31 May 2019

Robin W.G. Stephens - Clues from a Gravestone

Robin W.G. Stephens
Robin W.G. Stephens
War separates families. It separated Josef Jakobs from his wife and children, permanently. It's not a unique story but sometimes I wonder... after hostilities... do people find each other again? Or are they forever burst asunder by the legacy of conflict?

A few months back, I had written a blog post about the apparent estrangement between Robin W.G. Stephens and his parents, William H. and Elizabeth J. Stephens. From what I can glean, Robin's parents went to Jersey in an ill-timed trip. When the Germans invaded in July 1940, William and Elizabeth were stuck for the duration of the war. Meanwhile Robin was commandant of two interrogation centres: Camp 020 during the war and Bad Nenndorf after the war.

Julia Elizabeth Stephens ca. 1940
Julia Elizabeth Stephens
ca. 1940
In February 1946, after returning to England from Jersey, Robin's father wrote an impassioned plea to the War Office for any word of his son. The letter is contained with Stephens' army service records file, but there is no evidence that father and son ever reconnected.

William Henry Stephens ca. 1940
William Henry Stephens
ca. 1940
Robin's mother, Julia, passed away in 1949 and his father, William, passed away in 1962.

William's estate went to his sister, Lillian, indicating, again, that father and son never found each other.

It's a rather tragic story... even more so when you consider that William and Julia lost their eldest son, Howell Charles Stephens in 1917 during the First World War. But... there is one key piece of evidence which as recently come to light which sheds another light on the story.
William and Julia are buried in Cheltenham and their gravestone has a very interesting inscription.

Stephens family plot in Cheltenham Cemetery
Stephens family plot in Cheltenham Cemetery
I was able to visit the cemetery in Cheltenham this past month and, with a bit of help, deciphered the inscription:

A loving tribute to
Julia E. Stephens
B. 23.4.1871: D. 13.9.1949
R.I.P.

Beloved wife of W.H. Stephens (C.S. Egypt) [likely Civil Service Egypt]
Devoted Mother of 2nd Lt. H.C.S. (1st. Worcs.) : Ypres. 1917 [Howell Charles Stephens]
and Lt. Col. R.W.G.S. (I.A. and B.A.) [Robin William George Stephens]

God said: My dear child, what do you think of
my world? I said: O God, I think it lovely.
I have seen Snowdon, the Nile, Kashmir, the
Golden Horn, the Riviera, Edinburgh, the Thames;
and everywhere I saw loving hearts and hands.

I had checked with the cemetery office a year or so ago and the only burials in the plot are Julia and William. So Robin is definitely not buried there. And Howell was killed in action near Ypres and is commemorated on the Menin Gate (final resting place unknown).

The intriguing thing for me with the gravestone inscription is: "Lt. Col. R.W.G.S.". Somehow, Robin's father knew that his son was a Lieutenant Colonel. It came to me that Robin's court martial around abuses at the Bad Nenndorf interrogation centre was rather public, splashed across the British newspapers in 1948. Did William read the shocking news that his last surviving son had been brought before a court martial? Ultimately Robin was acquitted but there is still no evidence that he and his parents ever reconnected. And if they did, such a reconnection clearly didn't last long and Robin's father left his estate to his sister.

No comments: