces struggled to supply and retain the key naval and air base of Malta.

The Mediterranean was a traditional focus of British maritime power and the Mediterranean Fleet was Britain's instrument of this maritime power. Outnumbered by the forces of Italian Royal Navy, the British plan was to hold the three decisive strategic points of Gibraltar, Malta, and the Suez Canal. By holding these points, the British held open vital supply routes. Malta was the lynch-pin of the whole system. It provided a needed stop for Allied convoys and a base from which to attack the Axis supply routes.

Further, the German Navy (Kriegsmarine), by U-boat campaign, aimed at isolating Gibraltar, Malta, and the Suez Canal so as to break Britain's trade route. More than sixty U-boats were sent to disrupt shipping in the sea, though many were already attacked at the Strait of Gibraltar controlled by Britain (of which nine were sunk while attempting passage and ten more were damaged).

Malta's position between Sicily and North Africa was perfect to interdict Axis supply convoys destined for North Africa. It could thus influence the campaign in North Africa and support Allied actions against Italy. The Axis recognised this and made great efforts to neutralise it as a British base, either by air attacks or by starving it of its own supplies.

For a time during the Siege of Malta it looked as if Malta would be starved into submission by the use of Axis aircraft and warships based in Sicily, Sardinia, Crete and North Africa. A number of Allied convoys were decimated. The turning point in the siege came in August 1942, when the British sent a very heavily defended convoy codenamed Pedestal. Malta's air defence was repeatedly reinforced by Hurricane and Spitfire fighters flown off to the island by Allied aircraft carriers. The situation eased as Axis forces were forced away from their North African bases and eventually Malta could be resupplied and become an offensive base again.
The British re-established a credible air garrison and offensive naval base on the island. Malta's garrison was able to disrupt Axis supplies to North Africa immediately before the Second Battle of El Alamein. For the fortitude and courage of the Maltese during the siege, Malta was awarded the George Cross.

Following the battle of Crete in the summer of 1941, the Royal Navy regained its ascendancy in the central Mediterranean in a series of successful convoy attacks, until the events surrounding the First Battle of Sirte and the Raid on Alexandria in December swung the balance of power in the Axis favour.

The Italian Navy's most successful attack was when divers planted mines on British battleships during the raid on Alexandria harbour (19th December 1941). HMS Queen Elizabeth and Valiant were sunk but later raised and returned to active service.

A series of hard fought convoy battles ensured Malta's survival, until the Allies regained the advantage in November 1942.

In September 1943 with the Italian collapse and the surrender of the Italian fleet, naval actions in Mediterranean became restricted to actions against German U-boats and by small craft in the Adriatic and Aegean seas, although the Allies claimed victory in this campaign by May 1944. German forces surrendered in Europe on 7th May 1945 shortly after Hitler had committed suicide.

Under these circumstances, when Bobby was posted to HMS Mosquito in January 1944, life in the Royal Naval Patrol Service in the Eastern Mediterranean probably wasn't too arduous. In the absence of danger of a hostile nature and in the company of comrades of his own age, it is quite likely that the experience would have been quite an adventure for Bobby and his shipmates. It would have been a time when new friendships were forged and new destinations explored. Certainly, the weather would have been preferable to that experienced back home and there would have been opportunities during short periods of leave to soak in the local culture. Nevertheless, the ratings would still have been subject to navy discipline.

The Chief and the Coxwain

Shown here are 'the Chief and the Coxswain.' From the garb worn by the locals in the background, this photograph was clearly taken in Egypt - probably Alexandria or Port Said.

On 24th May 1945 Bobby commenced a new posting to HMS Saunders, a landing craft base at Kabret on the shores of the Bitter Lakes, which form part of the Suez Canal system. This was pretty well in the desert and the accommodation was likely to have been under canvas.

It seems obvious to ask what would have been the purpose of his continued posting there when the hostilities had terminated. It would have been somewhat chaotic to demobilise all personnel at the same time and 'normal service' back home would take a long time to be re-established. The Armed Forces developed a demobilisation plan that would release operational personnel based on a system that favoured length and certain types of service. As there would have been many others who had been in service for over 3 years longer than Bobby, he would have to wait his turn.

Meanwhile, it is likely that there would have been many 'clean up' tasks, such as minesweeping, vessel repairs, canal dredging, wreck clearing and raising that would keep Navy personnel busy while awaiting demobilisation.

Bobby's MTB in the MediterraneanBobby's MTB in the MediterraneanFamily Album

Four months later, on 22nd September 1945, Bobby was posted to HMS Stag, a shore base at Port Said, at the most northerly end of the Suez Canal. During his time here, on 16th November 1945, Bobby completed 3 years service with the Royal Navy and was granted a Good Conduct Badge.

On 11th December 1945, he commenced a brief posting to HMS Sphinx - another shore establishment - an accommodation camp at Alexandria, Egypt. This posting was for only a week and it is clear that he was preparing to be repatriated.

HMS SphinxHMS Sphinx

During the entire war years, HMS Sphinx fulfilled a most useful purpose as the main naval personnel distribution centre for the Eastern Mediterranean and the Suez Canal area. Contingents of naval ratings and marines would arrive periodically from the United Kingdom - usually by troop transport around the Cape of Good Hope - and they would be accommodated temporarily in Sphinx whilst waiting to be drafted to various ships in the fleet. The crews they replaced would be held in HMS Sphinx until such time as suitable transport became available for taking them back to their home ports.

A lot of careful organisation was required to handle this continual fluctuation of numbers. At times the camp would be almost empty, apart from the permanent staff, and then gradually build up to as many as fifteen hundred or more before they were moved on to their different destinations.

On 19th December 1945 Bobby was posted from HMS Sphinx to HMS St. Angelo which was a shore establishment on the island of Malta. This represented a stopping off point on his way back to the United Kingdom.

In 1933 the Admiralty had changed the name of the shore establishment which was the main administration centre for Royal Naval activities in the Mediterranean to HMS St Angelo - the name of the fort in which the establishment was housed.

HMS St Angelo played a part in major events in both World Wars and throughout the 20th century until its closure in 1979.

Just before the outbreak of World War Two the Navy moved the Headquarters of the Mediterranean Fleet to Alexandria, Egypt. The Admiralty felt that Malta's close proximity to Italy meant that the island was in serious threat of air strikes. The Royal Navy reduced Malta's naval presence to just 20 destroyers, eight sloops, minesweepers and a flotilla of submarines and its depot ship.

Predictions of the threat of Italian bombing strikes proved correct. Between March and May 1942 alone the area around Grand Harbour received hits from a total of 6,700 tons of bombs. The raids caused the sinking of 21 ships, four fleet destroyers and four submarines in the harbour or its approaches.

Bobby's posting to HMS St Angelo on Malta lasted a mere 5 days. On Christmas Day 1945 he commenced a posting back at HMS Europa in Lowestoft. He had served in the Mediterranean for just short of two years. Even then he was not ready to be demobbed. This posting lasted until 8th April 1946 when he was posted to HMS Victory III, which was an accounting base, basically an office that looked after the pay and paperwork for small ships. Just what Bobby's duties would have been is not at all clear. However, it is likely that there was a considerable amount of paperwork to be completed to support the demobilisation effort and perhaps he undertook some clerical duties.

Bobby's final posting was to HMS Pembroke II which was another accounting base at Chatham. This commenced on 30th May 1946.

On 17th August 1946, having served for 3 years and 9 months in the Royal Navy, the 22-year-old Bobby was released under Class A which meant that he would be liable to recall to service only in an extreme emergency.

Bobby returned home to Rutherglen where his parents and younger brothers 18-year-old Jim and 10-year-old Sandy had moved to 11 Parkhill Drive. William had anticipated Bobby's return from the Navy and felt that his growing family needed more space. There was a family story that one of the rooms of the house contained a full-size slate bed billiard table, so the house would have been substantial. Although the house looks as if it had only two storeys, it was built on a hill and there were 3 storeys at the rear.

11 Parkhill Drive, Rutherglen11 Parkhill Drive, RutherglenGoogle Street View

This was the first time in their married life that Bobby's parents had ever lived in anything other than a tenement building.

Bobby Abercrombie c.1947Bobby Abercrombie c.1947Family Album

Following his demobilisation, Bobby chose not to continue on his pre-war career in the grocery trade, but instead embarked on a plumbing apprenticeship, perhaps encouraged by his experience of skilled manual work as a Stoker in the Royal Naval Patrol Service.

Dorothy McKay c.1946

A family anecdote describes how a young teenager Dorothy McKay, who provided some clerical assistance in the plumber's shop, had been encouraged to correspond with Bobby during his time in the Navy. This she did and their relationship blossomed on his return from the Navy to the extent that the couple decided to get married.

Dorothy was the daughter of Patternmaker David McKay and Sally McKay née Kelly who lived at 343 Main Street in Rutherglen.

On Saturday 10th July, 1948, 24-year-old Bobby married 18-year-old Dorothy at Marlborough House at Shawlands Cross in Glasgow.

Dorothy on her wedding day.Dorothy on her wedding day.Family Album

Marlborough HouseMarlborough HousePinterest

Marlborough House was, in its hayday, frequently used as a venue for weddings, receptions, dinners, dances and social functions. (The building was built in circa 1920 and graded as List C in June 1992.)

95 guests attended the ceremony and were catered for at the princely sum of 7/6d per head.

Wedding Reception Catering ReceiptWedding Reception Catering ReceiptFamily Album

Bobby and Dorothy spent their honeymoon in the very popular family holiday destination of Paignton in Devon.

Newlyweds Dorothy & Bobby in Paignton, DevonNewlyweds Dorothy & Bobby in Paignton, DevonFamily Album

Following their honeymoon, the newlyweds returned to Rutherglen to live with Bobby's parents at 11 Parkhill Drive for a spell, presumably until they found a more permanent residence they could call their own.

Proud new parents at the front door of 343 Main Street, Rutherglen (1949).

In April of the following year, Bobby and Dorothy's first child, Sally McKay Abercrombie, was born at Dorothy's parents' house at 343 Main Street in Rutherglen.

The Abercrombies did find a home of their own and in May of 1950 they were residing at a flat in the tenement building at 283 King Street which was immediately adjacent to the plumber's shop at the corner of Farmeloan Road and King Street.

283 King Street, Rutherglen283 King Street, RutherglenGoogle Street View

Next child David Alexander Abercrombie was born, also at 343 Main Street, in October, 1950.

Shortly after that the family moved to 16 Cambuslang Road at Farme Cross in Rutherglen.

Cambuslang Road at Farme Cross. No. 16 close mouth is the middle of the 3 entrances to the right of the parked van.Cambuslang Road at Farme Cross. No. 16 close mouth is the middle of the 3 entrances to the right of the parked van.

The Abercrombie Family, August 1953 - location unknown.

The photo shows the Abercrombie family on a day out in August 1953.

Unfortunately, Bobby and Dorothy's marriage was ill-fated. Following a couple of temporary separations, they separated permanently on 20th October, 1953 and divorce proceedings were commenced. Bobby took his two young children to his parents' home, now at 3 Vermont Avenue in Rutherglen.

3 Vermont Avenue in Rutherglen.  Right hand door.3 Vermont Avenue in Rutherglen. Right hand door.Family Album

Following protracted and acrimonious proceedings the divorce was finalised in May 1957 and Bobby was awarded custody of Sally and David who by this time were settled in Burnside Primary School.

21 Endymion Road, Finsbury Park, London

Bobby with Sally, David & Eleanor in back garden at Endymion Road (c.1960)

In around 1960, Bobby took his children and his niece Eleanor, for a two week holiday in London. They lodged with relatives, William and Christina (Chrissie) Barrie. Chrissie was the younger sister of Bobby's (late) maternal grandmother. Chrissie had moved to London from Glasgow in 1921 shortly after her marriage. Bobby's mother had always kept in touch with her aunt and had 'brokered' the holiday accommodation.

The Barries lived at 21 Endymion Road in Finsbury Park which was a very large house over 4 storeys opposite the park and was located very close to the underground station Manor House on the Piccadilly Line and so was very convenient for travelling to and from Central London. Bobby was able to treat the children to a tourist view of London and nearby points of interest: Madame Tussaud's, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Hamley's, the Tower of London, as well as Hampton Court and its maze, and a day-trip to Southend.

In the late 1950s, Bobby suffered a serious accident at work. He had been working on a roof of the British Ropes works on Dalmarnock Road near Farme Cross when he fell through the roof to the floor 30 feet below, breaking his leg. The outcome was that Bobby ended up with one leg shorter than the other, perhaps by about an inch, and had a built-up shoe made to assist his walking. He appeared to tolerate this for a couple of years, however, when the time came to replace his shoe, he chose not to. This left him with a pronounced limp for the rest of his life.

In the mid-1960s Bobby befriended Jenny Abercrombie, the widow of his late cousin Bill Abercrombie who had died of a heart condition in 1952. Jenny was the sister of Bobby's sister-in-law, Mattie. The family connection would have made it quite natural for Bobby and Jenny to be often in the same company. Over a period of time, Bobby and Jenny became a 'couple' and Bobby ultimately moved from Vermont Avenue to reside with Jenny at her address 15 Newfield Place in Rutherglen.

On 7th December, 1975 Bobby's father William Alexander Abercrombie died at his home 3 Vermont Avenue of Chronic Bronchitis, Emphysema and Coronary Pulmonalis.

Shortly after this, the plumber's business folded and both Bobby and his brother Jim found employment in Greater Glasgow Health Board Hospitals. Bobby worked mainly in Gartnavel Hospital on Great Western Road in Glasgow's West End.

Gartnavel General HospitalGartnavel General Hospital

On 14th November, 1982, Bobby's mother Christina Weir Abercrombie née Macartney, died at Coathill Hospital in Coatbridge of Bronchopneumonia, Immobility and Cerebrovascular Accident. Her usual residence at the time of her death was 68 Lammermoor Drive, Cumbernauld, the home of her son Sandy and his family.

It was around this time that Bobby started to develop a chronic psoriasis problem. He had to spend long periods of time (often 6-8 weeks) in Stobhill Hospital undergoing tar treatment. This ultimately led him to retire early, possibly aged around 63, due to ill health.

In the 1980s Bobby and Jenny moved house to the nearby 15 Orchard Drive in Rutherglen.

Bobby died, aged 70 years and 6 months, on 25th August, 1994 at Glasgow's Royal Infirmary. The Cause of Death was Marrow Failure and Metastatic Prostatic Cancer, His son David was present when he passed away. David registered his father's death.

Jenny Abercrombie had always been reluctant to marry Bobby out of a sense of loyalty to her late husband Bill. However after Bobby's death, he and Jenny were declared by a court as having been married 'by habit and repute'. The posthumous marriage was registered in 1996 and was deemed to have commenced from 1968 entitling Jenny to receive Bobby's occupational widow's pension and securing her financial future until she passed away in 2015.

Sandy, Bobby and Jim Abercrombie (c.1992)Sandy, Bobby and Jim Abercrombie (c.1992)Family Album