How did you meet William Earl?
William Earl lives a few doors down from my parents-in-law and they have been friends since the 1960s. I had heard William’s name in passing, but it was not until November 2009 that we were properly introduced. It was when I popped into my in-laws to watch the Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph in London. William was sitting in the corner and as we watched the veterans March Past, he began to talk about his service in the RAMC in Italy. I was hooked immediately and asked if I could interview him for my blog. We met a few months later and he greeted me with the words, “I’m a D-Day Dodger and I still hate Mark Clark for what he did at Anzio.” I knew then that this spirited 94-year-old was going to be a marvellous interviewee.
My grandfather was an ambulance driver in a field ambulance. How can I find out more about him?
To find out more you first need to acquire a copy of his army service record. Click on this link to find out how. These records will give you some basic information such as the date of enlistment and discharge, unit, regiment, corps and theatres of operation. Armed with these details, you can approach the National Archives for further help. You can click on their help with research page here. If you are unable to do your own research, you can employ a professional researcher instead.
Be aware that ambulance drivers were generally members of the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) not RAMC. I say generally, because if they were killed or injured during an evacuation, the accompanying RAMC nursing orderly would take over and drive the casualties back. That would not, however, make him an ambulance driver, he would still be a nursing orderly.
My grandfather was also in the 8th Army in Italy. Could William have helped him when he was injured?
A field ambulance supported a specific infantry brigade. William’s field ambulance, the 214th, supported the 169th brigade of the 56th (London) Division. If your grandfather was in the 169th, it is highly likely that William could have helped him.
If one brigade went into action with another, for example the 167th and 169th, then the supporting field ambulances would have handled both brigades’ the sick and injured. Therefore if your grandfather was in the 167th infantry brigade of the 56th London, William may have helped him.
Occasionally, a field ambulance also supported a completely different division. This occured in Forlimpopoli in December 1944, when the 169th infantry brigade of the 56th Division supported two battalions of the 46th Division. One of those battalions was supported by the 185th field ambulance so during that operation the 214th and 185th field ambulances worked together. In this case, if your grandfather was in one of the battalions involved there is a slim chance that William may have helped your grandfather.
Even if William himself did not help, it’s highly likely that someone like William would have cared for your grandfather because the RAMC recruited a certain type of man. A man with intelligence and compassion who would have treated your grandfather skillfully and with respect.