Floral tribute to former Harborough man who helped liberate concentration camp

Bob Gregory
Bob Gregory

A former Harborough man whose gardening exploits took him to a number of England’s great estates and whose wartime exploits included liberating a concentration camp is to have a flower named in his memory.

Robert Gregory, better known as Bob, died in 1998 and a former curate at St Dionysius Church, Grenville Gibbins, wanted to pay tribute to someone he said had led an ‘amazing life’ and so set about searching for a nursery which would name a pelargonium in his memory - eventually finding one in Dublin.

Bob’s son Eddie said: “My dad was born the son of a gardener in 1913 from a long line of gardeners. His main ambition was also to be a gardener, but his dad said he should get a proper profession- so he became an apprentice clerk at the age of 14. In the Great Depression he lost his job but to his delight was offered a job as a journeyman gardener. He moved to Stoke Park and lived with the other gardeners.

“During his career he travelled to some of the great estates of England at Luton Hoo, Brockelsby, Thorpe Lubenham, Bitham, and Basing Park.

“In the Second World War he served in the Royal Artillery/400 Battery and in 1940 married Francis, who he at met in the church choir at Stoke Bruerne. He fought in the Western Desert, Alamein, Tunis, Kasserine Pass and Anzio.

“Later, he helped liberate a concentration camp called Oflag B4 where they discovered 3,000 mostly emaciated Jewish and political prisoners.

“Once the camp was cleaned up, they were sent 2,000 SS prisoners and my dad was tasked with landscaping the camp to ‘improve the outlook of the place’, with the aid of 12 of the SS prisoners!

“One morning they did not arrive for work and my dad was told that 100 Dutch defectors had been collected by lorry and taken away to be shot.

“After the war, in 1946, he returned to Luton Hoo and then moved to Bitham Hall where he worked under some of the most revered gardeners of that time.

“In 1955 Bob became a head gardener and moved to Maidwell Hall to continue his love of gardening. His last move saw him go to Cottesbrooke, the home of Lord and Lady MacDonald where he enjoyed the last years of his employed life.

“His retirement in 1979 saw Bob move to Harborough. Both Bob and Francis had been members of church choirs wherever they went and so joined St Dionysius. His gardening experience did not stop though as he had four allotments in Northampton Road. His experience led him to giving talks to many groups in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire.

“My father was a remarkable man, admired for his knowledge, sense of humour and pleasant disposition. He said he would never be a wealthy man, but he had an amazing wealth of knowledge that he was willing to impart to anyone who asked.”

Mr Gregory wrote a book called A Gardener’s Life which was published posthumously in 1998.