My friend, Bob passed away a week ago. I'm a little bit sad I didn't spend more time with him, esp. when I got back. But he lived rather far away, over 30 minutes drive, and I'm not good at managing my time to see him.
I had the honor to give him a eulogy at his funeral. This is it.
Eulogy for Chief Petty Officer Robert S. Wilkins (Ret) 25th January 2007.
I had the honor and pleasure to become a friend to Mr Wilkins, whom we affectionally knew as Bob. We met at the ACCF church in 1995. He was very surprised that I knew so much about military history and we spent long hours talking about World War Two, the Royal Navy and his part in it. This is his story which I recorded during my time with him.
Robert Stanley Wilkins was born, July 28th, 1912, in a small English village called Tisbury in England. He came from a large family – 4 brothers and 4 sisters. His father was an ordinary laborer but an exceptional gardener who turned their backyard into a veritable Garden of Eden and grew all their vegetables and fruits – and according to Bob they lived like kings on the produce. His mother was a school teacher; a highly educated woman. Despite their social class mismatch, they married out of love.
So Bob joined the Navy in 1928, age 16 years. He didn't do it out of love for King and Country, he just wanted to see the world. Back then, only the rich could afford to travel. He spent 12 months as a boy seaman on board the training battleship, Emperor of India which used coal as its main fuel. He actually had to haul sacks of coal onto the ship and hated it. At 18, he went to the battleship, Royal Sovereign and then joined the Revenge with the 1st Battle Squadron in the
In 1939, war broke out with Nazi Germany and the
Bob took part in Operational Pedestal in August 1942 which was an important convoy expedition to supply the important garrison at
Bob was on board the Ark Royal when it too got sunk. They were on another trip to
Bob loved the Ark Royal of all the ships he served on. The Ark Royal throughout its short career was considered a lucky ship – it had been attacked many times, had many near misses and close calls with 1000 pound bombs and torpedoes, and the Germans and Italians claimed to have sunk it many times. This time however they did. But he told me: She was a real lady. When it was her turn to go, she waited until all her crew got off before she sank. The sea was calm, as flat as a pancake and the weather was beautiful. When I got to port, I telegraphed Elsie with the message, "Safe. Feet not wet."
For his service in the war and the navy, he was awarded these medals which I got professionally framed for him. Bob liked me a lot and we had a great time talking about his experiences in the war. He felt I should keep the medals because I would treasure their historical significance.
In the 1950s Bob was seconded to the Australian Navy and he found life so pleasant that he decided to migrate. He had to convince Elsie’s mother first. She was worried that Elsie would get eaten by the Aborigines. Elsie was also hesitant. But he told her- if she didn’t like it after the first year, they would pack their bags and go home.
However, she liked it and so they stayed on. Bob worked hard and saved enough money to buy Elsie a beautiful house in Ashburton, and they even got to travel around the whole of