The Search for Uncle Bob

“Spoiler alert” – since I won’t be traveling for a while (and since the muse goes a little dark when I don’t), the next few blog entries will probably be chapters in progress for the book/memoir I’ve been chewing on for a while.

As you may know, the work deals with my mother’s adored older brother, Robert Anthony “Bob” Sellmer, who at the tender age of 24 set off on a one-way mail boat ticket to Rotterdam and thence to Oslo, assuming a round-the world jaunt typical of many  adventurous and idealist young people. The difference was the year was 1937 and he was sailing, as it were, straight into the maelstrom that quickly became World War II.

For seven years he Bob bounced around Europe, visiting or living in at least 18 countries in various professional guises. He initially fancied himself as a free-lance writer and was actually on contract to The Times of London for a spell, but when the going got rougher, that “behind the typewriter” perspective morphed into a more active role – initially with the French Foreign Legion, later the Royal Air Force, and finally the American Army Air Force following Pearl Harbor. He only returned to the States in 1944 when he received a compound fracture of the left arm due to a jeep accident – he had been moving the company’s liquor supply and the unbalanced nature of the heavy load of glass bottles tipped the vehicle into a ditch just outside Naples.

True confession. I always wanted either to be this man or to marry him, and of course I could do neither. I never even met him in real life – he and his family had lived in Madrid where he had ended up as a consultant to the U.S. Air Force, building European bases in the 1950s and 1960s. He died in the summer of 1963 when I was nine and he was but 50. It was one of the only times in my life when I ever saw my mother cry.

What we had left in his absence were a set of his letters home during those years abroad, carefully retyped by my Aunt Jane and preserved in multiple copies. I always figured I would write a series of short stories about him: “Uncle Bob in Prague,” “Uncle Bob in Budapest,” and so on. But just recently I finally tumbled to the fact that the real story of Bob’s peregrinations was probably going to be much more interesting than anything fictional I could devise. And so I decided to research and recount everything I could learn about his seven years in wartime Europe. Was he a spy? Was he crazy? Or was he just doggone lucky to have survived multiple interactions with the Nazis, Spitfire raids across the English Channel, dangerous border crossings and recrossings, to say nothing of his own idiosyncratic medical ailments, carefully detailed in his letters. In addition, of course, he had financial challenges, professional challenges, and even social challenges, including a shot0gun wedding and a resulting baby daughter, part of a family living in Denmark I only just discovered a year or so ago. Here’s the picture of Bob in his new RAF splendor that I sent to the woman in her mid-70’s, the first she had ever seen of her biological father:

Sellmer RAF

P/O R Sellmer, circa summer 1941

So there you have it. If I’m taking a break from traveling in real life, I’m going to go traveling in my mind, and I’m looking forward to taking you with me. I find my writing is more interesting and vibrant when I write *in the WordPress template instead of just on the cyber page,* so I’ll just own that little piece of pride in publication and use it to my advantage. Stay tuned for some hair-raising adventures! These may not go in chronological order, which could be confusing, but I’ll always try to keep you straight on the time period being discussed. The first one will take place in Memel (now Klaipeda), Lithuania, and deals with an unpleasant skirmish with some Nazi-wannabes.

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2 Responses to The Search for Uncle Bob

  1. Janet Stebbins says:

    I can only imagine that Bob would have loved you too.

  2. rdrummond23 says:

    He was a very handsome and kind-looking man. I can’t wait to read more!

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