Ivor Rowbery

Ivor Rowbery

Ivor Rowbery was born in Wolverhampton in 1923. His father had fought in the First World War and had been captured and spent several years as a prisoner of war.

The family suffered a terrible tragedy in 1930 when Ivor's younger brother drowned in a swimming accident. After leaving school Ivor went to work for an accountants before joining the Boulton and Paul aircraft factory in 1939.

In 1941 Ivor was called up to join the British Army. A member of the South Staffs Airborne Army, he took part in the invasion of Sicily. He survived this dangerous mission and returned to England in October 1943.

Operation Market-Garden was proposed by General Bernard Montgomery soon after the D-Day invasion. The combined ground and airborne attack was designed to gain crossings over the large Dutch rivers, the Mass, Waal and Neder Rijn, to aid the armoured advance of the British 2nd Army.

On 17th September 1944, three divisions of the 1st Allied Airbourne Corps landed in Holland. At the same time the British 30th Corps advanced from the Meuse-Escaut Canal. Ivor Rowbery was killed on the first day of the operation and is buried in the cemetery at Oosterbeck near Arnhem.

Primary Sources

(1) Private Ivor Rowbery of the South Staffordshire Regiment wrote a farewell letter to his mother before he took part in Operation Market Garden. He was killed at Arnhem on 17th September 1944. The letter was included in Last Letters Home, a book edited by Tamasin Day-Lewis.

Usually when I write a letter it is very much overdue, and I make every effort to get it away quickly. This letter, however, is different. It is a letter that I hoped you would never receive, as it is verification of that terse, black-edged card which you received some time ago, and which has caused you so much grief. It is because of this grief that wrote this letter, and by the time you have finished reading it hope that it has done some good, and that have not written it in vain. It is very difficult to write now of future things in the past tense, so I am returning to the present.

Tomorrow we go into action. As yet we do not know exactly what our job will be, but no doubt it will be a dangerous one in which many lives will be lost - mine may be one of those lives.

Well, Mom, I am not afraid to die. I like this life, yes - for the past two years have planned and dreamed and mapped out a perfect future for myself. I would have liked that future to materialise, but it is not what I will but what God wills, and if by sacrificing all this I leave the world slightly better than I found it I am perfectly willing to make that sacrifice. Don't get me wrong though, Mom, I am no flag-waving patriot, nor have I ever professed to be.

England's a great little country (the best there is) but cannot honestly and sincerely say that it is worth fighting for. Nor can fancy myself in the role of a gallant crusader fighting for the liberation of Europe. It would be a nice thought but I

would only be kidding myself. No, Mom, my little world is centred around you and includes Dad, everyone at home, and my friends at Wolverhampton. That is worth fighting for and if by doing so it strengthens your security and improves your lot in any way, then it is worth dying for too.

Now this is where I come to the point of this letter. As I have already stated, I am not afraid to die and am perfectly willing to do so, if, by my doing so, you benefit in any way whatsoever. If you do not then my sacrifice is all in vain. Have you benefited, Mom, or have you cried and worried yourself sick? I fear it is the latter. Don't you see Mom, that it will do me no good, and that in addition you are undoing all the good work I have tried to do. Grief is hypocritical, useless and unfair, and does neither you nor me any good.

I want no flowers, no epitaph, no tears. All I want is for you to remember me and feel proud of me, then shall rest in peace knowing that I have done a good job. Death is nothing final or lasting, if it were there would be no point in living; it is just a stage in everyone's life. To some it comes early, to others late, but it must come to everyone sometime, and surely there is no better way of dying.

Besides I have probably crammed more enjoyment into my 21 years than some manage to do in 80. My only regret is that have not done as much for you as I would have liked to do. I loved you, Mom, you were the best Mother in the World, and what I failed to do in life I am trying to make up for in death, so please don't let me down, Mom, don't worry or fret, but smile, be proud and satisfied. I never had much money, but what little I have is all yours. Please don't be silly and sentimental about it, and don't try to spend it on me. Spend it on yourself or the kiddies, it will do some good that way. Remember that where am I am quite O.K., and providing I know that you are not grieving over me shall be perfectly happy.

Well Mom, that is all, and I hope I have not written it all in vain. Goodbye, and thanks for everything. Your unworthy son, Ivor.

(2) Wolverhampton Express and Star (October 1944)

Ivor (South Staffs Airborne), eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. A. Rowbery, 68 Curzon Street, reported missing at Arnhem, now reported killed September. Will always be so proudly and lovingly remembered by mom, dad, sisters and brothers. To the world just another soldier; to me, all the world. Mom. Also treasured memories of our little Gordon, who left us without goodbye ten years ago today.