ROBERT Edward Forster was every bit the war hero.
In fact, he lived through two world wars despite being shelled twice, torpedoed and coming under machine gun fire.
The incredible story of this Hartlepool man can be shared thanks to his son Harry who spoke to the Hartlepool Mail. CHRIS CORDNER reports.
IT was bravery in the extreme and it happened in 1918.
Young Robert Forster stormed a German machine gun post on the front line in France and somehow lived to tell the tale.
This was a young man who had worked as a gardener just before the Great War broke out.
But now he was in the thick of battle and doing himself and his country proud at The Somme. He headed straight for a German machine gun nest and somehow captured it single-handedly.
The Northumberland Fusilier won a distinguished conduct medal for his actions and won a commission to become a lieutenant.
Yet his heroics were far from over.
During the four and a half years that he served in the trenches, he also crawled beyond the Germans and spent four days behind enemy lines.
He got messages back to his comrades so that they could direct artillery fire onto the foe.
This time, his bravery was so astonishing, he won the DCM and bar.
Robert emerged from the war as a hero, leaving the Army in 1920.
His son Harry, now 78 and living in Southport, was a little boy growing up in Hartlepool during the Second World War.
Harry, once a Hartlepool businessman, said: “He must have been quite a bloke. When I found out what he’d done, I was really impressed.
“But it did seem that the Germans were out to get him.”
The former trawler and garage owner explained more.
First, he became a newspaper canvasser in Yorkshire before moving on to join a shipping company in Hartlepool called Ropners.
The firm, founded in 1874 by Sir Robert Ropner in West Hartlepool, became the workplace for Robert in 1937.
And what should have been a relatively peaceful employment turned out to be anything but.
War broke out within two years and Robert found himself in the thick of the action.
The merchant ship he was serving on was torpedoed and sank.
Robert’s life was saved and he left the Merchant Navy in 1943, finding work in the food stamps office in Avenue Road.
Yet even when he was not in the thick of battle, war came to him.
Harry recalled: “We were living in a house in Whitby Street when we heard the German planes overhead.”
Robert’s wife, Priscilla, and two of her children, Ann, then aged eight, and Robert junior, aged six, all hid under the staircase.
Robert senior and little Harry stood at the front door and watched it all until Harry was ordered under the stairs by his dad.
The German planes then dropped a land mine which was aimed at the steelworks. Somehow, it veered off course and landed in the street in front of Robert’s house.
The whole of the front of the house was blown off.
All that was left was the staircase with the mum and three children under it.
Harry remembered: “We crawled out and we couldn’t see my dad anywhere at first. Then, we saw a pair of white eyes at the back of the house.”
Robert had been blown from the front doorstep to the oven.
“He was covered from head to toe in soot and all we could see was his eyes,” said Harry.
The family moved to another part of Hartlepool and lived in a building called the Temperance Hotel, in Stockton Street.
“That was bombed as well,” said Harry.
“It was as if the Germans were trying to get my dad for what he did to them in the First World War.”
But Robert survived it all and passed away aged 62 in 1961.
He was so proud of his achievements, he carved the battlefields he served on, into the bark of his wooden walking stick.
He served at Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, Arras, Bois Grenier and Cambrai, as well as the Somme twice.
l The Mail is marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War throughout 2014.
Coverage will be continuing until the centenary of the Bombardment of Hartlepool in December.
If you have Great War memorabilia or a story about a local relative who served in the conflict then please contact our newsdesk on (01429) 239380.