A SECOND World War veteran who has worked as a museum attendant at the Northern Ireland War Memorial in Belfast for almost a quarter of a century has been awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Mr Robert Wright from Carnmoney, who previously held a similar post in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, was granted the honour on June 16 for services to museums.
Known to family, friends and colleagues as Bob, the 89-year-old former soldier has been the senior museum attendant at the War Memorial exhibition gallery on Talbot Street for the past 24 years.
Commenting on the award, Mr Wright told the Times: “It’s a great honour. I am pleased to receive the BEM for doing a job which I love.
“The best thing about my job is meeting people. People from 63 different nations came here last year and I just love meeting people from all over the world.”
Born near Sandy Row in Belfast, Bob Wright enlisted in the Welch Regiment in 1938 at the age of 15 and volunteered for service in the Commandos three years later. After serving with the Special Boat Service in Norway, he was posted to No. 5 Commando in Burma where he took part in a series of daring raids behind Japanese lines. He was on operations in Malaya when the Japanese surrendered in August 1945.
When the Commandos were sent home to be demobilised, Mr Wright agreed to stay behind in Hong Kong for another two years as a Warrant Officer responsible for the formation and training of the Hong Kong Chinese Training Unit. During his time serving in the Far East he met his wife, Joan.
“She came up to me when I was serving in Hong Kong and asked me for a job. I asked her her name and she said ‘Cheung’, so I decided I would call her Joan,” he said with a smile.
The couple went on to have two children and are still happily married, living in the Ravelston area of Carnmoney.
Mr Wright was discharged from HM Armed Forces in 1950 after 11 years of distinguished service and went on to work for Courtaulds, Standard Telephones & Cables and Wall’s Ice Cream before joining the staff at the Folk and Transport Museum and later, after he reached retirement age, taking up his current post with the Northern Ireland War Memorial.
The affable octogenarian gives everyone a warm welcome to the War Memorial and is a big hit with the schoolchildren who visit, telling them about his real life experiences and teaching them about what life was like during the war.
Congratulating Mr Wright on his award, the Chairman of the Northern Ireland War Memorial, Lieutenant Colonel C. T. Hogg, said: “This is a richly deserved award. Bob Wright is one of those special people in life who take great pride in all they do. He greets every visitor to the gallery and offers to explain the exhibits, drawing on his store of wartime experiences to embellish his stories of the war, the blitz on Belfast and times past.”
Outside of his duties in the gallery, Mr Wright is a member of the Commando Association. He was also a stalwart of the Burma Star Association until it closed.
For more information about the Northern Ireland War Memorial Home Front Exhibition log on to www.niwarmemorial.org