From boy to man – VE Day 2020

From boy to man, Robert (Bob) Chisholm – VE Day 2020

We received this fantastic write up of a young man’s experience of his first war from the daughter of our client, Robert Chisholm (Bob), along with a picture of Bob in his smart RAF Uniform.

A huge thank you to Robert and his family for letting us share his story.


Robert William Chisholm (Bob) was born Sept 9, 1922 in Birmingham.

1936-37

Bob Chisholm was around 15 years old when he became aware that things were changing. His father was the head pattern maker at William Mills Factory in Smethwick and had been intimately involved in designing the Mills hand grenade; there were even two sat on the mantlepiece in his home over the fire – his mother made his father get rid of them thankfully!

At 15 Robert left school to deliver groceries. He would think sometimes about the invasions that were happening in China, the ending of the Spanish Civil War and how Germany was living under the conditions imposed after WW1 and Hitler’s rise. At that time Bob even thought that war might be a big adventure, but overall he was too young for it to affect him. However, a couple of years later he  would hear of Hitler making ominous threats. 

1939 onwards

On September 1st 1939 the Second World War started, and by now Bob was almost 17. For around nine months not a lot happened, but that changed quickly. Birmingham became the prime bomb target and Robert would often walk the streets looking for fire bombs to put out, having been instructed as to how to deal with them.

There would be bombs dropped and anti-aircraft guns blasting as he walked home after an evening at the movies, often having to hide up entry ways between houses to avoid the jagged pieces of shell (called ack acks). Usually one night a week would be spent fire watching at work; a German plane became easy to recognize by the sound of its engine.

One night while visiting the outhouse he heard the drone of a German airplane. It dropped about six bombs, with the last one being only 120yards away.

Before a brick bomb shelter was built in the yard, Robert and his family would hide under the stairs. Eventually there were bomb shelters built in Summerfield Park where they would shelter when the sirens would sound. One night while trying to find his mother, Bob was blown off his feet by a bomb being dropped in Summerfield Park. Bob was lucky, but that same bomb killed the uncle of a friend that evening, as he stepped outside of his backdoor.

At 18 years old Bob volunteered to join up. He had wanted to join the Tank Core but upon arriving at Dale End recruiting office he was told they were in need of RAF Armourers, so he signed on the dotted line. Bob will tell you he thinks it was luck that day, because all in all he felt he had ‘a good war. 

For his first weeks in the RAF Robert was sent to Cardington Induction Centre, kitted out and allocated a hut. That night was the first night he had ever had a bed to himself! Not too long afterwards Bob was sent to Skegness for 14 weeks of “foot slogging”. As an athletic person this was no hardship for Bob, he enjoyed the physical challenge.

Bob spent the war in the UK working on the planes, ensuring they were safe to fly and at times taking a test flight up with pilots. He was stationed at various places in the UK, including Luton, Bigglewade, Shrewsbury, Cardiff, St Anthan, Wrexham, Chester, York, Burton and Skegness.

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