Just 10 days after former naval officer Bob Coburn was given the news he’d be receiving the BEM in the New Year’s Honours, he passed away.
The retired chief petty officer had temporarily stopped his chemotherapy to perform his duties as standard bearer for the Highlands and Islands during the King’s coronation in May.
The medal is in recognition of his services as standard bearer as well as for extensive volunteer work in Beauly and beyond.
Granite City born
Robert Coburn, known as Bob, was born in Aberdeen on June 30 1946, to George and Chrissie Coburn.
One of four children, he and his siblings attended Skene Street School before moving on to Rosemount Secondary.
At 15 Bob left education to begin an apprenticeship with Ferguson’s the butcher in George Street, but by 18 he changed course, joining the Royal Navy.
Over the next 20 years he served on multiple ships and bases including HMS Bulwark, Keppel, Nubian and Abdiel.
He also served on HMS Raleigh, Pembroke, Ganges, Lossiemouth, Caledonia, Cochrane and Lochinvar (Rosyth).
While based at Lossiemouth he enjoyed leave to come home at the weekend. During one visit he met trainee nurse June MacIntyre from Thurso, at the Palace Ballroom in Aberdeen. Hitchhiking there and back to see her most weekends, the couple married in Aberdeen in April 1969.
Moving into naval married quarters in Rosyth, daughter Carmina was born later that year, and son Andrew in 1972.
As the family grew Bob and June bought a house in Dunfermline where they spent seven years.
Very sporty, he enjoyed training and taking part in marathons, becoming a navy fencing instructor, playing hockey and golf.
The ‘good life’
Bob left the navy in December 1982. They sold their house in Fife to build a new home on the family croft, owned by June’s parents, in Beauly.
Living “the good life” for many years, the whole family was involved in rearing animals and selling their produce.
Bob later became an agent for United Friendly Insurance, then a salesman for a company selling books in workplaces all over the north of Scotland. Known as “Bob the book man” he liked being his own boss and was a welcome face wherever he went.
Royal Naval Association Inverness
In 1999 a branch of the Royal Naval Association was formed in Inverness. He and June both joined up, with Bob eventually becoming chairman.
As standard bearer for the Inverness branch and then Royal Naval Association (RNA) (Scottish area) standard bearer too, he took part in competitions.
After 10 years in the role he became the longest-serving national standard bearer, only stepping back to become the RNA national ceremonial officer.
Bob retired from work in 2012. When his parents-in-law passed away he and June renovated the croft, turning it into a successful holiday let. Guests from all over the world came for the shooting and fishing, and for banter with Bob too.
A member and secretary of Muir of Ord Golf Club for a time, he joined the Royal British Legion (Scotland) in Beauly taking on the role of secretary, then chairman. He was of course delighted to become the legion’s standard bearer.
For more than 40 years Bob was Beauly district poppy convener. From 2015 he also took on the role of volunteer driver for Beauly and District Care Project community bus, taking pensioners to the lunch club and on day trips.
In November last year, shortly after the parade of remembrance at the Cenotaph in London, Bob developed a cough. After “much nagging” he went to the doctor. On January 5 he received “the shocking diagnosis” that he had lung cancer.
Chemotherapy was to follow and though he coped well with it, when he was asked to represent the Highlands and Islands as standard bearer at the King’s coronation he made the difficult choice to temporarily stop his treatment.
On the big day, May 6, his family watched at home as he proudly carried out his duties, which he was only too happy to fulfil.
“He was his usual immaculate self,” said daughter Carmina. “Even though he was undergoing chemotherapy so didn’t have his beard or any hair, he was well enough to serve the King that day.”
Sadly, by September, his condition deteriorated. Sent for a brain scan he and his family received the devastating news his cancer was now terminal.
Delighted to receive his Coronation Medal early in October, due to his illness, one of his final duties as RNA standard bearer was attending the funeral of Pat Young, the last remaining Second World War veteran, at Daviot Church.
Maintaining his sense of humour, Bob fought on. In November received the “top secret” news that he was to be awarded the BEM in the first New Year Honours list of King Charles III.
Carmina said: “In typical dad fashion, obviously honoured and chuffed to bits, he jokingly said: ‘Well it’s a bit bloody late now’.”
Just 10 days after hearing about the British Empire Medal, Bob passed away at home age 77, with his family beside him, on November 28.
‘Always be with us’
A celebration of Bob’s life took place on December 13.
In a tribute from Bob’s grandson Lewis he was described as a man who always “lifted people up”. His granddaughters, Anna and Molly, also thanked him for being ever present in their lives.
“We really wanted him to walk us down the aisle one day. He’s been like a dad to us too.
“But although that won’t be happening, no matter where we are or what we are doing, we know he’ll be there.
“We love you more than words can say grandad, thank you for everything.”
He is survived by his children and grandchildren, his sisters and his wife June, who will collect the BEM on his behalf.