OMAGH war veteran Bob Lingwood will mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day today by watching Winston Churchill’s speech and remembering his fallen friends during the Second World War.
The 101-year-old this week reflected on the “joyous occasion” which brought an end to the war that saw him captured by the Nazis and sunk at Dunkirk.
“On VE Day I was in the middle of what is now Palestine alongside the Indian Armoured Unit,” said Bob. “When we heard that peace had been signed the Indian boys in the tanks went absolutely crazy. They drove the trucks and tanks around the camp smashing them up as the celebrations ignited.
“I had served the entire length of the war with six years’ service and we were glad that we were going to get home as I had been stationed for over three and a half years in the Middle East without leave. It was joyous occasion.”
As he was already in the Territorial Army, Bob was immediately deployed to Northern France when war broke out in 1939.
Bob came face-to-face with the full horrors of warfare having been involved in the evacuation of France with the Royal Signals regiment. He was taken prisoner by the German forces just outside Brussels before co-ordinating an escape – an act of bravery for which he received a military medal at Buckingham Palace.
Bob recalled, “I was driving a lorry when we were met by two armed vehicles that opened fire on us. I don’t know how we escaped without being killed or injured as the lorry was torn to shreds by the shells.
“While we were being transported to some form of prison camp, our guard was distracted by action elsewhere. I recognised our soldiers on the other side of the river and saw the opportunity to escape and managed to get my boys back to the British lines, scrambling across the river.”
Within a couple of weeks he boarded a ship at Dunkirk which, within an hour was torpedoed and sunk by a direct hit, with the explosion leaving him with shrapnel injuries to his
He would spend a few weeks recuperating in hospital, getting out only days before his unit left for Northern Ireland as a precautionary measure, in case the Germans invaded Britain through Ireland.
“This turned out to be a two year stint in Lisburn.
“During that time I met my wife, and got married in 1942,” remembered Bob fondly.
They were only married a month when Bob was sent to the Middle East for the next three years, which was a very intense period, involving quite a bit of combat.
While there, he contracted malaria on three occasions, but despite the advice of doctors in Beirut, the army wouldn’t let him return home, telling him if he got it again then they would sign his discharge papers.
“I did everything possible to catch it to be sent home but never got it again,” joked Bob.
When the war ended, he was given a travel ticket to Belfast to be reunited with his wife Emma.
Bob described this as an “emotional moment”, and they went on to enjoy 65 happy years of marriage together.