Robert Andrew ‘Bob’ Whyte worked for the Chelmsford electrical engineers, Crompton-Parkinson before joining the Royal Air Force. He was taken prisoner of war by the Italians in Libya when his Hurricane was shot down in December 1941. With Italy's surrender in September 1943 he escaped and returned to England where he was killed in a flying accident in August 1944. His home was in Shrublands Close.
Robert Andrew WHYTE, Warrant Officer (Pilot), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
Killed in a flying accident in Gloucestershire. Aged 23
Robert Andrew ‘Bob’ Whyte was born around 1920, the only child of Andrew Whyte and Mary M Whyte.
During the Second World war he served as Warrant Officer (Pilot) 1256128 in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, having previouslu worked at Crompton-Parkinson's factory in Chelmsford.
In June 1943 the Essex Chronicle reported:
"The present address of Sergt.-Pilot Robert A, Whyte, only child of Mr. and Mrs. A. Whyte, of 10 Shrublands Close, Chelmsford, is Campo No. P.G. 59, Servigliano. Italy. That is where this picture was taken. He was shot down at Matuba while on offensive patrol in his Hurricane on December 12, 1941. Sergt.-Pilot Whyte, who is 22, was formerly employed at the Crompton Parkinson works. There are three other Chelmsford men, one named Cash, in the same camp with him. He writes home that it is a sore point with him that the R.A.F. and Navy personnel must all wear khaki like the Army prisoners while they remain in Italian hands."
Following Italy's surrender in September 1943 and 21 months in captivity Bob managed to escape from his Italian p.o.w. camp and complete a ten-week journey to rejoin the advancing Allied forces.
In January 1944 the Essex Chronicle reported:
"When Sergt.-Pilot Robert Andrew Whyte, of the R.A.F., rang through to his mother on January 4, telling her that he was in England, and that he would be home in a few days, she was so overjoyed she could not carry on the conversation. She had to hang up the receiver, for fear the good news she had heard was not true. She had no idea he was in England.
Sergeant-Pilot Whyte is the 23 year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. A. Whyte, of Shrublands Close, Chelmsford. The last they heard of him was in early September, when he was a prisoner of war in Italy. He had been a prisoner for twenty-one months. It was in December, 1941, in Linya, while ‘straffing’ a German ground convoy of lorries in his Hurricane - he is a Fighter-Pilot - that Bob Whyte was caught in a burst of anti-aircraft fire, and made a crash landing. He was captured, uninjured, by the Germans, and then transferred to the Italians.
Now he is back home, and able to tell how he got away from his Italian captors and finally reached this country. This is his story: ‘After being in a transit camp I was sent to the camp where I spent most of my time. The Red Cross parcels we got were excellent and essential. We could, perhaps, just have existed without them, but that is all. After the Italian armistice - it was on the night of September 14 - the camp I was in was evacuated to safety. We were turned out into the country, under custody. We went off in small groups. I escaped, and set off to the south, hoping for the best. We passed a number of Germans, bit our luck was in. On we went, slowly but surely. We stopped about six miles behind a river and waited for the British line to get nearer. The fighting was pretty tough. I got impatient, and went off on my own, and got through the lines during the fighting. It then took me a day to get to our lines. I had been at liberty about ten weeks. Then I came to England. My people did not know I had got here until I ‘phoned them up. Now I’m going to enjoy two enjoy two months’ leave.’
Sergeant-Pilot Whyte was with Messrs Crompton Parkinson, where his father is engaged, before he joined the R.A.F. as soon as he was 19."
On 27th August 1944, when aged 23, Robert was killed in a flying accident near Gloucester.
At the time of his death Robert's parents were still living at 10 Shrublands Close in Chelmsford,
Robert was buried at Chelmsford Borough Cemetery on 1st September 1944, in a ceremony conducted by the Rev. Herbert Stock (grave: 5681).
He left an estate valued at £488 14s. 8.
On 2nd August 1966 Robert’s mother’s body was recovered by the police from the River Chelmer, close to Chelmsford Swimming Baths. The 79 year-old had been reported missing from her Shrublands Close home earlier in the day.