Bob Laurie

Life in the Royal Army Service Corps 1942/47

By David Taft

Photo:Bob Laurie in 1942

Bob Laurie in 1942

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Bob in 1947 how he looked when his Mother saw him for the 1st time in 4 years

Bob in 1947 how he looked when his Mother saw him for the 1st time in 4 years

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:The bombed house Bob's Father rescued a girl from (Fredrick Laurie)

The bombed house Bob's Father rescued a girl from (Fredrick Laurie)

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Bob in Italy 1947 in front of Ambulance

Bob in Italy 1947 in front of Ambulance

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Bob in 2008

Bob in 2008

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Here is Bob's story in his own words.

We all had Air Raid Shelters.

I was just 17 when war was declared and we all thought it would be over in a very short time. Propaganda had told us that the Germans had cardboard tanks and little else. Things were quiet for some time till the planes came over and the bombs started to fall. We all had air raid shelters. They were either an Anderson which was erected in the garden or a Morrison which was a steel table shaped shelter installed in the house. We had an Anderson which we had to dig a big hole for ourselves in the garden. It stayed there for some years after the war, it was very cold so they were all used after the war for storage of meat and milk etc. Very few of us in those days had a refrigerator.

My house is bombed

However to return to the start of the war, I was round a friend's house but could not get home that evening because of a heavy air raid. In the morning, as I ventured home, I could not get down my road as there was tapes across it but I could see where a land mine had been dropped as all the houses were partly demolished. You can imagine my fears. I said that my parents were still down there (I hoped anyway) and I was allowed down. I found my Mum and Dad standing in the road looking very shocked and our house with no roof, windows etc, so would be unable to continue to live there in the foreseeable future.

An unexpected call on my sister

We were lucky as we had a friend who had a van and we hired him to take Mum and myself to my sister's house in Dunstable, Bedfordshire. Imagine the surprise when we turned up to stay, unannounced, as we had no telephones then. As I was waiting for call up temporary jobs were hard to find and I was quite glad when I received my papers, as I was always being asked why I was not in the army. I was also pleased to find that I had to travel to Luton which was just 5 miles away and therefore be able to get home regularly. I stayed there for just one night sleeping in a church hall. The next day we were transported to Clacton-On-Sea.

The start of service life.

In Clacton we were billeted in private houses because people had been evacuated inland. We did our basic training here. It was quite noisy because of the bombing raids at night and there was barbed wire everywhere. It was quite tricky going out, as it was some time before we were issued with uniforms, and we were always being stopped and searched by guards (halt who goes there procedures).

After Training.

After training we were sent to Colchester to be sorted out. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was a few months too young to go overseas (you had to be 19). So I watched most of my mates go overseas with the 56th London Division to Eight Army North Africa. I tried to find out what happened but I believe most of them never came back. I was transferred to Scotland and spent a miserable time in the cold and wet sleeping in bell tents with little or poor equipment.

Sent overseas.

One day, without any warning (owning to security), we were told that we were going on exercise. We were issued with a couple of sandwiches and loaded on to a fleet of private coaches. After driving a short way we arrived at dock side, straight on to ships and off to Algiers, North Africa. We spent 5 days in the hold which was not pleasant. We were not allowed on deck and we suffered bombing and depth charges. On arrival we were sent to a large makeshift camp and slept in some pig sties, huddled together. After some time our equipment and trucks arrived and off we went. I cannot remember all the places but do know that we moved up to two or three times a day in convoy. After 65 years it can be difficult, but certain places come back; Soulk-el Arba, Kasserine Pass, Tunis and many more, but it was not the best of memories. One memory is of a night time ferrying a load of soldiers out with mines to lay them near the Germans. As I waited on my own for the troops to return with only my lorry to keep me company, a German Patrol passed by. Fortunately they spotted neither me nor the camouflaged lorry in the dark, but as they passed only 100 yards away I could hear them and felt my heart race. After the campaign in North Africa we went straight off to Italy.

Italy welcomes us.

Italy was more pleasant with people being very friendly. We drove through liberated towns and villages amid cheers and offers of wine. It was hard not to think not long before they were on the side of the Germans against us, however English people forgive easily. I was in Italy right through the campaign and as I was in a mobile division served with various regiments. I spent 5 months at Casino ferrying stuff about and it was not pleasant taking the troops up and then waiting to see who returned. At the end of the war in Italy I was attached to Rifle Brigade as an Ambulance Driver.

Penicillin Injections for the first time.

When there was a stalemate I did some cooking for sergeants but contracted jaundice and had 100 boils on my body. I was one of the first to have penicillin injections voluntarily. I was in hospital in Naples for six weeks but was sent back to my unit, still unwell, as the hospital was mobile and they had to move on.

Veterans go on leave.

On to the end of the campaign in Italy, I had to drive the older Veterans Eighth Army leave scheme from Austria through Italy , Germany, Luxembourg, then France and finally to Calais. It took five days stopping at various places every night to rest. We drove Bedford Ql Trucks with seats in the back for 32. We were in convoy sharing the driving with a mate travelling at 25 mph. I have saved the itinerary, dated 13th July 1945, from one of these trips and you can see it on this page.

My turn came to go on leave, and I went back to London for one month. When I was on the last leg of the journey to Leytonstone I had to struggle on to a bus with all my kit, tin hat, rifle, full pack, etc. As the bus came to the top of the road I rang the bell and received a mouth full from the driver "did I not know that buses no longer stopped there?" Again, I found myself knocking on a door unannounced. The house had been temporarily repaired but my Mum was still in Dunstable and my dad was at work, that is what happens when you can not phone and are allowed only one letter a week. Welcome home!

My Dad.

Mum was pleased to see me but shocked by the changes in me as it was the first time I had been home in over four years. I also found out for the first time about my Dad's rescue in 1944. He was on duty one night and a bomb fell on a block of flats in Stoke Newington, demolishing the inside of the building. Somehow my Dad had scrambled over a high brick wall topped with glass, then climbed the three story building and rescued the girl who was on a ledge, bringing her down safely. He had a hard job as the girl did not want to come down as her parents had gone inside the building and had been killed. All this was witnessed by a number of people and he was awarded the BEM at BuckinghamPalace. As you can imagine it was a proud day for my Mother.

Demob.

After my month's leave I had to return to Italy and do a further spell of duty. As I was only 24 and single I would not be one of the first to be demobbed. I was finally demobbed in Aldershot, with a new suit and a few pounds in my pocket.

I'm still about, very lucky at 84 years old, fairly active.

Gordon Robert Laurie 2008

This page was added by David Taft on 02/06/2008.

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