In the immediate aftermath of the Dunkirk evacuation in June 1940, Gillingham tailor Arthur Shephard was returning from a trip to Dorchester when he pulled over in his Austin 10 to offer a ride to a bedraggled young soldier thumbing a lift to get back to his barracks in Warminster.
Desperate need of assistance
As a veteran of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign of the First World War, Arthur recognised a kindred spirit in desperate need of assistance.
The young soldier, who was soaked to the skin, was among thousands who had been evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk just a few hours earlier. He had landed somewhere on the south coast and was urgently trying to rejoin his unit.
Arthur very kindly drove the soldier to his shop in Gillingham and gave him a change of dry clothes before taking him on to Warminster, a round trip of some 60 miles out of his way. Both acts of kindness were notable at a time when clothing and petrol were rationed.
Arthur thought nothing more about the matter until some six months later, in December 1940, when an unexpected parcel arrived, together with an accompanying letter.
It transpired that the young soldier whom Arthur had so kindly helped was Eric Robinson, the 27-year-old eldest son of Harold Robinson, owner of Royal Crown Derby, in Osmaston Road, Derby.
And it was clear from the letter and accompanying porcelain china tea set that he was very appreciative of Arthur’s act of kindness.
Despite the misspelling of Arthur’s name and lack of detail in the address, thanks to Royal Mail and the greatly reduced size of the population in Gillingham at the time, the parcel still made it to the intended recipient.
The letter read: “Dear Mr Shepherd (sic), I am writing to say how very much my family and self appreciate your magnanimous gift to my son when he saw you a day or two after his return from Dunkirk and, although he came as a complete stranger, you made him a present of shirts, pants, socks and sundry things.
“Words almost fail to adequately recognise such kindness. As a memento, I shall be glad if you will accept the China tea set of our make which I am sending you by post today, yours very sincerely, HT Robinson.”