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Robert Procter (1918-2005)

May 2005

Robert Proctor died on 28 January 2005 and his funeral was held at Kirkheaton Cemetery on Thursday 3 February, followed by a service of thanksgiving at Mirfield Evangelical Church.

Pastor Graham Heaps (Dewsbury) took both services, with various family members (three of his four children) assisting. Robert’s son Philip gave a moving word of testimony; daughter Catharine read the Scriptures; and daughter Anne brought another reading called ‘Providence’.

Graham Heaps spoke from 2 Chronicles 24 on the apostasy of Joash after the death of the faithful priest Jehoiada. We must remember the godly influences we have all benefited from, and must know and walk with God for ourselves — just as Robert had done.

Below we print an edited version of Robert Proctor’s personal testimony.

Missing believed killed

I grew up thinking I was a Christian because I went to church every Sunday and lived a decent life.

On 13 June 1940 I found myself on a train to Catterick Camp, there to enlist in His Majesty’s forces. Marion and I were married at Easter 1941, but by the middle of May I was on a troopship to Egypt. We didn’t know when we parted that we would not meet again for nearly four years.

After training in Egypt I joined the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment and we went up to the desert where all the action was.

I remember very clearly one day when the German forces caught us by surprise. We were retreating and I jumped onto the running board of a truck, where I clung for two hours or more with shells falling all around us.

When I was a boy in school we used to learn Scripture. I must have learned the ninety-first Psalm, for that day, in the midst of the chaos, words from that Psalm impressed themselves upon my mind: ‘A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee’.

I didn’t realise then how wonderfully those words were going to be fulfilled in the coming months. In fact, I was reported ‘missing believed killed’, but, of course, that was not so.

Wounded

One night I was in a transport column going up to a very forward position. It was very dark and we were intercepted by an enemy column. I was hit by a bullet. Lying on the ground in the dark, I could feel the warmth of the blood but didn’t know if my leg was still there. I remember feeling with the other foot to see if it was.

I tried to crawl away but I couldn’t. Eventually out of the darkness came two German soldiers, carrying rifles with fixed bayonets. I was at their mercy. Usually in such circumstances, the bayonets would be used and that would be the end.

However, someone greater than the German High Command was in charge that night. The soldiers took out their field dressings, loosened my clothes and bound up the wound to stop the bleeding.

Then they lifted me up and almost dragged me to their transport, threw a blanket over me and we went bumping through the desert. Eventually, as morning began to dawn, we reached the coast road.

Naples

I don’t remember much about the journey; I was in a very weak condition. But I do remember that the coast road was packed with Italian and German transport, nose to tail. They were retreating because this was after the battle of El Alamein.

Allied bombers came over and flew straight down the line of transport. A lorry in front went up in flames. I found myself at the side of the road. I was conscious of somebody picking me up and taking me away.

Eventually I was put in an ambulance and taken to a field dressing station. A German officer came out, looked at me and said, ‘Ah, a Tommy, eh?’ He took me inside and operated on me.

An Italian hospital ship took the wounded from North Africa to Naples. They took us to a big prisoner of war hospital, where men were dying around us every day.

Allowed to attend church

For three months I was moved from one hospital to another. Eventually, the Italians surrendered and we thought that was the end of the war for us. But our German captors had other ideas.

They evacuated the hospital and put us on a hospital train to Stalag 8B Prisoner of War Camp, Breslau. Here the prisoners were allowed to attend church. There was a Roman Catholic service in the morning at 9.30am, a Protestant service at 11.00am and one in the evening.

I used to go to these services, as I thought I was a Christian. One day a young New Zealand friend said, ‘You know, there’s another meeting held on a Sunday afternoon. Would you like to go along?’

Christ was real

I went to this meeting and found it a bit strange — something I wasn’t used to. But I was deeply impressed by a young fellow who gave his testimony. He told us he had only been a Christian a month — having been an atheist up until then. As I listened, I realised that he knew the Lord Jesus Christ in a way that I had never known him.

I thought I’d been a Christian all these years, but the Lord Jesus Christ was

realto this man. The Lord had performed a miracle in his life and I could see it. That Sunday afternoon I admitted to myself for the first time that I was a sinner. I was very troubled.

As I left the meeting my first thought was to get out as quickly as I could. But as I was leaving a man standing at the door said, ‘We’re having a prayer meeting tonight, in such-and-such a barrack. If you’d like to come, you’d be welcome’.

Spiritual battle

I don’t know what I said to him but I had no intention of going to that prayer meeting. I went back to my barracks, still feeling very troubled and burdened. Between 4.00 and 8.00pm there was a spiritual battle going on within me, a real turmoil.

I was under conviction of sin. I’d heard what the young fellow had said, I’d been invited to the prayer meeting and I didn’t want to go. But, when 8.00pm came round I found myself making my way to that barrack room, almost against my will.

There were about 10 or 12 men there but I had met none of them before. There were a couple of wooden benches and we all knelt down. One prayed and then another. My burden seemed to be getting heavier — and then I also began to pray.

My prayer was essentially this: ‘Lord, save me’. I acknowledged that I was a sinner and called out for the Lord to save me. The prayer meeting ended and I went out. I cannot remember feeling any different straight away but, over the next two or three days, I knew that there had been a change in me.

I didn’t understand it altogether, but I was sitting in the barrack room thinking, ‘Here I am in this prisoner of war camp, not knowing whether I’ll ever get out again or whether I’ll see my wife again’. But I had a deep inward peace and a joy. The burden had gone.

Together for good

I began to read my Bible as I’d never done before and one day I came across this verse: ‘If any man is in Christ Jesus he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’. The Holy Spirit gave me an assurance — this was just what had happened to me the night I called out to the Lord to save me.

After that I was in fellowship with the men who ran those meetings. We used to pray together and study the Word together. Eventually we used to go out in pairs to the various barrack rooms to witness to the men there.

In the course of time, there was a repatriation party (an exchange of sick and wounded prisoners — so many Germans for so many British). It took place in Switzerland under the auspices of the Red Cross.

I prayed that I might be on that party going home — what a wonderful thing that would be! But my name was not on the list. Harry Duckworth, a Lancashire lad with whom I had enjoyed much Christian fellowship, was on the list.

He was going home and promised to see Marion to tell her how I was. When he wrote down his own address, he put underneath ‘Romans 8:28’. I didn’t know the text then, but when I looked it up it said, ‘All things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to his purpose’.

All right for you!

My first thoughts were, ‘Well, that’s alright for you, Harry, but it doesn’t seem to apply to me’. However, I lived to thank the Lord that I was not released at that time. What happened proved to be for my good.

It was twelve months before there was another repatriation party. During that time I was in fellowship with these men studying the Word, getting grounded in the faith. To me those twelve months were like going to Bible college — I got really grounded in the truth.

Just a month after I was converted, I was asked to give my testimony. We also had a preaching class. We used to meet in an old washhouse and sit on the stone sinks and floor. It was very cold in winter.

Someone would take the service and preach. We didn’t sing hymns, but read them out and said prayers. Then someone would preach and the rest of us would give what they called ‘constructive criticism’.

All things do work for good

I did go home on the next repatriation party and I realised that the year’s delay was so important in my life. It taught me to recognise truth and error, and I often wonder what would have happened to me if I had been freed as a convert of just a few weeks.

Sometimes when people are in trouble you feel it would be trite to tell them, ‘All things work together for good’. But it isn’t trite, it’s the truth. It’s God’s truth, and I thank the Lord after 60 years that he has kept me and that Christ is my eternal hope.

I can say with the apostle Paul, ‘O death where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory? … thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:55-56).

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