My father was born on October 4 North Motton, a small rural community in north-west Tasmania He was christened Arthur Newman Allen. The middle name of Newman was for his father. Arthur was for his maternal uncle, Arthur Singleton. However, Dad was always called Robin ….and Bob by my mother and her family.

Arthur Singleton was a WWI veteran who had been at the Gallipoli Landing and went on to fight in France. He had arrived home as a wounded hero just three weeks after my father was born. According to local news reports at the time he had been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, for action at the Battle of Lone Pine. There is a long story about the medal, which I have told elsewhere on this site.

Arthur Singleton.
Private Arthur Singleton in Egypt after being evacuated wounded from Gallipoli. Circa 1915

Like so many other ex-servicemen, Arthur Singleton was suffering from shellshock, but in those days little help was available. He married Lizzie King soon after returning and the couple had two little girls. Sadly, within a couple of years his mental health had seriously deteriorated. His family fell apart and his young daughters were placed in an orphanage. With the added problem of alcohol he became very dangerous. At various time he attempted to harm his wife, his father, and a neighbour.

By the early 1920s Arthur Singleton was in a mental institution. He would remain there for the rest of his life, apart from very brief periods. On a couple of occasions he simply escaped. During the early years, his condition would sometimes improve enough for him to be discharged, but his demons would always resurface. It was a matter of deep shame for his family, who never visited him and tried to forget all about him. A son called Arthur was too much for my grandmother; hence the adoption of the name Robin.

Teaparty circa 1925
Tea for two in the garden. My father (L) and his brother Laurie (R)

My widowed Grandmother moved into town in the early1930s. When my father was enrolled at the Ulverstone State School it happened to be Remembrance Day. I can’t help wondering whether Grandma thought of her brother when she registered her son as Robin Allen. In the photo below, taken around 1905, my grandmother is standing with her hand affectionately on her younger brother Arthur’s shoulder.

The Singleton Family of Ulverstone, Tasmania
The Singleton Family circa 1905

As a child I was puzzled whenever letters arrived at our home addressed to Mr A.N. Allen. When I queried my mother she said, ‘Well your father’s name is really Arthur, but Grandma said that when he was a little boy the robin redbreasts would hop around him in the garden.’

The Robin, my father's namesake.

That might have been true, but of course it was only half an answer. My father’s namesake ‘mad’ uncle Arthur was not mentioned.

In WWII Dad’s army mates knew him as Bob Allen.

Arthur Newman (Robin) Allen in WWII
My father prior to embarking for service in New Guinea.

I have to admit there is an amusing side to this otherwise dreadfully sad story.

My late parents separated in their fifties and lived in different towns. However my father, for the sake of appearances, wanted to maintain a friendly relationship and my generous spirited mother went along with this, albeit with unspoken reluctance. It became a weekly event that my father would meet his brother for a few drinks in my mother’s town, then go on to her place for dinner.

On one occasion my father, always a terrible driver, ran into a police car after leaving his brother’s club. 😎 Naturally they wanted to breathalyze him. Now I know this sounds ridiculous, but the testing equipment had been taken to a town about an hour’s drive away. This was in the 1970s. when the use of breathalyzers was still new in Tasmania. Forced to wait until it was collected, Dad asked the police to call at his ‘wife’s’ home and explain that he would be late.

When the knock came at her door my mother was met by an officer who said kindly, ‘Hello Mrs Allen. I’m afraid Arthur’s had an accident, but don’t worry….he’s not injured,’

My mother, looking very puzzled asked, ‘But who’s Arthur?‘ Our family still chuckle about this decades later.

Of course, by the time the testing equipment was retrieved and set up Dad was safely under the limit. Talk about lucky!

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