When Sechelt resident John Robertson retired from teaching, he sat in the garden and began writing and writing. “I couldn’t stop,” he recalls, and some of his stories about the war years were published in The Legion Magazine.
Robertson, now 91, will share his stories with the public at a book launch for his latest volume, Trapped in Tunisia, to be held at Strait Coffee in Wilson Creek at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 4.
They were stories from his own experience based on his service as a sub-lieutenant with the Royal Navy in the Second World War where he earned the Distinguished Service Cross. Operating from an RAF station in Malta, Robertson’s specialty was as a navigator in aircraft. He flew in a biplane known as the Swordfish, nicknamed “the string bag” because of its fabric and strut construction. It was small and light, could land anywhere and sunk more enemy ships than any other allied aircraft.
On one secret and dangerous mission to carry an agent into Tunisia, the Swordfish attempted to land on a dried-up lake. A five-centimetre layer of sun-baked salt made it look dry and solid, but the three metres of mud and quicksand underneath caused the plane to land head first.
Robertson’s flying days were over, but the stories didn’t end there. Though he passed a year in a prisoner of war camp in the Sahara Desert, he never lost his sense of humour.
The first half of Trapped in Tunisia spins several suspenseful and comical tales of his adventures, told in the lively fashion of a born story-teller. Robertson understands a good yarn. For many years he performed in the local pantomimes and in Peninsula Players as an actor and director of the popular dinner theatre.
Robertson has always had a penchant for fiction, writing an epic novel about Egypt that he self published in 2000. The last half of Trapped in Tunisia includes fictional stories in the Jackass Creek series, based on odd happenings, as he puts it, in a mythical location along the Fraser Canyon of BC.
This section of the book, Troubled by Bears and Other Events, is character driven and the reader can muse over the foibles of school principal Hillis Usry (perhaps close to Robertson’s own persona?) or the grumpy Judson and his kind, cookie-baking wife, Fran, and the likes of the settlement’s bad boys, Joe Bundy and his dog Killer. It is an entertaining and cheeky collection of tales, written over several decades but never published. Enter Paul Blakey of Twin Eagles Publishing.
“John and I got talking one day,” said the Roberts Creek publisher, “and he mentioned he had a collection of stories.” They were typewritten pages, not digital, but Blakey found that otherwise, the stories were ready to go, and he published the book in August.
Blakey has about eight books in his catalogue so far as a new publisher, including Dancing on Air, the third book from another local author, Verity Purdy.
“I have a real interest now in publishing, because of the whole way that it’s changing,” he said, referring to the digital world of print on demand that does not require a publisher to invest in printing 1,000 copies of a book in advance with money up front. Blakey will also be on hand on Sept. 4 to share in Robertson’s book launch. Signed copies of the book will be for sale.
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Photo Caption: Sechelt resident John Robertson will share his stories with the public at a book launch for his latest volume, Trapped in Tunisia, to be held at Strait Coffee in Wilson Creek at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 4. They were stories from his own experience based on his service as a Sub Lieutenant with the Royal Navy in the Second World War where he earned the Distinguished Service Cross.