News Local

Local Second World War veteran died last week

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

FILE PHOTO
Robert 'Flash' Clayton leads a parade in this file photo. Clayton died Feb. 6.

FILE PHOTO Robert 'Flash' Clayton leads a parade in this file photo. Clayton died Feb. 6.

A local man who inspired hundreds in the area with his harrowing tales from the Second World War has died.

Robert “Flash” Clayton died Feb. 6 at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. He was 93.

Clayton was a dedicated veteran who went through hell as a prisoner of war between 1941 and 1945. He was a sergeant in the Royal Rifles, Royal Canadian Regiment and was a lifetime member of the Hong Kong Veterans Association.

Locally, he was a lifetime member of the Brechin-Mara Royal Canadian Legion Branch 488, serving as sergeant-at-arms for many years.

“He was quite an inspiration to me,” said Howard Raper, a longtime friend of Clayton’s who co-authored a book on Clayton’s life and experiences. “He convinced me that good would always triumph over evil ... that there are a lot more good people than evil people in the world.”

Clayton was 15 years old when he joined the militia, lying about his age to enlist. At 17, he lied again, as war broke out. Offered a position on the home front and a promotion to sergeant-major, Clayton resisted staying in Canada during the war, adamant to see action.

Clayton, like so many other young men who enlisted, had no idea what was about to happen.

His regiment arrived in Hong Kong without most of its heavy equipment. The soldiers dug in on the island as well as they could, with only rifles and Bren guns at their disposal.

On Christmas Day 1941, Clayton became a prisoner of war. He may have seemed like one of the lucky ones, as 290 Canadians were killed, decimating the regiment.

Clayton’s was a story worth telling; last year, Raper did just that.

“His experiences during the war was something that was so interesting that I decided that his story had to be told, once he had a stroke and could no longer tell the story himself,” Raper said. “Basically, that’s what the book is: my recollection of all these stories, sitting at his kitchen table, talking about his experiences both during and after the war.”

Raper met Clayton through the legion and became fast friends. Raper and his wife would drive Clayton and his wife, Jessie, once the Claytons could no longer drive themselves.

Accordingly, their relationship grew closer.

Clayton’s friendliness was something Raper recalled fondly.

“If a stranger came into the Club Room at the legion branch, he always made a point of going up to him, introducing himself and welcoming him to the legion branch,” Raper said. “Nobody, when they first entered that legion Club Room, ever felt they were not welcome.”

Despite going through so much agony and hardship during the Second World War, Raper said, Clayton was always cheerful.

“No matter what was going on in his life ... if you asked him, ‘How are doing, Bob?’ he’d say, ‘Never better.’”

Clayton married Jessie, a Second World War veteran as well, in 1946. He is also survived by a daughter, Veronica, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He was predeceased by his daughter, Janet.

patrick.bales@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/patrickbales


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