For the past few years, a retiree in Ireland has taken time out of his day to visit and look after the grave of a Canadian sailor killed in action during the Second World War.
Now, James Stewart is turning his efforts to finding the family of Sub.-Lt. Edward Gorton Robbins, whose family lived in Oak Bay.
“It is just a small token of respect,” wrote Stewart in an email. “I often wondered if he had family still alive and if anyone had made the long journey to visit his grave. One visit, I was surprised and delighted to see a scarf and some gifts from Canada at his headstone.”
With a passion for learning about history since he was a boy, Stewart first heard about Robbins while reading through the Commonwealth War Graves Register for the Republic of Ireland and noticed he was buried in the Killaghtee Old Graveyard, County Donegal.
He decided the next time he was walking his dog at nearby St. Johns Point, he would visit the cemetery and find Robbins’ grave.
“On visiting the small cemetery I was immediately struck by its isolation and its age,” wrote Stewart. “This young man lost in (the Second World War) just seemed so alone and so very far from home – in many ways very sad.
“The graveyard is quite overgrown, so I thought ‘I have to do something about this,’ so cutting the grass with garden shears became something I did when I was down that way.”
Spurred on by locating the grave, Stewart began researching more about Robbins, and soon discovered he served aboard the SS Nerissa, which met its fate on April 30, 1941 when it was sunk by German U-Boat U-552.
Robbins’ body eventually washed up on shore near the village of Dunkineely on Donegal Bay on July 5 of that year.
While he is quick to downplay his own efforts, Stewart admits something about Robbins made an impression on him, and walking away from the grave without doing anything more did not seem like an option, leading him down this path in search of Robbins’ family.
“I would love to contact his family. At the end of the day, his death was an intensely human tragedy and I would like to perhaps find out a little bit more about the young man himself,” he said.
His search found a listing for the family on Hampshire Road. While Stewart said he does not wish to intrude in the family’s lives, he would be happy to share what he has learned about Robbins or pay respects at his grave on their behalf.
Anyone with more information on Robbins, or any family members, can connect with Stewart by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.