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Celebrating a century from D-Day to the RSC

WHEN you’ve been awarded the Legion d’honneur by France, played an advanced role in the D Day landings, devoted your life to education, travelled the world with your job and appeared on stage at the RSC there’s only one way to celebrate your 100th birthday and that’s to tuck into to fish and chips with your great grandchildren in Stratford.

Colin Roberts pictured at home this week with his 100th birthday card from King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla. Photo: Mark Williamson. (61911543)
Colin Roberts pictured at home this week with his 100th birthday card from King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla. Photo: Mark Williamson. (61911543)

Colin Roberts is one of the first Stratford residents to receive a congratulatory birthday card from King Charles III and the Queen Consort to mark his 100th birthday last Saturday where he was joined by 31 family members including five grandchildren and nine great grandchildren at Café Rouge in Stratford for an unforgettable party which was joined by his 95-year-old sister – Margaret – who he hadn’t seen for some time because of the pandemic.

Born in Ketley Bank in Shropshire, Colin was educated at Wellington Grammar School and went to Downing College, Cambridge where he studied English for one year before he was called up to the British Army to be part of a team of communication experts in the Royal Signals.

“Suddenly we became very important,” Colin said. “We were dealing with communications by line or cable because at that time tanks were communicating by radio and of course the enemy could listen in so we changed everything. I was a special corporal and if anything went wrong I had to put it right.”

In advance of D Day, Colin and his colleagues were attached to Field Marshall Montgomery’s army in June 1944 before the allied invasion it was the role of the Royal Signals to create a vital communications link between the army and the air force during the mammoth operation.

As the allies turned the tide of war, Colin’s next destination after Normandy was Brussels.

“When we walked into restaurants in Brussels people stood up and clapped. Eventually, we got to Germany and ended up somewhere near Hanover. You could tell the difference between those cities that had been shell fired from those which had been bombed from the air. Eventually, my college asked for me to go back early because the country was so short of teaching staff,” Colin said.

His war service was recognised by the people of France when he was awarded the Legion d’honneur the highest French order of merit. He also received the France Star medal and the German Star medal.

Pursuing his teaching career, Colin became head of English at The Crypt School, Gloucester which was to be the start of a lifelong commitment to education.

He was a lecturer at Wentworth Woodhouse, Lady Mabel College in Yorkshire before moving onto Westminster College Oxford and then vice principal and lecturer at Sidney Webb College in London.

Colin married Winifred and the couple had two daughters Frances and Patricia. “I wanted to get earning and married,” Colin said. Frances recalls that as a family they got to live and enjoy many different towns and cities in England because of her father’s work.

His final career destination took him to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Schools where he organised a for 30 teachers to tour India and learn about the customs and culture of the nation. This proved pivotal in improving the understanding and relationship between British teachers and Indian families who had emigrated to this country in the 1970s. As result Indian parents with children at schools all around the country started to get involved in their child’s development and education because they now felt included in the community thanks to Colin’s ground breaking initiative.

He repeated the idea when he took British teachers out to Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica to teach in schools in the West Indies and once again it was all about teaching the teachers who then brought their new found knowledge and the lessons learned back home with them to Britain.

Even though Colin retired at 60 he continued to work in some capacity for the British Commonwealth.

Winifred and Colin shared a joint love of theatre which is why they eventually settled in Stratford and became avid theatre goers. They were members of The Friends of The Other Place and The Friends of The Swan Theatre.

Some years ago the RSC hosted a project where locals could appear on stage in the Main House as extras. Colin wasted no time in auditioning and became an extra in Julius Caesar with John Nettles but before that he took to the stage in Measure for Measure.

“It’s a queer play but one of my favourites along with The Tempest. The first production I saw at the theatre was when I was studying a Shakespeare Institute course and watched the actor and dancer Robert Helpmann as Hamlet – he was better at dancing than acting,” Colin said.

He lists his favourite actors as Dame Judi Dench and Harriet Walters who he got a kiss off when she attended the Anglo-French Society of Stratford he was a leading light in and presented her with a bottle of wine. Colin was also a member of the Stratford Chamber of Music.

For 25 years he was a steward at Upton House where he became an expert and gave lectures on French Sèvres porcelain.

“I’ve lived a long life,” Colin said. “A nurse asked me what the secret was to living a long a life and I told her ‘if I tell you – it won’t be a secret anymore.’ I don’t think there’s a secret, it’s in your genes and my mum lived to an old age. If I am to quote Shakespeare it would be when Hamlet says There's a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will. Shakespeare has got words for everything,” Colin said.

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