Veteran, 102, marks Remembrance Sunday at home for the first time

A 102-year-old veteran has spent his first Remembrance Sunday at home.

In recent years, Bob Lingwood has attended a service at a school in Omagh followed by a visit to the town’s cenotaph, an event he says was getting bigger every year.

However this year, plans for an event in the Co Tyrone town, like scores across the UK, were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“They have a lovely service, and invite me to talk to the students. Last year I told them the story about the unknown warrior in Westminster Abbey,” he told the PA news agency.

“Afterwards we have a session with the children and I get them crowded round me. Obviously we couldn’t do that this year because I’m in lock-in.

“It’s awful, but I had a beautiful card from them, it must have been made by the pupils, wishing me the best for the day. It was lovely.”

Mr Lingwood marked 11am while watching coverage on TV at home.

Originally from London, he joined a Putney-based TA unit called the First Signals Unit as a teenager in 1937.

Two years later at the outbreak of the Second World War he was deployed to northern France which he described as initially quiet and less dangerous than his home city which was being heavily bombed.

“Then the Germans invaded Belgium and we were moved up to confront them, but we weren’t there very long, the Germans had superior equipment and were better trained so we didn’t have a chance at that time,” he recalled.

“We went into retreat. It was my job to take in telephone lines. On the way back to my unit in a vehicle, we went round a corner, about 100m up the road were two German armoured vehicles who opened fire on us. They were shells, not bullets, I could hear the lorry getting torn to pieces.

“I had no option but to surrender so we were taken prisoner.

Bob Lingwood (Selwyn Johnston/PA)

“We were marched back to a local town, on the way back I noticed our troops were on the other side of the river, the bridge across had been blown up. We were being marched under armed escort but my guard got distracted with everything that was going on, and instructed me to carry on up the road.

“When our guard disappeared, I said to my lads, ‘come on, let’s make a run for it’.

“When we got to the other side, we were met by a captain, he interrogated me. At this time, all I had on was trousers and a shirt, I lost all my identification, he said, ‘I’m sorry, I have to check up on your story’, so we were locked in the guard room for four or five days until they found someone from our unit who recognised us.

“I’d say very few soldiers were taken prisoner by both sides on the same day.”

His unit went on to Dunkirk for evacuation. Their ship was bombed and sunk, leaving Mr Lingwood wounded with shrapnel in his back, before the Royal Navy took them to Dover.

He described the recent movie about the Dunkirk evacuation as a “pretty good interpretation of what we went through”.

“Some of it was exaggerated a bit, I know it was tough but there were quiet periods, and quite honestly, I was never in fear, you just took things as they came,” he added.

Mr Lingwood moved to Omagh after meeting his wife Emma.

He was awarded a military medal for leading his men to escape from the Germans.

Eighty years later he was decorated again, receiving a British Empire Medal for his charitable work in the community.

Mr Lingwood has been remembering those days by reading a diary a colleague had kept of their experiences.

“It was against regulations, you weren’t meant to keep diaries, but he wrote out a magnificent dossier of everything we did from the day we landed in France in 1939 to when we were demobbed. I thought I would read through that, and that brought back all those things we did. It brought it close.

“My section was 60 men, and I’m pretty sure that I’m the last one which is sad.”

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