ST Helens’ British Legion has paid tribute to a local ex-serviceman after an astonishing 62-year-long unbroken service for their cause.
The 87-year old grandfather of two was also feted during the special celebration for his service as Legion Standard Bearer during which he has represented the RBL at more than 530 parades, dedications and ex servicemen’s funerals nationwide, including four trips to the RBL’s Poppy Day Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall.
Today his belief that the nation should cherish those who have fought to retain its sovereignty burns as brightly as ever.
He is still a very committed member of five (at the last count) former service organisations across Wigan and in his native St Helens, including 42 years service with the Burma Star Association.
When The Queen came to the North West as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations he was called upon to help form an ex-services Guard of Honour at Manchester Victoria Station.
And admitted that he was proud to have the service he has put in to the Legion over the generations recognised by his peers with a special framed citation.
He said: “I have always felt passionate about the work of the Legion. I have been a poppy seller for a long while and I believe wholeheartedly in our motto which is at the forefront of everything I do with them ... service not self.”
Lawrence, who lives with his wife Jean, wasn’t initially called up because of his reserve occupation duties as a farm worker in Rainford and stockman helping to put food on the tables of war ravaged Britain.
But he nevertheless volunteered to be called up for the Royal Air Force on his 17th birthday.
However, it was 1944 and there was dwindling Allied demand for flyers, or naval ratings at that time, either.
So he found himself, with many thousands of others, as the European war was coming to an end, being switched straight into the army because of the impending invasion of Japan.
Lawrence said: “I wouldn’t have been too surprised if I broke a record.
“I joined up in Northern Ireland and within 12 days I was sweating away in Bombay, which was quite a shock to the system for a young lad from Rainford.”
“We spent our training in what is now Bangladesh and then Burma.”
He remembers a three-day-long train journey with 300 other Scottish soldiers on a nine month long posting to a forward position on the Khyber Pass ... and receiving a blast of steaming hot water from the ancient British engine at the front, each morning, to shave with.
When the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan to force their surrender and the end of hostilities he was in a field hospital battling malaria.
The patients marked this historic news with half a tin of fruit in syrup each – a rare luxury during a time of such austerity.
He said: “I wasn’t in for all that long, but I will tell you what, I saw plenty of the world in the process.”
Lawrence then found himself discharged early compared with many of his Borderer comrades – because the nation was desperate for farmers to start producing as much food as possible to feed the nation again.
He remembers flying home to Lancashire on a specially converted Liberator bomber.
Lawrence remembers: “When we got into the plane they gave each of us a tin of toffees for the journey.
“I remember thinking to myself, sitting over the bomb bays, I would have preferred a parachute but we were told that we didn’t need one because it was flying that low!
“We stopped at Iraq and Castle Benito in Tripoli in Libya, what had been the private airport for the Italian dictator, Mussolini.”
Civvy Street meant a return to farming before he took a job at Pilkington’s glass works in St Helens which would last another 18 “very enjoyable years.”
His wife Jean’s family had a dress shop and a menswear shop in Pemberton and Lawrence made many friends when, after a family tragedy, he was called upon to run the shop, The Richmond.
It would be a position he would hold for almost two decades.
Lawrence is also a notable sight around Orrell still actively riding his Honda 175cc twin motorcycle, after a two wheeled enthusiast’s lifetime which has also seen him own Royal Enfield, Norton and Matchless machines.
As a younger man he met the legendary TT bike racer Geoff Duke – a St Helens man – several times.