Obituary: Terence Robinson
Coastal Forces veteran called an 'engaging Irishman' who later headed Coca-Cola in the North
Published 18/09/2016 | 02:30
Terence Robinson, who has died aged 98, distinguished himself in Coastal Forces in the Mediterranean during the Second World War, and became "Mr Coca-Cola" in Northern Ireland.
The three-volume history of Coastal Forces by Leonard "Rover" Reynolds includes Robinson as the "engaging Irishman" who in August 1943 took command at Bastia of Motor Gunboat 660, one of the Fairmile D motorboats, the "dog boats" of the 57th MTB Flotilla commanded by the fearless Lt Cdr Timothy Bligh.
MGB 660 was detached for special operations with the Long Range Desert Group on the coast of Albania and later to the Aegean, where Robinson was involved in continuous operations again enemy transport lighters, schooners and E-boats, fighting off dreaded Luftwaffe air attacks and supporting Tito's partisans.
Robinson ferried the King of the Hellenes and his staff from the cruiser Ajax into the port of Piraeus soon after Athens was liberated, and in mid-December 1944 he also landed Harold Macmillan, then the British Minister Resident in the Mediterranean.
On the night of February 13/14 1945, the 57th MTB Flotilla off the coast of eastern Istria, northern Croatia, attacked and sank three large German F-lighters and Robinson was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his marked courage, skill and resource.
Arthur Terence Robinson was born in Belfast on April 22, 1918 and educated from a young age at the Quaker school, Stramongate, in Kendal, and then at St George's, Harpenden, where he was victor ludorum in 1936. Robinson started work as an unpaid assistant manager at the George Hotel, Aberdeen.
Moving to London he became a commis chef at the Cumberland Hotel while playing in Saracens' first XV. In 1938, to gain experience as a waiter, he moved to the Hotel Splendide, Lugano's most fashionable hotel, and then the Hotel du Château d'Ouchy, Lausanne.
With war imminent he ran down the platform to catch the last train to Paris before the Swiss closed the frontier.
Volunteering for the Royal Navy, as an Ordinary Seaman his first ship was the Tribal-class destroyer Cossack under her famous fighting captain, (later Admiral of the Fleet) Philip Vian.
Robinson was on the bridge when Cossack attacked the battleship Bismarck, and recalled Vian charging his much larger German enemy at high speed at night until he turned sharply at close range to deliver a salvo of torpedoes. Next day Bismarck was brought to bay by the Home Fleet.
After completing officer training, in August 1942 Robinson was appointed first lieutenant of Motor Launch (ML) 147, based in Lowestoft. There, in rough weather, he jumped into the icy North Sea to rescue a man overboard and was awarded a Royal Humane Society's Testimonial on Vellum.
In 1943 he was appointed first lieutenant of MGB 641, under her South African skipper, Lieutenant P Hughes, based in North Africa. Working in close harmony with American PT Boats he was involved in torpedo and gun attacks on enemy shore installations.
On July 14, 1943, in company with two other MGBs in the Straits of Messina, MGB 641 sighted and attacked an enemy U-boat travelling on the surface. The attack alerted the shore batteries and MGB 641 received a direct hit amid ships. Her crew were picked up by the others who, ignoring standing orders not to approach stricken ships when shore batteries had established the exact range for further rounds, laid smoke to affect a rescue.
Post-war, Robinson returned to Northern Ireland, where his father had bought the Coca-Cola franchise. His brother, Denis, had been killed at Caen serving with the Seaforth Highlanders and it fell to him to help his father develop the business. It was while on a tour of Coca-Cola bottlers in North America that he met first his wife Babs Morphy, and they were married in London, Ontario, in 1950. In Northern Ireland, Robinson farmed at Co Down, building up an award-winning herd of Limousin cattle and making frequent trips to France for quality stock. He also established River Valley Snacks, his energy and leadership putting the business on a firm footing and in which he was involved until his death.
His hospitality was well-known and his society much sought after. One friend recalled: "Robinson was the sort of man who had the ability, without arrogance, to command attention. He could command attention… by simply being there."
After his wife's death in 1985, he sold the farm and moved to Holywood, Co Down, where he was a popular member of the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club. In 1996 he married Phyllis Doak (née Neill) who survives him with a son and two daughters of the first marriage.
Terence Robinson died on August 12.