Robert Maxwell (Bob) AITKEN

AITKEN, Robert Maxwell

Service Number: SX7616
Enlisted: 2 July 1940, Adelaide, SA
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion
Born: Port Augusta, South Australia, 19 May 1912
Home Town: Glossop, Berri and Barmera, South Australia
Schooling: Clare School, South Australia
Occupation: Worked at Berri Distillery
Died: Died of wounds, Libya, 14 September 1941, aged 29 years
Cemetery: Tobruk War Cemetery, Tobruk, Libya
Plot VI, Row H, Grave 12,
Memorials: Adelaide WW2 Wall of Remembrance, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Clare Memorial Row of Trees, Clare WW2 Memorial Gates, Clare and District WW2 Roll of Honour
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World War 2 Service

2 Jul 1940: Enlisted Adelaide, SA
2 Jul 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, SX7616, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion
7 Jul 1940: Involvement Private, SX7616, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW2
10 Apr 1941: Involvement Private, SX7616, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion, Siege of Tobruk
Date unknown: Involvement

‘He Died That We Might Live’

Robert was born at Port Augusta on the 19th May, 1914 to John Maxwell and Ellen Aitken (ne Massey). He was one of four children with two sisters, Isabella Mavis (Mavis) who became a nurse at the Adelaide Hospital, Margaret and a brother, Bert (H.J.) who worked in Clare with the electricity Company, was a councillor and conductor of the Clare Brass Band for many years.
Their Scottish-born father, John had arrived in South Australia, settling at Port Augusta where he met and married Ellen. By the time Robert was two, the family moved to Orroroo then Clare with John in the role of long-serving Postmaster before he was transferred to the Maitland Post Office in ’35. The family was also particularly active in the Presbyterian Church where John was an elder.
Robert and his siblings attended the local Clare school, then he worked at the Berri Distillery. Less than a month after his 26th birthday, Robert enlisted on the 2nd July ’40 in Adelaide to become SX7616 in the 2/48th Battalion. Soon after, his 64-year-old father died unexpectedly in Maitland having been transferred just five years beforehand.
One of the active young women of the Clare community was Lorna Irene Snashall who was energetic in supporting those serving overseas, including being a member of the Women's Auxiliary of Overseas Missions. She was also part of the Girl Comrades who enthusiastically helped celebrate with a kitchen afternoon prior to Lorna’s coming marriage to Robert. Whilst on pre-embarkation leave, Bob and Lorna married on the 25th July 1940.
By October the Clare community had organised a huge farewell in the Clare Town Hall on Sunday October 20th with twelve newly enlisted soldiers filing down the Hall before the singing of the National Anthem. The wish was expressed that, when the war had been successfully won, the ‘boys’ would return safely to Australia. They and their supportive families were thanked for doing their duty in offering their services for Australia and the Empire and for volunteering. Each soldier was presented with five parcels being from the Clare Soldiers’ Farewell Committee, the Fighting Forces Comfort Fund, the Clare CWA and Clare Women’s Branch of the Agricultural Bureau as well as one from Mr Tom French who generously donated a parcel to each departing soldier. The Committee also gave each departing soldier a monogrammed leather pocketbook.
Robert’s initial training days were spent in the cold of the Pavilions, now part of the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds before the new enlistees headed to Woodside to continue their preliminary training. Robert’s large contingent eventually embarked on the Stratheden for the Middle East, on the 7th November 1940, arrived on the 19th December 1940. Their 2/48th Battalion completed a few months training in Cyrenaica before going to Tobruk at the start of April 1941 where the dust, flies, heat, minimal water supplies and constant bombardment were quite a challenge to these fresh new enlistees.
A highlight for Robert was receiving the news in Tobruk of the birth of his first child, a son. ‘AITKEN (nee Lorna Snashall). —On the 3rd of June at Clare and District Hospital, to Lorna, wife of Private R. M. Aitken (2nd A.I.F., abroad) —a son.’ An ecstatic new Dad, Robert let ‘the world’ know (his world at that time being Tobruk.) The Blyth Agriculturalist recorded his reaction: ‘quite recently his wife received the "A.I.F. News," a newspaper printed by the Tobruk garrison, in which the birth notice of their now 4 months old son— William Maxwell Aitken, had been proudly inserted by the father, who had not seen his only son.’
14 months after he enlisted, aged 29 Bob died from wounds sustained when he trod on a landmine in Libya on the 14th September 1941. Both mid-north publications, the Blyth Agriculturalist and Northern Argus carried the tragic news of Robert’s death:
‘While engaged along with other members of the A.I.F. in fighting our battles at Tobruk, Private Robert Maxwell Aitken was recently wounded in action and died of wounds on Sept. 14th, the date of his mother's birthday. The sad news was conveyed through the Minister for the Army and the Military Board by local arrangement on Wednesday afternoon to his wife —Mrs. Lorna Aitken, of Gleeson Street, Clare. The late Private Aitken was a son of the late Mr. John Maxwell Aitken, who died at Maitland a little over 12 months ago, formerly being post-master at Clare, Maitland and other places. Bob's mother resides at Cheltenham in Adelaide, and his brother, Mr. H. J. Aitken, of Clare, is employed by the Mid-North Electricity Coy.’ They added: ‘We extend to his wife, mother, brother, small son and other relatives, our very sincere sympathy, trusting that the knowledge that he fulfilled his duty nobly will help them to bear their loss with the courage and fortitude still being displayed by his comrades in action "Greater love hath no man than this, that he laid down his life for his friends."
In his book, Tobruk to Tarakan, John Glenn described that ‘enemy mortars in this sector had been very active, and in an effort to silence them our mortars moved well forward and conducted a very successful shoot.’ He went on to explain that ‘Shelling continued to harass our men, and during the next five days J. Woodall, W. Southern, Herb Ashby, H.C. Dawson and W. McKay were wounded. Another casualty was R.M. Aitken, of C Company, who stepped on a mine and was badly wounded.’
Lorna and Robert’s family were overwhelmed by the support they received, placing a thank you in the November issue of the Northern Argus: ‘RETURN THANKS. Mrs. L. I. Aitken, of Clare, wishes to sincerely thank all kind relatives and friends, for their letters, telegrams, cards, and personal expressions of sympathy in her recent sad bereavement. Mrs. E. Aitken and daughters, of Adelaide, wish to sincerely thank all kind relatives and friends for their letters, cards, and personal expressions of sympathy in their recent sad bereavement. Mr. and Mrs. H. J. Aitken, of Clare, wish to sincerely thank all kind relatives and friends for letters, cards and personal expressions of sympathy in their recent sad bereavement.’
Robert’s grieving widow, Lorna was to receive another blow in December with the death of her 62-year-old father, William who had been a long-serving baker at Jones’ Clare bakery for 41 years. To add to her sorrow was the return of her brother, Driver Dudley Snashall SX9031, who had just been invalided back to Clare from his service in Syria. On her own and with a young baby, Lorna and young Maxwell were active in their support of the Clare Junior Red Cross and their state-wide fund-raising Baby Contest. The Northern Argus of September ’42 explained that ‘It is not a question of which is the bonniest, the loveliest or the best. They are all unique - to the mothers, fathers, families and friends at least. The primary object, however, is to raise funds for a very worthy cause.’ The paper then explained ‘in Clare a baby of great interest is Maxwell Aitken, the only son of the late Private R. M. Aitken and Mrs. Lorna Aitken, of Clare. This laddie's father, before being killed in action by a land mine within the perimeter and siege of Tobruk 12 months ago, as he went forth to battle, proudly placed the boy's (whom he had never seen) birth notice in the 'Tobruk Daily News,' an Army news sheet published daily mid shot and shell by its heroic Australian defenders.’ By November, the results were declared: ‘The Mayor said it was appropriate that Rory Hope and Maxwell Aitken should be 1st. and 2nd. in the centenary year, as both families had long identified themselves with the history of Clare.’ (30-year-old Lieutenant William Hope SX9904, also died of wounds, his being sustained in Syria on the 3rd July ’41.) In opening the afternoon’s fete, a comment was made by Mrs Hope that ‘She could not help being thrilled when she heard the result that babies Aitken and Hope had won the two top places as winners of the competition, and no one would have been more proud of the result than their gallant fathers.’
The ensuing years brought more sorrow for Lorna. Robert’s very supportive sister, Mavis died on 6th March ’43. She was just 26 years old. Lorna placed a tribute in the Advertiser: ‘ AITKEN. —On March 6. at Adelaide. Isabella Mavis, beloved sister-in-law of Lorna and loving aunty of Maxwell.’ Four years later, Robert’s mother also died on the 9th June ’47 at the Base Hospital in Horsham, Victoria. She was buried in the Cheltenham Cemetery with her daughter, Mavis.
Robert now rests in the Tobruk War Cemetery in Plot VI, Row H, Grave 12. With him are others from the 2/12th, 2/24th,, 2/28th, 9th Australian Signals and a Polish soldier. His family chose the inscription ‘He Died That We Might Live’ for his headstone.
Clare continued to remember those who had served. At the Anzac service, conducted on the 22nd April, 1951 350 people crowded into the Town Hall where over 50 returned service personnel paraded. Afterwards they walked to the Clare Soldiers’ Memorial gates where wreaths were placed before magnificent plaques were unveiled on both pillars of the memorials. The WWII carried the names of the 26 who had paid the ultimate price, with 13 being listed on each plaque. They were : R. M. Aitken R. E. H. Hope S. T. Bocian W. K. Hope D. J. Bond W.S. Jenner R. G. Bowley P. G. Maher J. D. Clark K. R. McKinnon C. A. Corfield M. Morrison L. F. Dack J. W. Ohlmeyer D. W. Ferguson H. Page K. A. Gericke R. C. J. Pawelski D.R. Gilchrist D. G. Prisk P. P. M. Gillen T. L. K Przibilla R. Henderson J. C. Sangster L. R. Hicks G. C. Scott. A fitting and enduring tribute. Last Post and Reveille was sounded by Bugler Peter Pargeter and then Padre Bond recited the following words: — 'In the Faith of Jesus Christ, we dedicate this Roll of Honor to the Glory of God and in memory of His faithful servants, In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.' This was followed by the Pledge of Remembrance.
Lorna lived to be 84. She died on the 22nd July 1993 and is buried in the Clare cemetery where Robert also has a headstone as tribute to his service. She continued to remember her young husband.
Advertiser Friday 26 September 1941, AITKEN—On September 14, died of wounds abroad, Private R. M. Aitken, dearly beloved son of Ellen and late J. M. Aitken, and loving brother of Mavis and Margaret. "He died that we might live." AITKEN. —On September 14, died of wounds abroad, Private R. M. Aitken, dearly beloved brother-in-law, and brother of Marj. and Bert. "Greater love hath no man than this." AITKEN. —On September 14, died of wounds abroad, Private R. M. Aitken, dearly beloved husband of Lorna and loving father of baby Maxwell. "His duty nobly done."
Advertiser Monday 14 September 1942, AITKEN. —In loving memory of our dear husband and daddy. Pte. Robert Maxwell Aitken, who died of wounds at Tobruk on September 14 1941. He died that we might live. —Always remembered by his loving wife Lorna and small son Maxwell. AITKEN. -dear brother-in-law. Pte Robert Maxwell Aitken. who died of wounds at Tobruk on September 14 1941. His duty nobly done. Inserted by his loving brother-in-law. Dud (AIF) sister-in-law. Gladys, and Joy. AITKEN. —In treasured memory of our dear son and brother. Robert Maxwell (Bob), who died of wounds at Tobruk. September 14. 1941. He gave his life for us and we who love you dear will not forget. —From his loving mother and sisters. AITKEN In loving memory of our dear brother. Pte. R. M. Aitken who died of wounds at Tobruk. September 14, 1941. Greater love hath no man than ' this.—Ever remembered by Marg, and Bert.
Advertiser Tuesday 14 September 1943, AITKEN. —In loving memory of Pte. R. M. Aitken, died of wounds at Tobruk, Sept. 14, 1941. His duty nobly done. — Longed for always by his wife Lorna, and son Maxwell.
Advertiser Thursday 14 September 1944, AITKEN. Pte. R. M.—A tribute of honor to our dear husband and father Bob died of wounds at Tobruk, Sept. 14. 1941. A thought for today, a memory forever. —Longed for always by his loving wife Lorna and son Maxwell.
Advertiser Friday 14 September 1945, AITKEN In loving memory of our loving husband and father Pte. R M Aitken died of wounds at Tobruk September 14, 1941. His duty nobly done. Remembered always by his loving wife Lorna and son Maxwell.
Advertiser Saturday 14 September 1946, AITKEN. Pte. R. M- ln loving memory of our dear husband and father died of wounds at Tobruk September 14. 1941.—Longed for always by his loving wife Lorna, son Maxwell.

Researched and written by Kaye Lee, daughter of Bryan Holmes SX8133, 2/48th Battalion

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