Memories of a Veteran Soldier
A steady trickle of interesting documents is now coming my way through the Capturing Cambridge Project - house deeds, anecdotes, occasional photos. One of the most remarkable has been the collection of poems and short stories of Robert W Stevenson who lived until his death in 2014 in Mowbray Road.
Called up at the outbreak of the Second World War because he was already a 'territorial', he was assigned to the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and stayed with his unit, the 20th British General Hospital, right through until 1945. He travelled all over the British Isles as well as France in 1940, Normandy in 1944 and then India. Throughout he wrote numerous poems and short stories about army life, the characters he served with, the women he met and novel sights and sounds. But he also used his writing to reminisce about life at home, Cambridge and his childhood.
He grew up in Doric Street with his parents, Robert and May. Robert was a college servant (college unknown) and Doric Street was one of three parallel streets of tiny two up two down terraced houses running between Lensfield Road and Saxon Street that were eventually condemned and demolished in the 1960s. It was about this street in the 1920s that he chose to reminisce in one poem written in Ireland in 1943:
Looking back to my childhood days
Time honoured happy carefree ways.
That tiny house, two up two down
In the little community of New Town.
He goes on to paint a picture of many of the residents:
Miss Webb's shop with great jars of sweets,
Liquorice, toffee and farthing treats.
Old Mrs Elgar with her much prized ferns,
George the milkman with his huge brass churns.
Looking at the location now it seems impossible that 21 households (according to the 1911 census) were squeezed into the available space. The family must have been relieved to move into their new house in Mowbray Road in the 1930s.
Later in life his writings were shared with family and friends but as far as I am aware never professionally published. I have tried to get in touch with surviving family members with no luck to date. If anyone in the parish knew Robert and has memories to share about him I would be very interested. The complete poem about Doric Street can be found on the Capturing Cambridge website at the location where the street once was.