Mystery hero in Blitz image is identified

  • Photograph shows men pulling a woman from a bombed air raid shelter in WW2 
  • RAF aircraft engineer John Robbins, 75, spotted his father as one of the rescuers
  • Albert Robbins vanished after harrowing bombing which claimed dozens of lives

By Amie Gordon For Mailonline

Published: 08:06 EDT, 13 October 2017 | Updated: 09:53 EDT, 13 October 2017

A traumatised young soldier vanished just moments after he was photographed rescuing a woman from a bombed air raid shelter in the Second World War.

This haunting image shows men pulling a victim from the rubble of a destroyed building in Southampton at the height of the Blitz in 1940.

But the rescue effort proved too much for Sapper Albert Robbins, who fled the scene and disappeared for three days after he and his comrades pulled a teenage girl from the building, and her body broke in two. 

Albert's son, RAF engineer John Robbins, has now revealed for the first time his father's identity and the harrowing story behind the photo.

Sapper Albert Robbins was a member of the team pictured rescuing a woman from a bombed air raid shelter in Southampton at the height of the Blitz in 1940
Sapper Albert Robbins was a member of the team pictured rescuing a woman from a bombed air raid shelter in Southampton at the height of the Blitz in 1940

Sapper Albert Robbins was a member of the team pictured rescuing a woman from a bombed air raid shelter in Southampton at the height of the Blitz in 1940

Albert Robbins, who was from Cam­­den in north London, was working as an excavator bringing bodies up with a rope in Southampton in September, 1940
Albert Robbins, who was from Cam­­den in north London, was working as an excavator bringing bodies up with a rope in Southampton in September, 1940

Albert Robbins, who was from Cam­­den in north London, was working as an excavator bringing bodies up with a rope in Southampton in September, 1940

The black and white photograph was last month colourised by Royston Leonard, who ensured the images would remain a graphic reminder of the devastation endured by Britain and its Allies in WW2. 

John Robbins was overcome with emotion when he first spotted his father Albert in the image after it was printed in a magazine in 1995.

Mr Robbins recognised his father as one of the men some 70 years after the iconic image was taken and it now hangs in his home.

He said his father, who was from Cam­­den in north London, was working as an excavator bringing bodies up with a rope in Southampton in September, 1940.

Albert never knew the photograph existed and the identity of the woman he rescued, and her fate, remains a mystery. 

Mr Robbins told the Daily Mirror: '[Dad] told me that after saving the woman he went back into the shelter and saw hundreds of bodies still sitting in rows on either side.

'There wasn't a mark on anyone. They had all died from suffocation.' 

Albert and his team were then winching a young girl from the shelter when her body broke in two because of the rope tied around her waist. 

Albert later told his wife and children the girl's torso came out of the rubble but her legs fell back down into the debris. 

The distressing sight affected Albert so much he ran away and was not seen for some three days, until he appeared at his mother's home in Winchester, 'confused, filthy, dirty and unshaven'.

He never told his family what he did in those three days. 

John Robbins (pictured), paid tribute to his father, who he described as a 'brave, generous, yet calm man, who didn't tend to be dramatic'
John Robbins (pictured), paid tribute to his father, who he described as a 'brave, generous, yet calm man, who didn't tend to be dramatic'

John Robbins (pictured), paid tribute to his father, who he described as a 'brave, generous, yet calm man, who didn't tend to be dramatic'

Mr Robbins said his heroic father went on to save dozens of lives over the coming years when he moved into bomb disposal. 

While he lost countless colleagues and cheated death himself on several occasions, Albert successfully cleared mines on Worthing beach in West Sussex and removed a bomb from Brighton Pier.

Albert also had a lucky escape when he was due to take part in a raid over the Norwegian coast but his appendix burst. 

The man who took his place was killed by a bulldozer bomb.  

Once the war had ended Albert worked as an engineer. He died in 1979 aged 60 following complications after a heart attack. 

His son paid tribute to his father, who he described as a 'brave, generous, yet calm man, who didn't tend to be dramatic'.  

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