Scrapbook tells story of WWII commando’s life

Alan Roberts, pictured far left, with some of his army buddies during WWII.

Alan Roberts, pictured far left, with some of his army buddies during WWII.

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A family scrapbook, which gives a fascinating insight into the life of a World War Two veteran from Derry, was among the items sold at an auction in the city last weekend.

The sale - which took place at a period residence in Deanfield in the Waterside - included historic items such as a clock from the old Derry Workhouse, military medals from the Boer and Sudan campaigns of the late 19th century, unique material from the 1912 Ulster Convenant period and a rare car badge - complete with eagle and swastika - reputedly from General Erwin Rommel’s staff car.

Alan Roberts' family operated a successful motor engineering business in the city during the 1950s and 1960s. Pictured is one of their displays at an agricultural show at the Brandywell in the late 1950s.

Alan Roberts' family operated a successful motor engineering business in the city during the 1950s and 1960s. Pictured is one of their displays at an agricultural show at the Brandywell in the late 1950s.

The property was formerly owned by the late Alan Roberts whose family operated a motor engineering firm at Foyle Street in the 1950s and 1960s.

However, it’s Mr. Roberts’ remarkable life story which is catalogued in detail in the pages of the old scrapbook which, thanks to its new owner, the ‘Journal’ was able to have a look at this week.

The book not only reveals details of Mr. Roberts’ service in World War Two - he was a commando who fought with the Royal Marines in Normandy - but it also provides a unique look at the life and times of Derry in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

David Alan Eccles (Alan) Roberts - who passed away earlier this year aged 87 - was a former pupil and head boy of Foyle College before studying English and Spanish at Trinity College in Dublin.

The scrapbook owned by Alan Roberts contains some fascinating material.

The scrapbook owned by Alan Roberts contains some fascinating material.

The son of Hugh and May Roberts from the city’s Northland Road, he volunteered for service in 1943, only one year into his degree course, and saw service throughout France.

After demobilisation from the Royal Marines in 1946 he resumed his studies at Trinity, attaining a BA in Modern Languages. He went on to gain an MA in 1958.

In his civilian work life, the former marine was able to use his language skills as assistant export manager with Clarks, of Upperlands, before joining the family business in 1953 - Roberts and Sons motor and agricultural engineers in Foyle Street - where he served as a director and company secretary.

During the post-war years, Mr. Roberts was a keen sportsman, playing both cricket and rugby. In 1954, he was made captain of City of Derry RFC and remained as the club’s vice-president until his death.

When the family business was sold in 1967, the life-long academic became a librarian at Magee University College where he worked until his retirement in the early 1980s.

He was also a prolific writer producing many articles for the Foyle College Times and was appointed chief editor of the City of Derry centenary brochure in 1981.

As well as being an active member of the Royal British Legion, he served on the board of governors of Foyle College from 1956 to 1997 and was a past president of the Foyle Old Boys’ Association.

For 50 years he also held the position of elder in the Strand Road Presbyterian congregation.

Although he was never known to speak specifically about his wartime exploits with the Royal Marines, it’s said he would often reminisce about swimming in the Atlantic Ocean close to the city of Lorient on the south coast of Brittany.