Poppy

An interview with Sally Robinson

Written by Pete Day
First Published

Introduction

I interviewed Sally Robinson (nee Bull) about her memories of the war years in Burton upon Stather and in particular any memories she might have of the Military personnel associated with the Tank Ramp operations that went on there.

Sally recalled much in her ten minute youtube video, quite an insight into the life in Burton Stather from around 1943-1946 viewed from a teenage girl's perspective. Sally also related other incidences from her life then, when the Canadians, Tank Corps, REME, Water Assault Group (B Squadron) and other military people were in the area - some are very amusing and are still very fond and vivid memories for her.

Sally was a very attractive young girl and one of her admirers at 16, in 1944, was Rob Drummond (a soldier with the Highland Light Infantry). I was only a young child then but recall Bulldog (Rob's nickname) passing me notes to take to Sally, love letters I think they must have been, with instructions not to let on to her parents, Mary and Billy!

Then the Tank Regiment arrived with the swimming tanks and DUWKs. We watched them from our bedroom window. We were not supposed to watch, but when they were working, we were curious.
Sally Robinson

The Military Arrive in Burton

The Bulls' home was about 50 yards away from the Ferry House Inn, so ideally situated to see all the coming and goings of the military, a fact that Sally relates in her video when she tells of the queue of soldiers waiting for a cup of tea from her mother after a long drive and still having to wait at the bottom of Stather Hill for access onto the site. So many in fact, that Mrs Bull ran out of cups and mugs and had to resort to jam jars… not that the soldiers minded, they were just so pleased with the hospitality shown.

Many soldiers cut through the garden of the Bulls' house on their way back into the camp in Lowe's Field, a sure way to avoid the MPs on the gate if they were late! Sally tells of one very polite soldier, a little the worst for wear, who knocked on the door and asked if he could cut through the garden on his way back, he was told Yes and a torch was shone across the garden for him to see his way. He promptly bumped into the clothes post to which he politely raised his cap and said Good Evening!

The MPs' barrier was outside the Ferry House Inn and they were based in two Nissan Huts on the green, the outline of which can still be seen today. The Sergeant in charge, Sally recalls, was Percy Pope who also fancied himself as a medium and held séances in the Tea Rooms of the Ferry House Inn. Sally tells a funny story in the YouTube video of one of the séances involving their neighbour and friend, Bertha Pursglove.

Plane Crash

Like me she quite vividly remembers the plane that crashed into the cliff side, a Miles Martinet trainer plane. Quite a few of us kids were on the scene before the military and civil police, and without going into details of what we saw, I can tell you that we were sent on our way very quickly by (Sally remembers) the Home Guard and our little trophies that we had collected up were duly confiscated. Sally remembers that also amongst the group were her brothers John, George and David, Reg and Baz Watson along with Roy and Brian Brown.

Plane Crash Location
The woods in the centre of the picture is where the plane crashed. Click to view full size
or Click Here to see a 360° spherical panorama of this place.

With our little village and the surrounding areas being taken over by the military, Sally says for her and most of her friends, not forgetting the war that was raging elsewhere, it was an interesting time and a great time to be young. Sally recalls that she and her friend Audrey had heard that some of the American soldiers who came into Scunthorpe on a Saturday night were coloured. Never having seen anyone of a different creed or colour before they were very curious and biked to Scunthorpe to wait on Market Hill for the Liberty Trucks to arrive. When the men arrived, one of them spotted Sally and Audrey and came over holding out his hand but he was such a big man with huge hands, she says, that the teenagers were too nervous to say hello and peddled back to Burton as fast as they could, arriving home so flustered her Dad asked, Where the hell have you been today?

Bombs

Butterfly Bomb
A German Butterfly Bomb caught in a tree

Bombs were dropped over Hull and Grimsby and Sally remembers hearing two explosions very close by. One bomb was dropped in the gardens of Walcott Hall and the other on the cliffs, surely a bomber gone astray getting rid of its load before the return journey across the channel. A huge crater was found on the cliff to the delight of all the kids, it was not filled in and I seem to remember it remained that way for years.

Sally also remembers filling her mam's shopping bag with silver paper not knowing what it was or why it was falling from the sky; we now know it was a Radar countermeasure. Worse still, filling the same shopping bag with Butterfly Bombs and taking them home! It wasn't long before there was banging on the door to signify the arrival of PC Peck who was horrified to see that particular days shopping! Sally recalls that she was horrified too when she found out what they were. Many had been dropped on Grimsby that day tragically leading to the death of those who picked them up. I believe this was the first instance of antipersonnel bombs being dropped on a British city/town. Thankfully, it seems, Sally's Butterfly Bombs were not live.

RSCV Dodger

Some crew on the RSCV Dodger

Sally's sister Evelyn, through her daughter Pat, has supplied us with the name of the support vessel that was at Burton upon Stather. It was called RSCV Dodger and remained at Burton Stather, moored off the jetty at the Ferry House Inn to police that part of the river, stopping shipping when the tanks were swimming was one of its jobs. John Porteous in his interview also mentions this vessel, telling of when he had to get into the very cold water and unwind cable from around the propellers. Pat has kindly given us this picture of the Dodger's crew on board. Sally recalls that two of the crew pictured were named Johnny Gibson and Jimmy Bond although she can't remember which. Both were from Grimsby and used to visit with the Bull family at the house on Stather Road.

Sally holds many more memories and promises to talk to me again when she returns from her trip to Canada. The Canadian connection with Burton Stather is there once again as Sally's daughter lives in Toronto and was an Air Hostess for Air Canada. This means that Sally has travelled to many parts of the world, the urge to satisfy her curiosity still very strong.

My Own Memories of the Bull Family

I knew the Bull family very well indeed and spent some of my younger days at their house, they had boats, tractors, livestock etc. Sadly today Mam (Mary) and Dad (Bill) are gone and so too are John and most recently George (Smig). Smig married my mother's sister Enid and became my uncle although we were of a similar age; he was a good man and is missed. I was probably the closest to John, he was always respected for his coolness in times of crisis, laid back and always with a level headed approach to everything he did.

John Bull's Sailing Boat on the Tank Ramp
Boats on the Tank Ramp. Click for more.

The usefulness of the Tank Ramp did not just disappear at the end of the war when all the military had left, as John and his good friend Colin McDaid had for many years after used it to launch their boats. The difficulties that ensued over access probably hurt John the most of all as over time, on the Tank Ramp, they had used Coggies, Lifeboats, Houseboats, Fishing boats and Sailing Boats all easily launched and pulled out again with the use of a winch they had sited at the top of the ramp.

At one particular time they used to catch a substantial amount of eel, setting nets one day and emptying them the next mainly at the Wall where the three rivers meet, The Trent, The Ouse and The Humber. Eventually John and I undertook to build our own ramp where I could launch my speedboat and John could continue to launch his own boats although by that time, with the fishing quotas being cut for the fishermen at Hull, they were looking at other ways to earn a living and gradually the area John and Colin used became over fished.

The ramp we constructed is opposite the Brick Ponds, John did the advising and I did the paperwork, making sure all was correct with the relevant authorities, planners, river authority etc., and provided all the plant and labour. We still use this ramp today as do our friends who have boats and I am very happy to say that it has been extremely useful to the Humber Fire and Rescue Service, as with no access to the Tank Ramp there was no other point of access on the Burton side of the River.

Only the other day I was speaking with Colin McDaid who told me how, just after our ramp was constructed, John and he were launching quite a large sailing boat with living quarters, and as they were backing the trailer with the boat on down the ramp it broke loose (it was not locked on properly), it and the trailer went straight down the ramp and into the water. Those who know the River Trent will know just how fast it flows and so you will be aware of John's bravery as he quickly stripped of his boots, jacket and trousers to jump in with a rope. Telling Colin to tie the other end to the tractor he secured the rope to the trailer, swam back and pulled boat and trailer back out. Colin said that this happened during winter time so you will guess how extreme the cold must have been for him.

Sadly John, a crane driver, suffered a heart attack in his very early sixties whilst at work, every time I go to the ramp I think of him and see his face. What a nice guy he was, rest in peace John, never forgotten.

Video of Pete's interview with Sally Robinson

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© 2017 Burton upon Stather Heritage Group

© Background Photograph by Sam Ablott.