A Second World War veteran and Gwent sport star has died at the age of 94. MARTIN WADE looks back at the life of Bob Curzon

ROBERT Curzon – known to everyone as Bob – was also a prominent sportsmen and captained Abergavenny Thursdays during some of their most successful years – winning the Welsh Challenge Cup in 1951.

Bob was born in 1923 and brought up in Pontypool. He joined the Army early in the war, enlisting in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He later joined the Staffordshire Regiment and was posted to India in 1943. His talents as a leader were soon recognised and he was made an instructor and rose quickly through the ranks to become a Company Sergeant Major.

It was at this time Bob joined what would become one of the most famed fighting units of the war.

The Chindits were special forces who were landed by parachute and glider behind enemy lines to fight the Japanese army in the jungle.

Bob’s son John tells how his father joined the famous outfit. His unit was formed up on parade and they were told of a difficult and dangerous mission for which 200 volunteers were needed. “Following the old Army tradition of never volunteering, especially if for something described as dangerous – none stepped forward. They then simply chose 200 men, one of whom was my father”.

He saw some of the most ferocious jungle fighting of the war after the Chindits were landed by glider at Mawlu in Burma. The area controlled access to the main railway line and saw British and Japanese troops fighting in close combat using bayonets and the Gurkha knife, the kukri.

Their leader, the maverick General Orde Wingate, was killed in a plane crash at this time and command of the Chindits was passed on to the American General Joseph ‘Vinegar’ Joe Stillwell.

John tells how Bob did not think much of their new leader. “The Chindits were a lightly armed mobile force, but Stillwell used them as conventional infantry and had them attack the fortified town of Mogaung.”

The Chindits eventually took the town but John tells how his father was resentful of the waste that this effort represented.

When he came home to South Wales he met and married an Usk girl, Joan Herbert and they were married for 64 years until her death in 2011, living in Pontypool and Cwmbran.

Despite the momentous part the war in Burma played in his life, Bob did not join the Burma Star veterans’ association until he was in his 60s. John recalls: “He rarely talked about his experiences, but he got to an age where you ask what are the big things in my life? And there he was – a Pontypool boy, who’d never left his own country, transported to the other side of the world to fight in a major theatre of war.”

This was, indeed, something worth remembering and commemorating after all.

He became chairman of the Newport branch of the association, organising events for veterans but also raising funds for the families of the Gurkhas with whom they had a close relationship.

In 2005 he took part in the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of VJ Day at Tredegar Park in Newport reading the words of the famous epitaph, which took its name, Kohima, from the place where the Chindits faced bloody battle: “When you go home, tell them of us and say. For your tomorrows, we gave our todays.”

Some decades earlier, long after leaving the Army, he donned uniform again, this time the dark blue of the Royal Navy. John had joined the local sea cadet unit TS Kittiwake in Pontypool in the early 1960s and Bob joined too, earning a commission as an officer in the Royal Naval Reserve. During his time here he commanded a guard of honour for Prince Charles during the Investiture celebrations in 1969.

This wholehearted commitment was typical of the man, says John. “He couldn’t just join something, he always got stuck in and became completely involved.”

Away from the military he shone as a leader in other fields. Bob was captain of Abergavenny Thursdays football team in what was their golden age winning the Welsh Challenge Cup in 1951, when he rejoiced in the nickname of “Quicksilver” Curzon.

An accomplished footballer before the war, John tells how the conflict meant it was a career he would never follow professionally. “Newport County had offered him a trial in 1939 and the actual date for the trial was the day that war broke out.”

From that day, it was declared, professional football was suspended for the duration of hostilities and so his trial never took place.”

He went on to play for various army side during the war. He played in a number of service teams alongside such luminaries as future England International Tommy Lawton and BBC personality Peter West.

On demobilisation, he was again denied the chance to play at the highest level by edict from above.

“He worked as a bricklayer after the war and this was a reserved occupation. So when Tottenham Hotspur offered him a trial he had to turn it down.”

The desperate need for bricklayers to rebuild a country shattered by war was understandable, and this need had denied Bob a shot at playing for one of the top sides in the country.

“He did regret it, but he was never bitter about it,” John says.

Bob instead carved out a notable semi-professional career with the Abergavenny side.

This wasn’t without its rewards. Apart from the stunning success of the early 1950s, he was handsomely paid.

“He used to get £5 per game,” John said, “and combined with his wages as a bricklayer, the money he earned was as good if not better than professionals at that time whose wages were capped at £15 per week.”

Although the pay was good for a skilled bricklayer, Bob went to night school and qualified in what was then called time and motion management, later organisation and management.

He worked for 25 years at British Nylon Spinners (later ICI fibres) in Pontypool before moving on to Cardiff City Council and Torfaen Council.

His love for sport meant after he retired he kept up his sporting activities winning awards for both golf and bowls.

Bob died quietly at the age of 94 at the Belmont House Residential Home in Abergavenny after a long battle with cancer.

He leaves three children, Jeanette, a retired deputy teacher, John, a journalist, and David, a project manager. He also has six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Bob’s funeral will take place at noon on July 13 at Gwent Crematorium. John says all who knew Bob are welcome to come and say farewell to this remarkable soldier and sportsman of Gwent.