Legendary rugby commentator Bill McLaren served with the Royal Artillery in Italy during the Second World War, taking part in the infamous Battle of Monte Cassino.
He was called up in 1942, aged 18, and used as a forward observance officer (spotter); on one occasion Bill was confronted by a mound of 1,500 corpses in an Italian churchyard. Local men, women and children had been caught up in the battle and had paid a terrible price. The Germans, too, had been wiped out and their corpses lay strewn in heaps in this cemetery along with those of the townsfolk.
It was an unpleasant experience he later recalled in his autobiography: “The boy I’d been was gone. I suspect he disappeared for ever on that awful morning. When you grow old, you look back on your life and reflect upon key stages, specific moments. That day in 1944 in Italy was certainly one of those key moments for me.”
Bill became 2nd Lieutenant 281771, Royal Artillery, and was involved in the fighting on the Italian peninsula for two whole years. In 1943 he was attached to 20/21 battery, 5 Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, which he joined shortly after the Salerno landings.
It wasn’t until in February 1947 – having negotiated German snipers and artillery gunners, the worst excesses of the Italian climate and the physical fatigue and mental traumas associated with war – that Temporary Captain William Pollock McLaren was demobbed. Bill’s homecoming was tinged with sadness knowing that many of his comrades had not returned with him.
20 of the best quotes from the ‘Voice of Rugby’ Bill McLaren
Not just a Scottish rugby legend, Bill McLaren is widely regarded as one of the greatest sports broadcasters of all time. The beloved commentator sadly passed away in 2010 but his legacy will live on forever.
On Phil Bennett: “They say down at Stradey that if ever you catch him [Phil Bennett] you get to make a wish.”
On Jonah Lomu: “I’m no hod carrier but I would be laying bricks if he [Jonah L] was running at me.”
On Grant Batty: “He plays like a runaway bullet.”
On Gerald Davies: “His sidestep was marvellous – like a shaft of lightning.”
“It’s high enough, it’s long enough AND IT’S STRAIGHT ENOUGH.”