Astran’s Bob Paul: 1929-2010. The ‘original long haul pioneer’ remembered by Ashley Coghill on Biglorryblog…

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No sooner does Biglorryblog enjoy the celebrations of the long-awaited launch of Ashley Coghill’s book on Astran than I recently received a message from Ash to say: “I am sure you have heard by now the sad news that Bob Paul (Transport Director at Astran) has passed away (age 81). The above picture is of Bob at the book launch/reunion on June 26th 2010 where he enjoyed himself immensely. Bob left us on 7th July at Hawkhurst Kent (his home village). I had only known him for a little over two years but got to know him well as I was writing my book ‘The Long Haul Pioneers’. Over the time, I learnt an awful about him and an awful lot from him.” And click through here for Ashley’s tribute to Bob…a real ‘Long Haul’ Pioneer.. 

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Bob Paul 1929-2010. The “original long haul pioneer”, pictured here on top of the world. Tahir, Eastern Turkey 1967.

Ashley continues:Bob was an incredibly modest man who told me that his early days of driving overland to and from the Middle East was; ‘all in a days work’. Are you kidding me? Bob and his friend Michael Woodman were the very first Westerners to drive a truck overland, across Europe and deep into the Middle East. They departed from England in the spring 1964 and after some pretty hairy times, they finally arrived at their destination of Kabul, capital of Afghanistan 31 days later!”

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“They had done it with only some small-scale relief maps, a compass and some basic food and water supplies! Yet they had effectively opened up the first commercial route and from then on, hundreds if not thousands of trucks followed their trail along the long and dusty roads to Middle Eastern destinations.”

“Bob was born April 1929 in France but his parents (French mother and English father) brought him up in England where, after some hardened schooling, he made the grade and begun studying medicine at Guy’s Hospital London. However, Bob always had an adventurous streak in him and was never completely sure whether he should follow his father’s footseps into a medical career. When Michael Woodman (Bob’s college friend) unveiled his idea to drive a truck overland, Bob jumped at the chance to go with him. As he told me recently: ‘I enjoyed my drink and was always worried I would give my patients the wrong drugs and kill them off. Driving a truck seemed like a far safer option’! “

“Although Woodman was the founder and owner of Astran (previously Asian Transport), it was Bob Paul who hired the drivers and spent much of the early years sharing trucks with ‘his boys’ (as he affectionately called them) on the regular round trips to and from Iran. Once the business was properly up and running, Bob made the difficult decision to move into the office to run the expanding fleet. During the Middle East boom in the 1970s and 80s, the Astran fleet grew to 25 own-account trucks, 50-60 trailers and numerous sub-contractors. Again I quote from Bob; ‘It didn’t matter to me whether they were my own drivers or subbies, they were still my boys, especially when they bought the beers’!”
 
“Bob was clearly respected and loved by all those who worked for him at Asian Transport/Astran and after getting to know him, I can clearly see why. He had a unique aura around him and held such an incredible presence whenever he was in anyone’s company. He was the nicest, kindest gentleman one could ever wish to meet. The last time anyone saw him was when he attended my book launch/Astran grand reunion on June 26th. I had managed to gather almost all of his old employees for a very special get together for which I am incredibly proud. When Bob got up to speak, the room instantly fell silent as everyone hung onto his every word. His speech was straight from his heart. It was very emotional and also humorous and when he asked why people wanted to work for Astran, one of his ex-drivers shouted out: “BECAUSE WE LOVED YOU” to which he received a standing ovation. It brought a tear to Bob’s eye.
 
Bob Paul’s funeral was held at Maidstone Crematorium on Friday 23rd July and I was honoured and privileged to be invited. It was a wonderful service and his son Dominic made a great speech about his father’s very rich life. Good on you Dom, you did your father proud! As the curtains drew around the coffin and the music played ‘Love, love me do’ and ‘The Big Country’  everyone laughed and clapped. After the ceremony, we all went back to Bob’s house to celebrate his life. That included copuous amounts of his very favourite drink – Bollinger!!! Cheers to you Bob Paul. Although I only knew you for a very short time, you have made a huge impact on me and I shall remember you for the rest of my life as I am sure your Astran boys and girls will also do. May you now rest in peace in the biglorrypark in the sky.”
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“And to finish here’s a shot from after the funeral at Bob’s house where everyone gathered to listen to Tony Soameson (ex Astran driver and sales director) talking about Bob, Bollinger in hand!” Thanks Ashley a lovely tribute.

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