HE WAS A FRIEND OF MINE
Robert ‘Bobby’ Spence
Born: 7th March 1929
Died: 12th October 1980
Bobby grew up in Joseph Street, Shankill Road, he had four brothers and two sisters. He went into service in both the Royal and Merchant Navies. While in the Royal Navy he was awarded two medals, a distinguished service medal whilst serving during the Korean War and a United Nations Medal.
Bobby married his sweetheart Sadie, and they had five kids, three daughters followed by two sons, he found work in power station west and also part-time work in Joe McKee’s bookmakers.
At the out-break of the ‘Troubles’ he enlisted in ‘B’ Coy Ulster Volunteer Force, Bobby was arrested in May 1975 and twenty months later was sentenced to 14 years and entered compound 21, Long Kesh. During this period of incarceration he took up jogging, and unfortunately while on one of his runs, five and half years after his imprisonment, Bobby suffered a massive heart attack and passed away at the age of 51, leaving behind his still devoted wife and children.
My memories are of a loving dad, who always put us, his three daughters and two sons first and foremost. Never once can I recall him ever raising his voice let alone his hand to us, but believe you me he had this certain look when one of us was pushing our luck, and the moment you spied it no words were needed. For you automatically knew you were over-stepping the mark and ceased for that was his way of letting you know he was not too pleased with you!
Every week he’d have brought us comics – the Hotspur, Victor, Shoot etc., and girl’s ones for my sisters. My dad worked as a labourer full-time at Power Station West, and part-time in Joe McKee’s bookies. Money was very tight in those childhood days. We grew up in a two bedroom house, although in my early years we may have lacked luxuries we certainly didn’t lack love and affection from our dad and mum. My dad never took a drink, his only luxury was the odd wee park drive cigarette but, always, his kids came first. We were taught to never back-cheek our elders, and always to respect law and order.
I remember we used to watch Alfred Hitchcock films on our black and white television. After one such viewing us kids made our way to bed. As my sister opened our bedroom door she let out an almighty scream, turned and as she took to her heels, flinging her arms in every direction, came very close to knocking us other kids sprawling down the stairs. Unbeknownst to us, dad had sneaked up during the film and wrapped a sheet over a brush, then positioned it to resemble a ghost -needless to say we all weren’t far behind my sister.
Dad always fancied having a wee whippet dog, thou his attempt at having any type of dog failed miserably when he arrived home one day with what I think was a boxer. My mum and one of my sisters took flight, petrified. Needless to say mum put her foot down and a few years would pass before I was eventually allowed to bring a pup home. I named him Skipper and as he got older, Skipper knew when dad was on his way home from work. About 10 or 15 minutes before my dad appeared Skipper would be lying at the front door, tail constantly wagging – it might have had something to do with a curly-wurly (toffee coated in chocolate), for that was a treat my dad would walk in holding behind his back for Skipper to jump up and grab, still in the wrapper.
I remember when I was 14 years old, dad got me what was known in those days as the black UVF issue coat, he called me into the kitchen and proceeded to put it on me, along with a camouflage scarf and the long style black Russian wooley hat. When I laughed he asked what was so amusing, and then told me at times in life we must take things serious. In so saying he taught us to respect the Catholic religion, and I can honestly say I never once heard him be sectarian in any shape or form, in fact we had Catholic neighbours who were good friends with my family, my dad actually stopped people from putting this family out of their home, and believe me, in the early ‘70’s things were crazy and it became very territorial. In fact, when dad was arrested and on remand on the Loyalist ‘C wing’ at Crumlin Road Prison, our Catholic friend, Mrs C went with my mum and aunt to visit him, upon entering the search box the woman screw came across her rosary beads – the screw thinking some mistake had been made then sent word to my dad enquiring what was going on. Dad’s response was simple, ‘am I not allowed to have Catholic friends? let her in’. Needless to say Mrs C continued with her visit, and continued for many more years, always as a family friend until her own passing. The lesson he always taught us was, ‘there is good and bad on all sides, and our fight was against the rebels’, as he always referred to them by.
Our dad 32 years on is still sorely missed. His love, humour and guidance in life has and always will be sorely missed, by his kids, and still loving and devoted wife.