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Private (Ret’d) James “Andy” Andrew Robb

Private James “Andy” Andrew Robb was born in Stoney Beach, Saskatchewan. He later moved to Fairview, Alberta, and enlisted with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment in 1940. Robb spent three years in training, and later landed in Sicily as part of Allied efforts during the Italian Campaign.

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Private (Ret’d) James Andrew Robb

Robb’s experience leading up to and during the Second World War is a story of twists and turns. He went absent without official leave (AWOL) during his training with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment. He later returned to his post, and was then seen by a psychiatrist after his mother wrote a letter to alert the Regiment to a potential mental illness. He was welcomed back, supported and sent overseas to assist with the war effort.

Private Robb made a brief stop in North Africa with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, but his first involvement in a combat role was in Sicily. He was a stretcher bearer and runner in the Battle of Ortona, and he also served in Southern Italy during the final stages of the Italian Campaign. Never physically wounded, he returned to Canada shortly after the war in October 1945. For his service, he was awarded the Italy Star, France Star, Germany Star, and the 1939-1945 Star.

While overseas, Robb married a British woman named Elsie Marion Campbell, but she did not initially return home with him. With support from Robb’s family, Ms. Campbell arrived in Canada and the couple went on to have 10 children together. Ms. Campbell passed away at the age of 44, leaving Robb with his children to care for.

“It never really dawned on me, until I was around 16, exactly why my father was struggling so much.”

It’s during this period that Robb’s mental illness was most present to those around him. He attempted to work at a farm in Peace River following the war, but it did not work out. Soon after, he spent time in an Alberta hospital. Although not evident at the time, it’s now clear to his family that he was most likely dealing with what is commonly referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Later on, Robb moved his family to a community in Edmonton where the homes were reserved for Veterans of the Second World War. There were 64 children on the entire block, giving his children many playmates. Although the move to Edmonton provided much-needed stability for the family, it was still clear that he was struggling.

“I remember my older sister telling me, ‘you know, Dad is very sick from the war.’ It never really dawned on me, until I was around 16, exactly why my father was struggling so much,” says Brian Robb, Private Robb’s fourth oldest child.

Brian knows that his father was the best parent that he could be, although he clearly struggled with his mental health. “There was some goodness, for sure – he was a good man, deep down. He didn’t drink, never gambled, and there always seemed to be food on the table.”

When asked about why his father never sought treatment for his mental illness, Brian notes that “…he was a recluse, he knew he had some health issues… but he didn’t believe in doctors.”

For Brian and his wife Sharon, the 75th anniversary of the Italian Campaign serves as a time to remember Private Robb and his service to Canada.

“The first opportunity he had to enlist, he did. In the West, and across the entire country, the 30’s were not a good time… war provided an opportunity for a steady pay cheque. These kids had no idea what they were getting involved with,” explains Brian. “My father would send half of his pay cheque back to his mother, just so she could continue to take care of his siblings and extended family. That’s what it was for my father – a job.”

“It brought peace to me – to walk the streets, experience the environment.”

To commemorate his father’s service, Brian and Sharon recently visited Italy in the same area where Private Robb would have fought during the Italian Campaign.

“We brought back a rock, likely from the same area where he served,” Brian explains. “It’s crazy to think that the same rock may have been close to where that amazing photo featured in the article was taken.” The rock they brought back currently sits on the backsplash in Brian and Sharon’s kitchen.

For Brian, the trip to Italy provided closure. “It brought peace to me – to walk the streets, experience the environment. My father and I didn’t talk for years. To go back and forgive, and put that to bed, was very healing.”

In honour of the 75th anniversary of the Italian Campaign, Private James “Andy” Andrew Robb is this week’s Face of Freedom. Let’s keep the conversation around mental health and wellness going. On 29 January 2020 at 13:00 EST, VAC will host a Facebook Live to engage in an open discussion on mental health. We hope you will join us.

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