War memories still vivid
It will take more than bad legs and cold weather to keep Robbie Robinson away from his local Returned and Services Association tomorrow – he spent four years in a Polish coal mine, after all.
The 93- year- old Tawa resident’s memory is not what it used to be but the former soldier can still retrieve moments from those life- changing war years sharply. He recalls the recruiting sergeant not making the signing-up process very easy in 1939.
‘‘ He said ‘ here comes more cannon fodder’ and one bloke in the line before me got the wind up and ran out. I was scared but I felt I had to [join up]. None of us knew what we were in for.’’
A member of the 19th Wellington Battalion, Mr Robinson was captured by the Germans on Crete in May, 1941, in one of the most dramatic battles New Zealand soldiers took part in. He witnessed terrible acts as the Allied soldiers fought to repel the German airborne assault.
Sent to a work camp in Knurow, southern Poland, Mr Robinson said the conditions in the mine were dreadful and the rations barely enough to live on.
In true Kiwi fashion, he got up to no good.
‘‘I didn’t exactly stop the production [of coal] but I broke stuff, I did a bit of sabotage. I was told I was being watched and I should be careful, but I kept on doing what I could.’’
One night he swiped a cooked chicken from the officers’ quarters, hiding it so enlisted men could have a feast. By war’s end, Mr Robinson weighed 41 kilograms. He demobbed from the army in 1946, married wife Dorothy in 1951 and they raised a family in Tawa.
Taking pride of place on their living room wall is a print of a painting by New Zealand Army war artist Captain Matt Gauldie.
Mr Robinson was standing in Lambton Quay during the parade for the return of the Unknown Warrior in 2004 when he was photographed.
Robbie’s legacy: The well-lined face of Robbie Robinson has been immortalised by New Zealand’s official war artist Matt Gauldie. Captain Gauldie
said he could see the ‘‘many conflicting emotions’’ and ‘‘the terrible cost of war’’on Mr Robinson’s face when he photographed him.