WHEN prolific Royal British Legion stalwart Bob Lacey decided to live in Germany he went and sat in the pub.
Not because he was desperate for a pint, however, he just wanted to learn the lingo.
It was the best lesson he ever had, as the ex-army man soon became fluent and spent the next 20 years living and working in the country and becoming president of its British Legion organisation.
He returned to Britain three years ago and promptly continued where he had left off but on British soil.
“I said I was going home for a rest,” laughs Bob as we meet at his Gnosall home. “I was going to be an ordinary member of the Royal British Legion.
“But when I returned the members got in touch and said knowing my history there was no way they were going to just let me be an ordinary member.
“So now I am chairman of the Gnosall branch and county chairman.
“I think the Royal British Legion is my life.”
Indeed Bob is busier than ever. He is instrumental in organising the Poppy Appeal, which raises millions each year for ex-forces people in need.
As one collection comes to a close the whole process starts again almost immediately.
He says: “It keeps me very busy. But I have met some wonderful people through it.”
Bob always had a hankering to go into the military. Born in Edgbaston in Birmingham he lived in one of the city’s famous back-to-back houses until he was five.
The city smog played havoc with his mother’s health, however, so the family moved to a farm in Bewdley, near Kidderminster.
These are the years Bob remembers most fondly as he and his two sisters were able to run free in safety in the middle of the countryside.
“We were free as a bird,” he says. “We built dens and went fishing in the River Severn. It was such a wonderful childhood.”
The family moved again a few years later when his dad got a job at nearby Shallowford and they moved into a council estate.
Bob finished school and became a mechanic but he couldn’t settle so then he tried being a butcher. But still he felt unsettled.
What he really wanted was to join the army, although his family and friends were against the idea.
Bob recalls: “People kept saying to me you’re not a soldier. When I signed up my boss at the butchers put some money on the counter and said he’d buy me out of the army.”
Undeterred Bob pressed ahead with his dream. His father and grandfather had been in the army so he was naturally pulled towards it.
It was 1960 when he went in and the army soon became his life. What he loved the most was the challenge of it all.
He completed his training in Lichfield and joined the Worcesters and Forresters regiment.
He flew out to the West Indies and saw parts of the world he never in a million years thought he would travel to.
“We crossed the dateline so I had my 19th birthday twice,” he laughs.
Over the years he served in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Libya, Germany and Gibraltar, not to mention the Middle East. He also worked his way up to sergeant. He later joined the Cheshire Regiment.
In the meantime, he met wife Jenny and had two children Cheryl and Mark. The couple’s third son Wayne was tragically killed in a road accident in 1977 aged just five.
By the time he completed his army career in 1982 priority housing for ex-forces people had stopped and he had no idea where he and his family would end up.
“As a family we were all in Germany at that point and the children attended a military school. I decided to stay there,” he says.
“I was taken on as a civilian worker for the army and the children were sent to a school over here.”
Bob then got a job in a plastics factory that made casings for telephones and stayed there for 16 years until his retirement.
He enjoyed living abroad and embraced the German traditions, such as inviting neighbours round to introduce themselves when they had moved into a new area and offering bread rolls and schnapps to people helping celebrate a wedding anniversary.
Sadly he and wife Jenny split up. They now have three grandchildren Scott, Leanne and Jack.
It was three years ago that Bob returned to Britain from Germany as in his own words he wanted to die on home soil.
He wasn’t and isn’t ready to leave this Earth just yet, he had just retired and was feeling homesick.
And despite having spent the last 20 years living in the country he suddenly felt the pull of home too much.
“I had reached that point where I knew it was time to come home,” he explains.
“My sister lives in Gnosall so I came to be near her.”
For now Bob is content to spend his days devoting himself to the Royal British Legion.
He says the organisation is moving forward at a rapid rate and is finally embracing the digital age, which he is excited about..
“We have been going for 90 years but our message is still the same. The troops always have to come first.
“It is not about money. Some people just need some help or guidance or even someone to talk to. They may have been through a lot in the forces, experienced things that have left them traumatised or suffering in some way. A friendly face to point them in the right direction is so important for them. The link between the forces and civvy street still needs more improvement.
“And the RBL needs to be more open. When people want to get in touch with us they have to look up our phone number. We should just have open centres that people can walk into off the street.
“I love to do carpentry when I have some spare time but the legion takes up most of it these days.
“I’ve just completed my first year as county chairman and I’m enjoying that.
“I have had a good life and have been lucky to have had a healthy one.”