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15-25 August 1917
Home>> Battle of Hill 70 >> Our Stories >> Private Robert Lawrenson

Private Robert Lawrenson

Pictured above: Robert Lawrenson (front right in bed) at St. Thomas’ Hospital, Lambeth Palace Road, London 1917.

As submitted by Heather Young:

"My grandfather, Robert Lawrenson, was born on November 27, 1898 in Prescot, Lancashire, England. He was the 12th child of James and Nancy Lawrenson. 
 
In 1912, Robert’s parents, James and Nancy, his older brother, Henry Claude, and Robert emigrated from Prescot, Lancashire to Galt (now Cambridge), Ontario, Canada.  The oldest son, Thomas, had emigrated six years earlier and another son, Samuel, had emigrated in 1907, so the family was joining them.  They arrived in Quebec City, Quebec, on July 5, 1912 and then travelled onto Galt.
 
On August 7, 1915, Robert attested to the 34th Battalion, 29th Regiment, of the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force.  He was 16 years old at the time, although he gave his birth year as 1896.  Family history has it that he somehow managed to use an older brother’s identification to enlist. Robert trained in London, Ontario and then sailed to England on October 23, 1915, arriving on November 1.
 
Upon his arrival in England, he was still attached to the 34th Battalion and went to Bramshott Military Camp, a temporary army camp set up on Bramshott Common, Hampshire, England. On February 3, 1916 Robert was transferred to the 12th Reserve Battalion of the C.E. F. at Shorncliffe, Kent, U.K.  He was next transferred to the First Brigade Signal Company on March 24, 1916 and then to the Canadian Machine Gun Corps on June 23, 1916 while at Shorncliffe.
 
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Robert Lawrenson – circa 1915
 
On July 5, 1916, Robert Lawrenson was transferred to the 13th Battalion, the Royal Highlanders of Canada, and the next day he arrived in France. He reported to his unit on July 14, 1916. He was 17 years of age.
 
Robert served at Ypres, then the Somme, Vimy Ridge and Hill 70. He had also served at the battles of Mouquet Farms, Courcelette and Regina Trench. The last battle in which Robert Lawrenson participated was the taking of Hill 70 which began the morning of August 15, 1917. Robert (only 18 years of age) was severely wounded in the arms, legs and buttocks on that day and was hospitalized in France until he was invalided to England on September 2, 1917. He arrived in London on September 2, 1917 and was posted to the 1st Quebec Regiment Depot, Shoreham.  He was admitted to #5 London General Hospital in Lambeth.  While there, operations were performed on Robert’s thigh.
 
On December 7, 1917, Robert was transferred to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Hillingdon House, in Uxbridge. He was only at Hillingdon House a short time, and then he was transferred to Manor War Hospital, Epsom on December 11, 1917 where he stayed until March 21, 1918.  During this time, operations were performed on his legs and forearm.
 
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Robert Lawrenson (left with pompom on cap) at Epsom Hospital – 1918
 
On March 21, 1918, Robert was again transferred, this time to #16 Canadian General Hospital, Orpington, Kent.  Here, his wounds continued to be dressed. After a very short stay in Orpington, on April 13, 1918 he was moved to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Bromley, Kent where he remained until May 27, 1918.  He was again transferred; this time to #5 Canadian General Hospital, Liverpool.  This was the clearing hospital for wounded soldiers returning to Canada. Robert Lawrenson was struck off strength from military service in England on June 6, 1918 and returned to Canada on June 17, 1918 on the hospital ship, the Llandovery Castle.  The Llandovery Castle was torpedoed and sunk on its return voyage to England and the loss of the 30 nurses who had been with him on his return to Canada stayed with him for the rest of his life. 
 
Upon his return to Canada, Robert was posted to the Guelph Military Convalescent Hospital on June 20, 1918 but granted furlough for the period June 21 to July 5, 1918. On August 14, 1918 Robert was transferred from the Guelph Military Convalescent Hospital to a hospital in London, Ontario.  He was discharged on December 20, 1918 from London, Ontario as medically unfit.
 
Robert married Annie McLellan on December 29, 1920 in Galt.  They lived there until 1922 at which time they moved to Windsor, Ontario. By 1925 Robert was working at Canada Post as a letter carrier.  He worked there until his retirement in 1960.
 
Robert died on December 2, 1995 at the age of 97.
 
Throughout his life, my grandfather rarely spoke of his war experiences.  One of the rare times was when he was interviewed on CBC radio in March, 1991.  Paul Vasey, the interviewer, asked him early in the interview what he felt when he found himself in the trenches in France.  Grandpa’s reply was “scared to death … I wondered what the hell I’d enlisted for … I should have stayed home with my mother!”
 
Later during the interview he described how he was wounded at Hill 70.  He told Paul Vasey that by the time the battle of Hill 70 commenced, he had been in France for 14 months.  He was confident he knew how to avoid getting hit.  He said that he was supposed to” go over the top” in the third wave on the morning of August 15, but he thought “hell, the Germans will have their artillery all trained on the third wave, so I was going on the first wave”.  He continued “… all I could see was an officer to the left of me, another fellow and myself … where’s all the other fellows? … but I found out … we must have veered to the left and got caught up in the 15th Battalion’s front, because when I hit the front line there, I looked around … I’m going no further until I connect up with somebody … I looked around, saw nobody there … so I come around the bay and as I was coming around the bay, I heard this thing whipping through the air … if I had turned the other way I would have run into this German and he threw two bombs and they landed in between my legs, both of them … It was a 15th Battalion stretcher bearer that looked after me first … he said ‘how did you get over here?’  I just came over the top, that’s all I know … He says ‘well, I’ll fix you up’”.
 
Grandpa went on to say that he got “wounds in both legs, both arms and both buttocks, and the foot … wounds in the front besides the back … I must have lost a lot of blood … When the stretcher bearer came … I wanted a cigarette … to cool the nerves, I guess … but I was that damned weak I couldn’t even keep the cigarette alight …”
 
Paul asked my grandfather what he was thinking as he lay there for a couple of hours, waiting for help.  Grandpa answered “to tell you the truth, … thank God I’m out of it … I felt safe as could be, being wounded … thank God I’m out of it” and he chuckled.
 
As a child I can remember seeing his legs with the deep indentations left by shrapnel.  Even forty years after the war, bits of shrapnel continued to work their way to the surface of his skin.  If he was in pain, he never complained of it.  I think one of his biggest regrets about being injured was that he was unable to play soccer as he had before the war.  Grandpa remained healthy both physically and mentally until his death.  We had all been looking forward to celebrating his 100th birthday when he slipped away quietly and very unexpectedly."
 
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