Vernon’s Barb Robertson, left, with husband, Stu, visit the grave of Barb’s brother, Robert Dobie, in the Old Weston churchyard at St. Swithin’s, England. (Barb Robertson photo)

Sister visits war grave of Vernon brother

Barb Robertson was five when her oldest brother, Robert Dobie, was killed in training in 1942

As for the past 75-plus years, Vernon’s Barb Robertson’s thoughts on Remembrance Day will turn to the older brother she and her family lost in the Second World War.

Robert Charles Dobie – born 100 years ago today, Nov. 13, 1919 – was killed March 26, 1942, on a training mission in England. He was the pilot of a Handley Page Hampden MK1 aircraft that took off at 12:45 a.m. from Royal Air Force (RAF) Upper Heyford.

The weather that night was described as excellent with a light haze. The plane was flying north after it hit the tip of a church spire that Dobie likely didn’t see in the haze. The aircraft crashed at full speed into the ground killing the four occupants instantly.

READ MORE: Vernon remembers: Remembrance Day ceremony sees crowd

With Sgt. Dobie were three crew members: Observer Sgt. Norman Boyce, 28, from Wallaceburg, Ont.; wireless operator Flt. Sgt. Robert O’Leary, 20, from Ottawa; and the gunner, a 20-year-old American serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), Flt. Sgt. Donald Lindsey of Battle Creek, Michigan.

The impact removed 10 feet of the spire which landed in the Old Weston churchyard at St. Swithin’s, not too far from RAF Upper Heyford.

The four men are buried side by side in the churchyard, and the broken steeple remains where it landed. The men’s graves are kept in immaculate condition and each Nov. 11, a ceremony is held in their memory at the gravesites.

Earlier this year, Robertson and her husband, Stu, visited Dobie’s grave for the first time. And they weren’t alone.

“We were met by Lt.-Col. Yves Forcier, RCAF Molesworth and others of the small community,” Robertson said. “They had prepared and gathered all the information regarding the accident. They were overwhelmed that we had come so far to visit the gravesite.”

READ MORE: Meet the B.C. veteran who helped fight to recognize Remembrance Day

Dobie, 22, was the oldest of five children born to George Hampton Dobie (who had died prior to Dobie’s enlistment) and Gladys Williamson. He had two brothers, Edgar and George, and two sisters, Mabel and Barb — the youngest, and only surviving sibling.

Dobie graduated from Vernon High School in 1939 and his Royal Canadian Air Force Special Reserve Interview Report shows Dobie “worked two months on senior metric trigonometry to qualify for the RCAF.”

The report described Dobie as a “good, bright, intelligent lad. Exceptionally good at sport and is used to playing robust games (Dobie played junior hockey, box lacrosse, basketball, football, baseball and softball). He is alert mentally. Has good habits and character, family background sound. This man has the attributes necessary to make a good fighter pilot.”

Dobie had a total of 18 hours night flying, eight of which were on the Hampden. He was a butcher’s apprentice when he went overseas and was engaged to Vernon’s Helen Davies at the time of his death. Davies died earlier this decade.

Robertson said the trip to her brother’s grave was emotional.

“You know when you go to a cemetery and visit a grave, you’re usually just there yourself,” Robertson said. “The day Stu and I were there, the man from the church and his wife were there, the warden in charge of looking after the churches was there and so was his wife. This other lady that had nothing to do with the church knew we were coming. She was there. They took us out for lunch, came and visited us at hour hotel. They spent hours explaining the death and the history.”

“The war graves are pristine,” Stu said. “The people from the village keep them spotless.”


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The grave at the Old Weston church yard in St. Swithin’s, England, where Vernon’s Robert Dobie (right) is buried. Dobie and three colleagues with the Royal Canadian Air Force were killed when their plane crashed on a training mission near St. Swithin’s, and the four were buried near the crash site. A ceremony for the four is held every Nov. 11. (Barb Robertson family photo)

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