Robert (Bob) Dawson Wright – VJ Day 2020
To mark the 75th Anniversary of VJ Day later this week, we’re telling the story of Robert Dawson Wright who served in the Far East during the Second World War. Some might have known him better as Bob, our friendly and knowledgeable Museum Attendant for 27 years from 1988 until his retirement in 2015.
Bob was born in Belfast on 23rd March 1923 and grew up with his four siblings on Hunter Street and attended Blythe Street School. He didn’t really enjoy school so he joined the army as a boy soldier in 1938. When we interviewed him, he stated ‘everybody was sort of talking about war and that there… my father was in the First World War and so I wanted to be a soldier and I enlisted.’ He had befriended a soldier from the Welch Regiment which was then serving in Belfast, so it was the Welch Regiment he joined.
Bob served in the British Expeditionary Force and was one of the many rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940. In 1941 having risen to the rank of Sergeant, Bob volunteered to join the newly formed Special Service Brigade. After strenuous training at Achnacarry, the volunteers were organised into 12 commandos and Bob joined No.5 Commando taking part in many raids, mainly in Norway and France.
By 1944, Bob had served in India, Ceylon, Burma and Hong Kong and was Company Sergeant Major. He took great pride in having been part of the campaign to drive the Japanese from Burma, particularly as the Japanese had been viewed as almost unbeatable in the hostile terrain. Bob recalled meeting ‘up with the 8th Belfast Heavy Anti-aircraft while we were out there… number twenty-three battery it was surrounded by the Japanese’ they held off the Japanese forces while the 8th recovered their guns, Bob stated ‘we lost a few men in our company and our troop commander, he had his arm blown off by a Japanese machinegun’.
They were then sent to Shang-Hai for a bit of break. While he was there Bob met his cousin Jackie Creighton. Sadly, he learnt that Jackie’s brother Sammy had been executed while working on the Burma railway for hitting a Japanese officer who was beating a fellow prisoner.
Bob never held any animosity towards those who had in wartime been his enemies. He understood that they too were soldiers fighting for their own countries.
In 1945 he was posted to Hong Kong and one his first duties was to secure the camp recently vacated by the Japanese and establish the Allied camp. It was in Hong Kong that he met and later married Cheung Sui Ping. They met when she approached him asking if she could have a job. After some conversation through an interpreter it was agreed that for 10 Hong Kong dollars a week, she would clean his uniform. Bob referred his friends and ‘it ended up she was earning 40 dollars a week, so that was good money out there, so I thought, well I’ll marry her and I have never regretted a moment since’.
In 1947 Bob returned to Belfast with his wife and joined the Royal Army Service Corps, which was the only unit serving in Northern Ireland with a vacancy for a Company Sergeant Major. With his young family in mind, Bob resigned from service in 1949.
Sadly, Bob died in October 2015 at the age of 92, just three months after his retirement from the NIWM and his wife Cheung Sui Ping, who after coming to Northern Ireland became known as Joan, died soon after in February 2016.
He is fondly remembered by many of the staff and trustees of the NIWM, who consider it a privilege to have known Bob and worked with him. Bob & Joan’s children, Ray & Irene, said that Bob always enjoyed his work and took great pride in every aspect of his job. Above all he loved meeting people and sharing his experiences, knowledge, and humour.