The medical was very thorough, no less than 8 different people to see, dentist, optician, as well as doctors. The doctor testing urine was writing up his notes when I was second in line. He said to the chap in front of me "just urinate in that receptacle". "What?" After three attempts he said, "Oh, just piss in that pot." "Eh - can't go." "Just wait." "Can't stop." "Nurse, bring a bucket". When the nurse appeared the poor chap swung around and sprayed the doctor and all his papers. It was then I heard for the first time a phrase that became very popular for a time "Some mothers do have 'em". I passed A1 and awaited my call up. Imagine my surprise and disgust to find I was posted to Shorncliff camp not more that 5 miles from my home.
I arrived early on the Saturday, together with a lad from Folkestone - one Charlie Swain. We were met by a Sgt Elliot, who was to become my Squad Sgt, who showed us what was to be our temporary quarters as our huts were not ready. They were brick single-storey huts that had last been used as officers' quarters in 1923. The ivy was puller off the wall and the shutters opened and that was that. Some rooms still had the marble topped wash stands used by the officers. Later we were disgusted to read in the "Evening News" that the militia at Shornecliffe were lucky, their quarters were not ready so they were temporarily housed in the Officers' Mess.
The main body were expected to arrive on a special train from London later in the day, so Sgt Elliot took us into the NAAFI to pass the time. the place was full of reservists - all called up for training and having nothing else to do on a Saturday morning but hang around the NAAFI! Two people were on the dart board and taking on all comers. It seemed the drill was you remained on the board until knocked off. These two were taking a light ale or 4d from everyone until they ran out of challengers. They looked at Charlie and me and without consulting, just looking at each other, we took them on. The throw was nearest middle for starters. The opposition got 25, but Charlie followed with a 50. We remained on the board all that session, in fact in the 7 weeks or so until war broke out we were only beaten once. I discovered that Charlie was either the winner or runner-up of the SE division of the News of the World national contest. I was only average, but I played on the 19s and Charlie on the 20s, and this combination is very useful in doubles play.
The whole day was pretty relaxed. Once we were all assembled we were allocated to a Sgt. We were divided into four squads of 30 men each. Sgt Elliot took our 30 and pointed out our bed spaces and issued us with three blankets and "two sheets". We were then given a meal and then addressed by the Colonel. He told us we were attached to his Regiment for training. The 22 Field Regt was up to full strength, mostly reservists, and if the "balloon went up" we would be sent elsewhere to continue our training. How right he was to be. We were then allowed out - still in out civilian clothes. I went into Folkestone and bumped into a barmaid I had said a fond farewell to just a few days before.
Sunday was spent in the issue of equipment. Everything down to I think a toothbrush. Certainly a clothes brush (which I still have), boot brushes and a tin of boot polish. We were shown how to burnish the toe caps of our army boots - plenty of polish and a hot spoon to start with. It was surprising how enthusiastically one carried out this stupid task; everyone trying to get the best shine. Perhaps it was the army's way of reducing everyone to a common denominator so to be better able to instil in us the elements of soldiering and war.
Our battle dress was of superior cloth, not quite officer quality but almost. I kept mine throughout my service. Plenty of polish and blanco, but fortunately we did not have much cause to use it as most of the time we wore boiler suits. PT was an exception. When everyone had been issued we were shown the highly polished floor at the entrance of the NAAFI and told we had to have our quarters looking like that in, I think, three weeks. It was an awesome task; when all the dirt had been scrubbed away the grain of the wood was exposed to some depth. This was filled with a thick coating of polish covered with newspaper and left overnight to harden. Then a bumper, a heavy weight inside a thick cloth, was pushed up and down on the end of a broomstick. This was done daily until a reasonable surface was obtained. After that it meant everyone doing his own bed space each day with the bumper.
Needless to say that soon after, our own billets were ready and as they were left by the builders in an even worse state than our first abode, the whole process started again. Trust the army to manage things thus.
Life was quite easy for me. I had my share of square bashing at school in the cadets, and as for the parts of a rifle I knew them all from tip to butt. "Tip of the butt, head of the butt, butt plate, butt trap", etc, etc. Things were taken very slowly as we were below average intelligence. Many of the age group had their call-up deferred. University graduates, articled pupils, apprentices serving indentures, carpenters, bricklayers, etc, so we were left with a high percentage of unemployed, seasonal workers, "stop me and buy one" ice cream salesmen with their three-wheeled bicycles. One was a "busker" playing to theatre queues in London, a deck-chair attendant, a plumber's mate from Tunbridge Wells, whose every forth word began with the letter F. He did not know many long words, but these he would split up and insert the dreaded 'F' word. I had first hand experience as he was in my room and in my gun crew.
One poor fellow was un-coordinated and could manage very little. One good move he could make was to shoulder arms, but alas he always got the rifle on the wrong shoulder. When he marched he always swung the right arm with the right leg. A born sanitary orderly but a thoroughly nice chap. I met him after the war in a small brickworks, happily barrowing bricks into the kiln and then out again, stacking them for collection. One man arrived three days late between two military policemen. He could not, or would not, do anything, in spite of individual tuition. I heard later he had been discharged as unfit for military service. A well-planned ruse? I did wonder. For gun drill we had 25-pounders. Mounted on two large wheels, they would be towed behind a vehicle at normal speeds. There were 7 or 8 men per gun crew, but only three needed to have any brains. The No 1 who was in charge and relayed the orders to the remainder; No 2 who set the range and fired the gun; No 3 had to manage the dial sight which set the line on which the gun fired. Our gun was No 1 gun, right of the line. I was No 1 with two excellent men at No 2 and 3. We soon established ourselves as being the slickest of the 16 guns and were always pushed forward to give demonstrations to visiting generals, etc. It was a good day out from London to have a look at the sea and pay a visit to the 22 Field Regt. There was a temporary hitch when it was decreed that we must change numbers so that all would be able to do all duties. Chaos resulted, but I devised a plan. We lined up behind the gun to "tell off" and move round to new positions. When we received the order "Take post" we would run round for a bit to confuse and then take up our original positions. This scheme was short-lived. I was given a message from the Colonel via the Sgt, "If I'm bright enough to spot it, one of the visiting generals would, given time, so cut it out."
I came up against the CO (Col. Ambrose Pratt) a bit later on. Every Friday we had fish for lunch and it was always stinking and quite unfit to eat. One Friday we refused to move from the cookhouse until we were given something we could eat. No-one could move us, the orderly sergeant, orderly officer, sergeant major. While this was going on, the CO passed by in mufti exercising his dog. As we were still in the cookhouse (or dining room) he came in to enquire what was going on. Mouthy me was on my feet at the time and he asked if I was making the complaint on my own behalf or for everyone. "Everyone Sir." His reply was to the effect that is was a good job we were not at war yet, otherwise it would be mutiny and he could have me shot. He then tried his dog with the food and it was refused. He then told the NCO in charge to give us the "Tea element" (our tea - cheese, tomato and beetroot) and he would arrange to have other rations provided for tea. He solved the problem by posting the Sgt in charge of the main mens' mess to our cookhouse. He thus received all food at our establishment, took out what he wanted to feed us, and the rest went to the main mess where the bad food got mixed with some of the good.
After about three or four weeks all training suddenly stopped. In the middle of the night we were got out of bed and told to pack all our kit (why do all panics in the army always happen at night?). As we boarded the trucks we were each given five live rounds of ammunition. We were taken to Dover where we were split into small groups and positioned at the entrance to all railway tunnels leading into the port. We climbed over or through fences to gain access. I knew exactly our position, at the top of Templar Street, because on one of the milk rounds (which Frank and I had to help on when men went on holiday) the only house we served in that area was 10 Templar. The night passed quickly and at first light I walked through the tunnel which was quite short and reached Dover Priory Station where I had a wash and shave in the loos. After each man had got cleaned up and the restaurant was opened we enjoyed a cup of tea and a piece of the famous railway cake eh!
I had the idiot boy with me, who was caught trying to load his gun from the muzzle. Stupidly, someone loaded it for him. What did he do that night? He shot at the visiting officer. No warning, no procedure, just bang. Fortunately he missed and I withdrew his remaining four rounds.
I was then withdrawn to HQ, Dover Marine Station. This was an enclosed area, as well as the railway terminal it included point of embarkation etc for the cross channel boats, also customs and immigration depts. To get to the tunnels or into the town meant the awful business of going through customs each time. To avoid this, my pal Norman and I were put in charge of a side gate so we could avoid the bother of customs etc.
It seemed war was inevitable and everyone was flocking back from the Continent including long term residents. Instead of the one or two cars on each ferry there were very many and this caused chaos in customs and immigration with queues of cars stretching right along the whole length of the pier.
Everyone was very fed up with the delay. Norman or I would pick a car owner more agitated than most and we would tell him to follow us. Remember we were in uniform with a rifle. He was taken round the corner out of sight and when the necessary paper money had changed hands our gate was unlocked and he was away. I don't know if we let in any spies but we were much too naive to think about that and the term "fifth column" (from the Spanish Civil War) was not general knowledge.
About the end of August  we returned to Shornecliffe where on Sept 3 we heard PM Chamberlain broadcast that we were at war with Germany. This was followed by an Air Raid warning and we went to the shelters. It turned out to be a false alarm, but it was the only time I went into an Air Raid shelter throughout the war. Ambrose Pratt immediately went off to become CRA (Corps Commander Royal Artillery 1st Corps). These were the first troops to go to France. The 22 Field Regt did not want to be impeded by the Militia so we were disbanded. Eight of us went to Larkhill (Salisbury Plain) to train as Surveyors, half of the remainder to Dover to learn signalling, and the remainder also to Dover to train as ordinary gunners. At the Survey Training Regt at Larkhill it was chaos. New regiments being formed, men posted in, men posted out. To try and keep an account of numbers we paraded every morning and the permanent staff moved down the lines taking everyone's name, number and religion; the latter seemed important and I found out the reason later. After this and a little marching up and down we were dismissed, and that was that for the day. The whole thing to be repeated on the morrow. At these parades you were asked if anyone knew anything about theodolites, trigonometry, logs, etc. One raised arm and you found yourself posted to a regiment bound for France. I remained silent, and after exhausting my knowledge of the various religions I one morning decided to remain in the billet and read the paper until the NAFFI opened. (NAAFI is a kind of pub for the troops where you could buy drinks and food and play darts and billiards). Who should walk in but a brand new Sgt Major. You could tell he was new by the way he swung his arms to display his bright new badges on his lower arm. I was asked what I was doing. "Billet Orderly, Sir". He was not to be fooled. On spotting my Lance Bombardier's stripes he said "Since when have we had non-commissioned officers as billet orderlies? Name - look on orders this evening." This I did to find I had been appointed in charge of the NAAFI for the next fortnight. Not in charge of the serving girls, but opening and closing times, cleaning and general discipline. On duty from 5:30 am until 11:00 pm, worse than being on "jankers". My first job was to get four reservists out of bed to clean up the place from the night before. As soon as this was done, Costain workmen came in for breakfast with their muddy boots; they were building on site. They arrived in buses each day with clean shoes; why they had to change into dirty boots before coming in I will never know. Clean up again, and again when the place closed at 2:00 pm. I knew I would never see them if I let them go until next morning when I got them out of bed. They would say that they had been "grabbed" by another NCO so could not come to clean up. I solved this by locking them into an upstairs room until after the two o'clock clear up was done. My next task at 6:30 am was to get the duty driver with his truck and go to the old garrison church. This was a large tin hut being used to house ATS girls and I was to collect 14 cooks to prepare the breakfast for the whole of the camp. Being a well trained Militia boy, I expected to see 14 well-dressed girls lined up, waiting for me to give the order to load up. Not a person in sight. I opened half of the Gothic type door and went inside. It was first light and I could just see one girl who said "Looking for the cooks? First seven down each side," and there they were, still in bed. There was nothing for it but to pull down the clothes and slap the first part of the anatomy that came into sight. Some were tastefully dressed in pyjamas or nighties, some had their "army bafflers", khaki knickers with elastic top and bottom, some had nothing at all; one bed was empty and one had two in it; I was learning fast. I told Busty Ellis the driver about it on the way back. We was quite excited and asked if he could get them up the next day. I said yes, but nothing about the revolting smell as the place had been sealed up all night on account of the blackout. Busty enjoyed his new role. If he noticed the smell he said nothing. After that I left him to carry on each day and having found one of the cleaners I thought I could trust I gave him the keys to the NAAFI and for the rest of the fortnight remained in bed until breakfast. At the end of the period the pay Sgt tried to get me to pay for damages which he said occurred while I was in charge. Fortunately I had foreseen something like this and had obtained from the Sgt major a signed statement of damage existing before I took over so I thus refused to augment the pay packet of the clever little pay Sgt.
With some more of my pals from Shornecliffe (my special pal Norman included) we were formed into a squad to train in Survey and Sound Ranging. We had a rather corrupt Sgt Instructor which turned out to be to our advantage. We had driving instruction, and I was made an instructor for lorries. We did not cover many miles as I was instructed to drive to a farm on the plain. There under a haystack I would find empty petrol cans which I was to fill up siphoning petrol from the lorry. I then disconnected the speedo cable and completed the vehicle log sheet to roughly correspond in mileage to the petrol "consumed" and endorse the sheet "speedo not working". We then retired to the nearest cafe for the remainder of the session. This was beneficial to us as the grateful Sgt would sometimes use some of his ill-gotten petrol by picking some of us up at Salisbury when we returned from London on the "paper" train at about 2:30 am. We also passed our trade test to become qualified Sound Rangers at the first attempt. This meant our daily pay was increased from two shillings to three and threepence. Each week I drew £1 for my week's spending and 2/9 went into my credit. Strange as it seems today, £1 was adequate. It was the equivalent of 60 pints of beer.
At some time we ceased to be Militia and became part of the Royal Artillery with the rank of "Gunner", the equivalent of a "Private", the lowest rank. I lost my stripe as an unpaid NCO and became subject to fatigues rather than being in charge. One nasty one was coal fatigue in the officers' quarters. The young officers' wives were just awful and had us doing all sorts of jobs, "empty the ash bins, bring in the coal, stoke the boiler", etc. It dragged on into the afternoon when puffing and blowing on the Battery bicycle the Battery orderly appeared. He and I got on very well; his name was Sidebottom, but he liked to be called "Siddy-bottoome", so I addressed him as such whereas others called him "old side arse". He was thus keen to find me with a message that the colonel wanted to see me at 3:00 pm. I said it was impossible even if I ran all the way back. The only solution was for me to have the bicycle and he should walk back. This he agreed and I just made the interview but I had little time to smarten up. The interview was not going at all well. I was kept standing at attention, and the colonel's huge dogs were sniffing at my heels. I was pleased I had not been at the cook house, as should they have sniffed blood instead of coal dust I swear they would have eaten me.
It was then that two magic words set me on a course for my army career. When asked what my father did, I replied "Farmer, Sir". The whole atmosphere changed. The dogs were called off and I was stood at ease. Then followed an animated conversation on the respective merits of Shorthorns and Frisian cattle. I did not think it necessary to point out that my father's little cabbage patch in Kent would be lost on the colonel's three thousand acre estate down in Dorset. The conclusion was "Look on orders." There I was pleased to see I had been posted for "Officer Training". Not at any old OCTU, but to our Colonel's exclusive Survey OCTU. I merely had to change billets, where I was pleased to find many of my friends including Norman. We were D Squad and the first to be formed of "other ranks". The first three squads were from the OCTUs of Oxford, Cambridge and London Universities. We wanted to be noticed so we devised a little plan. In the Militia our walking out dress was grey flannel trousers, black blazer, black tie and beret to be worn with a khaki shirt and army boots. Colonel Pratt did not like it at all and instructed Burtons at our first fitting to take them away and not hurry back with them. We were thus permitted to wear our own mufti when off duty, whilst at Shorncliffe.
On leaving we were handed them in a parcel to be changed at Larkhill for a second battle dress. The Quartermaster Sgt did not like Militia boys so he said he had no battle dress and issued us with second-hand brass buttoned tunics which we never wore. Having polished the buttons to sparkle we wore them on our first parade. The look of disgust on everyone's face was a joy to behold. We were rushed into the stores where surprisingly enough there were piles of battle dresses. Moreover, we were allowed to try them on for size rather than have the quartermaster shout out "3 top 4 bottom" as we walked past to have them thrown at us by his assistant.
Life was very easy, we were qualified in survey and either "flash spotting" or "sound ranging". So all that remained was "how to be an officer", etc. Twice a week some dear old colonel came along to tell us about uniform, equipment, etc, details of joining our first regiment and how to write to the Adjutant. Our visiting cards must be engraved, not printed, and the prefix to our name was "Mr" and not "Lieut". How long after joining your unit before you deliver your card to the CO's wife, etc. We could never find out his name so we called him "the buck shee colonel". On passing out we had dinner at a hotel in Salisbury and invited all the officer instructors. Some came, including the buck shee colonel. Nigel (an architect) and I prepared a menu card of which I had 27 copies done at the Council Offices in Salisbury. The back was left blank for everyone to sign his name. Now we will find out the colonel's name. He however had his ear to the ground and he signed all our menus "The buck shee colonel".
The next day we were told we had no postings as some bow and arrow blimp at the War Office had decided no more Survey Rgts were to be formed. We were all sent on indefinite leave until postings were obtained. I can not remember exact dates but I know I was a cadet on my Christmas leave 1939 as I told Dad I must have a bank account before the end of my leave. I drove him to the Westminster in Dover where we were waved past the counter straight into the Manager's office. He knew everything, when I would get my first pay cheque, uniform allowance, etc. "I think a starting balance of £40 will be adequate, Mr Bromley," and thus I became the proud possessor of a bank account. Details of this I handed in on my first posting and everything worked smoothly from then on. About the only thing in the Army which did, fortunately. A short time on we received a complete list of our postings. We had been split into groups of four and posted to four other OCTUs.
I was one of the top four on the passing out list and we were posted to the 121 OCTU at Aldershot. Peter Moody, our top man, did not come as he remained at Larkhill as an instructor. A second, Michael, was soon posted to a Jewish Regt, so it left Pat Tucker and me.
Passing out dinner menu, front page...
...and inside pages (1940-05-03)
We were given nothing to do; we used the mess for eating and sleeping. We spent the time around the town, or playing squash. We joined the officers' sailing club and Pat taught me to sail on a large lake.
I am not good on dates, but I have found a list of the postings dated 4th May 1940. My personal number being 130266 was the third I had received in my short time in the army. My Militia number was 10075010 and my other ranks on transfer from the Militia to the Royal Artillery (sometime about Oct 1939) 135166.
Our lazy time did not last long. I was sent for by a Major Siggars (later to become a general). He gave me a map, a map reference, and a plan of a tented camp. I was to go to the map reference, there I would meet a Sgt Major with 20 or 30 recruits. I also found enough canvas to build the camp. The Sgt Major tried to assume command "We will start at this end and work through". "No, no, I responded, a waste of manpower in so large a group. We will split in two and start at each end and meet in the middle." He replied "But, but I must show you how to erect the tents". I had plenty of experience in the school cadet corps so we proceeded my way. What he thought of a kid officer taking over I don't know, but my team pleased to be free of the Sgt Major put their backs into it and we finished well ahead of his party. At one point he sent one of his men to ask me if I knew the difference between a "store tent" and a "marquee", and I was able to enlighten him. On completion, the arrival of Major Siggers with one other officer and a few men almost coincided with the first batch of evacuees from Dunquerke (Dunkirk). They were a "rabble", no command, no discipline, all they wanted was to go home, like a lot of lost school children; some in fact were crying. They had thrown away their rifles in France, which was probably just as well as we were armed and could thus enforce a little discipline. They were very bitter on account of the RAF providing no cover and one RAF boy, who somehow got mixed in, had to be confined to the guard room for his own protection. I began to feel grateful for having the Home Guard.
Our job was to register each one, feed and issue essential things, washing kit, essential clothing, etc. Then once we had a reasonable group, say of "Green Howards", we would put them on rail for their headquarters. The Buffs to Canterbury, the West Surrey Rgt to Guildford, etc. If they had any equipment, rifle etc, this was collected and sent to "Ordnance" for redistribution. It really was pathetic. Hitler could have walked all over us at this point. As the troops that had been nearer to the front line arrived, morale and discipline improved but it was not until General Alexander's Guardsmen that had fought the rearguard action that we saw true soldiers. I had always imagined guardsmen as Buckingham Palace sentries. Our last intake was the last to leave Dunkerque. The time was approx 2:00 am and when asked who they were everyone clicked their heels and replied "Guards, Sir". They were commanded by a Warrant Officer 1st class - they had lost all their officers - Mr Green (never call a WO 1st class "Sgt Major", always Mr). He stood 6ft 6in in his stockinged feet, and he was in his stockinged feet as he had kicked off his boots the better able to swim out to the last ship to leave towing his wounded companion. All the men had picked up an additional rifle on the beach. This was fortunate for me as it meant I collected some equipment without prejudicing my safety by attempting to part a guardsman from his rifle. When registration was completed, Mr Green asked when was first parade. I told him we had no parades but breakfast will begin at 09:00 hrs in a store tent which I pointed out to him. Before time he had inspected all his men and the walls of their bell tents were rolled up, an unheard-of thing in the camp.
Later that morning I put up a "terrible black". They were being fitted out in the stores with essentials when the storeman said to me "The WO takes size 14 in boots and we haven't any." I replied "That's simple, just give him two size 7s." The look Mr Green gave me, it expressed "Oh where, oh where do they get Artillery officers?". I sent a special messenger into Aldershot to get him a pair of size 14s.
I cannot remember the camp breaking up. The next thing I can recall is joining up with the 16 who were at Larkhill as cadets together with the next group to pass out, E Troop, at Filey in Yorkshire. We had been collected together at 125 OCTU to train (as they said) to be real Gunners and not Surveyors. The CO, Col Sebag Montifiore, did not seem a bad chap, just a "pistol in each hand and a sword in the other" type of fellow. In his talk he spoke highly of anti-tank gunnery and if anyone on completion of the course applied to go to Survey he would brand him a coward. We all applied for Coast Defence and without exception we were posted to Medium Regiments. These units had guns of 4.5-inch or 5.5-inch diameter barrels, the largest mobile units in the Army. It was with the 125 that I played one of only two games of cricket throughout the war. It was a trial game, Officers v Cadets, to find a team to represent the Regiment. Although we were officers we were not admitted to the Mess (we were billeted in hotels) but we were included with the officer instructors to swell the numbers. Three of us played. We did not bat well. When I went in at No 7 to join "Jimmy" - I can't recall his surname, he was a member of of E Troop - we were 24 for 5. In the allotted overs we did our best to make a respectable total. Jimmy was in his eighties and I had, I think, 55. Fielding was no better until Jimmy went on and he took six wickets of which I caught four at silly point. About this time the whole unit moved to Ilkley where we were again in hotels. We were surprised to find that neither of us had been selected to represent the Regiment.
During the first week I met Lieutenant Kent who seemed to be in charge of cricket and he told me to be ready to leave for the match at a certain time. I told him I had not been selected. He then said the staff had realised it was a long weekend, Whitsun I think, and some wanted to go away, hence the need for Jimmy and me. I told him quite forcefully that we had realized the date sometime ago and we had both made other arrangements. Jimmy was taking his car to Bristol to lay it up for the duration, and I was going to Leeds. Kent tried the seniority lark (he had two pips being an instructor), but I was adamant so he concluded by saying "Do you have to wear your hat at that angle?" I replied "No, but I like it that way." How the team, or indeed Lt Kent fared, I know not.
One little incident I can recall from my time at Ilkely: a Lady Starmer adopted the Cadets (and we were included); she organised a library service and ran a dance most Saturday nights. Nigel, the one who designed our dinner menu, was a very large, ginger-haired man. Sober he was a gentle giant but get alcohol inside him he was a monster. At one dance he made himself a nuisance, so we organised him into a taxi with instructions to the driver to take him to his hotel, the Stoneyleigh. On the way, Nigel discovered he had no cigarettes, so he told the driver to return to the dance. When the driver refused, Nigel threatened to flatten him. On his return, he fell flat on his face in the middle of the floor which was very noticeable as there was no dancing at the time. He rose and went to the bar and ordered from Lady Starmer a scotch and twenty Players. The Lady tactfully declined to serve him, saying the bar was closed. Nigel banged his fists on the counter and said he would keep the "so-and-so" bar open as long as he wished. It took four of us to get him into the taxi. The next morning I walked to the Stoneyleigh as I had either been orderly officer on Saturday or I was on duty on Sunday. Jimmy Brittain and I often got mixed up. I was just above him in the passing out list but he was before me alphabetically. Whilst talking on the lawn, the adjutant arrived and demanded to see Nigel Mould. I had to box clever as I was in mufti, not allowed as an orderly officer, and one was not allowed out on the street at any time so attired. Fortunately, Jimmy Brittain took control (he was resident at Stoneyleigh) and took us to Nigel's room, where we found him asleep on his bed in the nude. The adjutant aroused him with his cane, stood him to attention still starkers, and put him under arrest. Apparently Lady Starmer was a friend of General Adam of Northern District Command and the phone wires had been busy early in the morning. The General was very kind to Nigel and gave him a reprimand and advised him to get posted abroad as soon as possible.
At the completion of our course, we were again sent on leave to await a posting. I was posted to the 4 Medium Regt at Ringwood. It was a disgusting Regiment, morale was as low as it could be. When retreating to Dunkirk with their heavy guns at 5 to 10 mph all the officers fled on in advance leaving the men to their fate. The guns were blown up on reaching Dunkirk and the only officer who remained with the Regiment was killed on the shore. He was the Survey officer and was a hero to the troops. The others when they returned to the Regiment were despised by the men. I arrived in the middle of a sherry party, taking place on the lawn in front of the officers' mess, a large guest house cum hotel which also had civilian guests. I soon entered into the spirit of the thing and had a good introduction to my fellow officers and their lady guests from the town.
I got talking to a major. Odd for a second lieutenant, but I knew him from local government pre-war. He was TA, which accounted for his high rank. The time passed and I got very hungry as I had only 3 bottles of light ale for my lunch which I consumed with a fellow officer on Waterloo station. The major said they never had dinner on sherry party days, usually going on to Southampton if the booze ran out. Saying he thought it might be getting short, he went into the kitchen and came out with a full bottle of Plymouth gin. We sat on the garden roller by the tennis courts and talked until we had consumed the whole bottle. I had no thoughts then of eating and only wanted my bedroom pointed out to me. Someone pointed to a window on the front facade, and I attempted to climb the virginia creeper that clad the wall. This is all as reported to me the next day. I was told there were stairs and my room was the second on the left. They either forgot to say, or I misheard, it was the second floor. I went up one flight, then the second on the left, and fell upon the bed. I woke up next morning feeling quite OK. I was dressed in my pyjamas, my tunic was hung up and my clothes neatly folded on a chair. In the dining room a maid was surprised I wanted breakfast, I was the only one present. When I started on the cornflakes I thought that the staff must have had high jinx as well, as they tasted of Plymouth gin, but when the bacon, eggs, toast etc, all tasted the same I realised it was not the food but my taste buds. This persisted for 2 or 3 days and I have not had the courage to try Plymouth gin since that day.
I was the only officer on parade and when I handed back the battery to the Sgt Major he dismissed the two Troops and then said to the HQ section which remained, "A new officer here wants a batman, two paces forward for any volunteers." Normally on such occasions one could expect one or two to step forward, probably on "jankers" and hoping to get off pack drill, etc. About half of the section stepped forward, such was the morale of the Regiment. The Sgt Major detailed one and turned to me and said "He is no bloody use, but he will suit you." Actually he was right. He was a reservist who when serving had spent the whole of his time as a batman (no proper soldiering). His boss was Lord somebody and when they both were retired before the war be became the Lord's valet. On mobilisation the servant was called back to the colours but not the major. The servant was absolutely lost having to serve in the ranks, but he was jolly useful to me. He had a habit of collecting more from the laundry than he sent, and looking at the various laundry marks on my shirts one would conclude I was a well-travelled officer.
My job was Wagon Line Officer, which meant I looked after the stores and the transport, also as we had no barracks I was responsible for billeting the men in private houses in the town. My predecessor would draw money for this on Thursday morning and pay out all day Thursday and Friday with a few to do on Saturday. I was finished by mid-morning on Friday. I wonder why he took so long with the grass widows of the many naval troops who come from Ringwood. We were still receiving vehicles to replace those lost at Dunkirk. They were generally not army vehicles but any old rubbish they "bought up". They broke down and you could not get spares. I got so fed up one day that I rang the Ordnance Depot and demanded to speak to the officer in charge. I gave him a good wigging, implying that he was making a fortune by collecting anything from scrap dumps. He was most upset and said, "Do you know who you are speaking to? I am the colonel in charge of this unit." When he paused for breath, I said, "And do you know who you are speaking to?" Reply, "No." I said "Thank Christ for that!" and rang off. I knew I was in trouble if he had the guts to answer my charge that he was supplying rubbish. Fortunately, something happened that diverted attention elsewhere.
For some reason or other, the officers of the Regiment were given 3 days extra leave every year, I think it was something to do with events in India when the regiment was serving there. They took it all together, and as I was the most recent recruit I was left in charge for the three days. I was to occupy the adjutant's office full time, sleeping there and only being relieved for three 1-hour periods for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was very boring. It was the last day, I think, Sunday, when the phone rang. When I picked it up all I heard was "Blackbird, blackbird, blackbird." Even I was intelligent enough to realise it was a coded message, but what did it mean? I had no files, as they were locked away. No use ringing Corps HQ as they had probably sent it. I rang the Home Guard on a local land-line we had with them. I turned and turned the wretched handle until a sleepy voice answered "Have you been trying long? Had a party last night, so we were a bit late signing on." They did not know the answer to my question, but promised to ask around. Later they came back and said they thought it was the codeword for the invasion of the UK, but they were checking with their HQ, at Southampton. Some time elapsed before they came back to me, "Yes old boy, it's on, the balloon has gone up. Good luck old chap, good luck."
I had only one phone number, that of the adjutant who was having a naughty weekend in Christchurch. I knew it wasn't his wife as she had rung up earlier from Richmond in Yorkshire.
He returned very quickly and started to get the Regiment into action. It had to be in action some distance away in order to bombard the coastline should the Germans land.
A depleted and sorry-looking Regiment went off quite some time after they should have left according to the sealed orders and by the time it arrived it was discovered to be a false alarm and they all came back looking more unhappy than ever.
I had remained in the adjutant's office which was fortunate as I received a posting back to a survey regiment. Such was the efficiency of the unit they would probably have lost it. I was so pleased to get away I did not wait for transport but caught a Green Line bus to Amsbury and taxi to the School of Survey at Larkhill. There I met up again with Pat Tucker and after a day or two briefing we were sent to Eythorne, a village about 5 miles inland from Dover. Here we were to join the Sound Ranging Battery of the 1st Survey Regiment, which was deployed along the Kent coast from Deal to Dungerness. The task was to locate the German guns on the French coast who were being such a nuisance to shipping in the Channel and to Dover and the surrounding area. We were met at Shepherdswell station by Lt Butterwell who did his best to paint the CO as an ogre. He even had us taking off our boots before walking past his bedroom door - it was about 2 a.m. Our bathroom backed onto the CO's room, so Pat agreed with me not to pull the chain of the WC until the morning.
We were up promptly and much to our surprise greeted by a very affable CO who insisted on Pat and I being served first with breakfast as we had arrived first. After a couple of days, Pat I think was posted to West Base and I to Centre Base. The Battery was split into 3 Troops, one at each base, A Troop with HQ at Eythorne, B Troop (Centre Base) at Sellinge between Folkestone and Ashford, and C Troop (West Base) at Appledore down in Romney Marsh. Pat may have been with me at Sellinge, for it would have been difficult for him to get from Appledore when we played squash at the Conservative Club in Ashford. The Battery had been hastily enlarged and deployed soon after Dunkirk and as the Battle of Britain was raging things were a bit topsy-turvy.
A little about sound ranging might be appropriate at this stage. If you have two listening points on an accurately-drawn grid such as an Ordnance Survey map and a gun sound is recorded at both points such that the time interval between the sound reaching both can be recorded, then it is possible to draw a certain curve and the gun lies somewhere on that curve called a hyperbola. If we now have a third point and the time interval between points 2 and 3 is found, we can draw another hyperbola, and where the two curves intersect that is the gun's position. It was usual to have five or six positions to get greater accuracy. The gun sound was recorded by using fine wire in the form of a grid through which a small electric current was passed. When the gun wave strikes the grid the wire is cooled, the resistance of the wire increases and the current passing is reduced. The wire is in a circuit reaching back to HQ. The change in current is recorded in a complicated apparatus (my excuse for not explaining it) with the result we have another wire suspended in the jaws of a strong electro magnet. When there was no sound and therefore no change in current the two magnetic fields - the magnets and that surrounding the wire - are in equilibrium. A change in current in the wire, the balance is disturbed and you get a kick in the wire. The wire is photographed on a continuous run of film, so when it kicks it is recorded on the film. The film has time intervals photographed on it so that by filming all 5 or 6 circuits on the one film the time intervals between the sound reaching the listening posts can be read off and plotted on a gridded board. To avoid having to plot curves, the asymptote to the curve is used, an asymptote being a straight line which touches the curve at infinity, the two practically coincident at the distances we were at. There were corrections to be made for wind, temperature, etc. For this we used graphs. In peace time there were 50, but we got down to a more practical 12 in war time.
If you are clever enough you can get a lot more information from the film recording of the gun sounds, but to do this we had to call upon Professor Bragg at Cambridge University. One of our officers was on the staff at Cambridge, so we were well-positioned to provide any information required. The guns installed by the Germans at Calais etc we knew to be quite advanced. They could fire many rounds with sustained accuracy, and over a long range, 22 miles and more. Another method of finding out about the guns was to examine an unexploded shell, but uniquely they all seemed to explode. It can be 3 out of 10 do not go off with normal guns.
For Professor Bragg we collected three lots of data from one firing on a single film. The gun sounds, the shell wave (when the shell accelerating away from the gun broke the sound barrier - a la Concorde) and the fall of shot at the target. From this he calculated the length, weight, ballistic coefficient etc, but he was anxious to get it confirmed by the recovery of one. The 100 per cent record was a mystery to us. One day, however, we got news that one had been found on the beach between Dover and St Margarets Bay, and the Royal Engineers were recovering it. By this time I was adjutant at Eythorne and Col Eastwood and I went hell for leather along the beach only to find the shell dangling over our heads as it was being hauled up the cliff face. We hastened back and drove along to where a white-haired Captain was supervising the hauling in of the shell. It really was ironic. He and his men risked their lives every day in bomb recovery, but he was just like an old hen with chicks, telling his men to be careful, he did not want them falling over the cliff. Once landed, Uncle pulled rank on the Captain. Before the Captain could touch it, I sat astride it, measuring it up and noting all the markings etc, and Uncle sketched all the details. Professor Bragg was 100 per cent correct. The mystery of the near 100 per cent explosion was simple when one knew. There were two fuses, one to activate on impact, and a second timed to go off a second or two after impact. Had I known that I would have put my ear to it to ascertain if it was ticking.
I took up the post of Adjutant and Quartermaster to the unit, which had been split from 1st Survey Regiment and called the 1st Independent Sound Ranging Battery, on [Sunday] Nov 17th 1940. My predecessor was a bit slap-happy having won an MC at Dunkirk. The only money we handled (apart from men's pay) was a "Imprest" account. On this we could spend money, so much per month, on such things as cleaning materials, labels for blankets, shoe repairs, and something I never understood, an allowance for cake for the Sergeants' Mess. The items were specifically mentioned, and expenditure on other things forbidden. "Tubby" took no notice and bought such things as a kettle for making tea for the office, a cycle tyre repair outfit. "Pay no attention," he said, "we are at war, it will never be audited." Within one month of me taking over, the books and receipts were called for. The only thing I could do was to get a close friend at each base to get some blank bill heads from the girl in the village store and write out some for Vim, soda, etc. I wrote out a new account book and some invoices for HQ on bill heads from the local Post Office. After I had sent them off I realised some invoices and the account book had been in my handwriting, and the account book going back before I took over the job as Adjutant. I had a very uneasy six weeks until the book came back with certain items I had left in ringed round in green ink with a warning not to repeat the offences. The same thing happened with vehicle work tickets. These give details of all journeys, petrol consumed, etc. They are not used in theatres of war, but we were classed as home forces. I again prevailed on friends in each Troop to provide me with the necessary records going back to the time immediately after Dunkirk. One Troop Commander refused to play, or was just incompetent, and after many requests the CO (Uncle) was being threatened with a demand for payment for petrol used. I could not stall any longer, so I put all I had into a tea chest to be sent off. The BQMS made out a movement order for them to be sent from the East Kent Light Railway in the village and not from the Southern Railway on the main London to Dover line. I found out the reason many months later when the BQMS (now a Lieutenant Quarter Master) was about to be demobbed. His driver knew the porter in charge and to help him, weighed the tea chest, got a signed receipt from the porter, and put the tea chest in a closed wagon for him. The wagon was at the end of the line, and the chest was pushed across the wagon and a second man took it off into a closed van. On return to camp the whole lot were burnt. I could however produce the receipt when we had a further demand some weeks later. I was very suspicious when I asked why Eythorne Station, and was reminded by BQMS Bissell that a recent Army Council Instruction had ordered a tightening up on petrol consumption (he would be the last to bother about this). He later became our Lieut Quartermaster in the 9th Survey. I think "Uncle" secretly realised his "talents" and did not mind profiting by them. Bissell's driver Gunr Baker was a self-confessed burglar. When I asked him why he did not say that was his job on joining up, he said it was not accepted and the second thing he thought of was taxi driver. When we had a spate of petty thieving in the camp, Baker was accused. He came to me in great indignation. "I don't rob my friends, that would not be right. I steal from old ladies in Tunbridge Wells who don't always miss it they are so loaded." On setting a trap - a marked 10/- note - the thief was found to be a man thought highly respectable with a double-barrelled name: Wilson-Hasley. I got him posted. For ever after he was known as "Wilson f--g hyphen Hasley". I learnt after leaving the Independent that Baker finally got caught, fortunately acting on his own behalf and not the army. We were changed over to fresh milk and as Baker always collected our rations very early in the day, the milk had not arrived from the farm. He said he would collect it at 3 o'clock. This was too late for the staff who wanted to be either in bed or out of barracks by this time. It was agreed a side gate be left open. This was "open sesame" to Baker. He was found to have a garden shed in the village full of tinned food. I was pleased I had left as I felt certain I would have been asked to be his defence council.
Now, in 2002, I wonder, how having lead, I feel, a fairly blameless life, I allowed myself to get caught up in the shady deals. Perhaps it was because that sort of thing was endemic in the whole army, so what was one to do? Often, you were ordered to carry out the crime by a superior officer; refusal to carry out an order would itself be wrong, eg supplying petrol from army vehicles. It seemed that the only recognised crime was to be found out, and probably the reason that a long service and good conduct medal was recognised as "21 years of undetected crime". If you cannot beat them, join them. I rest my case.
Life at Eythorne was very restricted, Uncle wanted nothing more each evening than to play Mah-jong. Paul Dykes would only compromise by playing Monopoly on alternate nights. There was no social life as Uncle would not allow women around. One seldom got out as transport was a problem, and I as Adjutant was expected to be by Uncle's side at all times. I don't suppose I spent much more than 3 or 4 evenings at home on the farm. Work was interesting at first, but one soon got into a daily routine 7 days in each week. This was very noticeable once we had fixed the cross channel guns and with Cambridge University found out their secrets. Nothing - or very little - seemed to be done, such as taking action to put a stop to their firing. The four guns which we had under command of the Royal Marines seemed quite useless. They fired few rounds and then were worn to such an extent that they could not reach France. I heard of no bombing raids into the French coast, we heard nothing of them attempting sabotage on the guns. There were units in Dover who carried out raids on the French coast. We occasionally drank with them in the pubs in Dover and learned how they sometimes had to leave men behind. They were quite confident however they would pick them up on their next raid.
I got quite restless. Before the war overseas travel was very limited and I saw an opportunity to see some of the world at the army's expense. I had little to attract me in England. After the war I could see that the furthest I would get would be three or four days at Blackpool as an extension of the Municipal Engineers Conference. Every time I volunteered Uncle turned it down saying that I was uniquely qualified for a unique one-off job and my talents should not be wasted as cannon fodder in India or elsewhere.
I had hopes when Uncle was posted to the 9th Survey Regt in Durham, but he was succeeded by Major Meigh from the School of Survey. Although a headmaster of a London school he had a long association with the army going back to the First World War. Unfortunately for me he had the same idea as Uncle about my leaving. Life however was not as spartan and we got around a bit more and even entertained some ENSA girls in the mess after they had done their show. Harry tried to run the battery like a school which did not go down too well with everyone. In one thing he annoyed me intensely. Any idea I put forward he would turn it down but a few weeks later he might put it forward to our troop commanders' weekly conference as an original idea of his, and I had to sit and listen in silence. Socially however we got on quite well except that I had to change to bridge every evening. The only concession I won was not to play for money, just points.
Sometimes, when making a visit together, on our return we would drop off in Dover, have a cup of tea and go to the cinema, coming out in time for a drink, then bus back to Eythorne in time for dinner. On one occasion he came to Canterbury on a Thursday when I went to collect the money to pay the battery on the Friday; he wanted to get a haircut. From Canterbury we went to Sellinge (Centre Base) for a meeting and had lunch there. In Dover we dropped off to have tea and the cinema. On going into the cinema Harry asked me about the money. I told him Smith the driver had it and he will give it to Cameron, the pay clerk, to put in the safe. "Cameron has a key?" "Yes, to guard against me losing mine." This so worried Harry, or perhaps it was the film, he pulled so hard on his pipe that it burnt through and ruined his trousers and gave him a nasty burn. Without stopping for a drink we caught the first bus to Eythorne and I was dispatched to check on the money. I found it in Cameron's desk. He had left the office before Smith arrived. I put it in the safe and reported "all was well". It was not good enough for Harry. After that I had to hand the money to the guard for safe keeping overnight. In my opinion a much more risky business, as the guardroom was isolated at the end of the drive some distance from the house, but that was Harry showing his authority.
I did not spend too many weeks playing bridge, as in February 1942 Uncle got me posted to his regiment. Strange how it was no longer essential for me to remain in the Independent now that he was no longer in charge. I joined the 9th Survey Regt at Coxhoe, a mining town about 6 miles south of Durham. After being briefed I was posted to the Sound Ranging Battery which was situated way up in the Pennines some 22 miles south-west of Coxhoe at Middleton in Teesdale, about 3 miles down river from the famous High Force waterfall, and about 9 miles north-west of Barnard Castle. I was not popular at Middleton. It was quite obvious that I was considered a plant by Uncle to assist him in trying to bring the regiment up to his requirements. In truth it was in a pretty bad state, especially the Sound Ranging Battery. In charge was Major Farrow, an ex-ranker who had risen to the highest rank of Warrant Officer Class I. He also held a most important post of AIG (Assistant Instructor Gunnery), very high profile with red bands in their hats and in fact did all the instructing. What part the junior officers played I know not, but they were held in very low regard by the AIGs, and the feeling was mutual. And Uncle found one, now a commissioned officer and one of his seniors. Not a very happy state, and it did not help that Farrow was not a very efficient battery commander. In fact it was chaotic. C Troop commander had left (I took his place) and the troop was just left to rot. Capt Cleaver (one time friend at Filey and Ilkely) had D Troop, and it seemed all the officers and men. He (Chopper or Gil) was to my mind much under the influence of a Lieutenant who thought he should have had my job and things were just not right. On arrival a very small and rather scruffy lieutenant set off over the snow-covered terrain to introduce me to my troop, which should have consisted of about 100 men. I saw the stores with one man and some billets - empty, the vehicle park - some very sad-looking vehicles, and then I was taken to my office. This was a very bare-looking place with no fire even though it was several degrees below freezing. There was no-one around, then little Willy Wright said "Well that's that, I am now returning to D Troop," and off he goes leaving me alone. I waited around and a Lance Sergeant appeared and said he was Lonsdale and had just returned from his honeymoon. Apparently I said to him, and he often reminded me "Well that means you will be no bloody use to me for the next fortnight, but you can start by getting a fire in here and an orderly to look after the place and at least keep the fire going." Gradually more men appeared from the woodwork and I had some sort of troop. The two officers assigned to me had both been sent on courses, I think to get them out of the way. They could have stayed away, as they were quite useless on their return. I found a junior sergeant (Sgt Holmes) hidden away in HQ, someone Uncle had posted from the Independent and then forgotten about. I promoted him No 1 of the troop and he remained with me until he was demobbed. The recalcitrant lieutenant was posted and Cleaver and I got together again and as the battery's two senior officers began to pull it into some sort of shape.
Things improved at least in our relations with Regt HQ when Major Farrow was posted. Adjutant Humphrey was promoted to Major in charge of our Battery. He was a young keen regular soldier who had gone from a boys' boarding school directly into the army and knew nothing of life; in fact I did not have a very high opinion of him. He was a senior officer in a Survey Regiment and could not read a map. It was reported that when adjutant he was leading the colonel around Bedford when Uncle snatched the map away from him saying "We have passed that pub over there three times already." It did help enormously to have a CO who was pro-colonel rather than anti, and Humphrey was very pro, a good amplifier. If the colonel said PT to be done every day, Humph would say "PT every day at six o'clock in the field in bare feet." Similarly if we were ordered to march 13 miles in two hours we would be told to do it in full pack and fight a battle at the end of the march. After a period of training we were kitted out to go overseas but whilst on embarkation leave apparently the colonel of the 8th Survey convinced the War Office that his regiment should go before the 9th, so we returned from leave to find everything cancelled and we were to be a training and reinforcing regiment. What a waste of time and money. I do not think anyone was too disappointed as we were all very happy in Middleton. Throughout the war I don't think any village had taken a unit to heart as much as Middleton, practically every soldier had his feet under the table somewhere. Humphrey was about the only exception, being something like Uncle he was lost in the company of females. Chopper and I teamed up with the two daughters from the Talbot Hotel and had several pleasant weekends in Newcastle; we stayed at the Red Lion and the girls with an aunt at Jesmond, all very correct. I recall dining in a well-known restaurant, the Criterion I think, where there were little private dining rooms for 4 to 6, rather like old-fashioned stalls in church. Should you order a mixed grill, it was served on two plates, they rather liked their food in the North of England. In time we began to hear rumblings that we were to join 1st Corps which had been selected to be the spearhead of the attack on Northern France. The first signs of our new role was a reorganisation of the Sound Ranging Battery which took place in February 1943. We were made up to full strength and a switch took place. I with Sgt Holmes still as No 1 went over to D Troop and Chopper took over C Troop. Why it worked like that I don't know. After a little wheeling and dealing I found myself with a very good troop.
With Sgt Holmes I had two excellent sergeants as next in line. Sgt Watkins - a schoolmaster - was well suited to the more static role in charge of HQ with the recorder and the plotting gear. He worked well with the more technically-minded sound rangers. The field sergeant was Sgt Drinkall?, like me a militia man, who took his trade test with me at the beginning of the war at Larkhill. A very quick and sound fellow who took charge of the survey work and getting the microphones into position. These three were the backbone of the troop, I could not have wished for anyone better. I did not worry too much about who my two lieutenants were to be, but here I was lucky. Little Willie who introduced me to the battery in 1942 took over the HQ with Watkins. With a university degree in maths he was a wizard in looking after the recorder. He rather treated his men as playmates which had to be kept in check, but he was extremely popular. In charge of the field section was Charlie Simpson. Before being commissioned he had been my sergeant-major when I was training at Larkhill. Sometimes I think he thought it not a good thing serving under someone who had taken orders from him, and he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder. His work however was excellent, and I do not know of anyone as a surveyor who had a better appreciation of ground than Charlie.
After about sixteen months at Middleton the inevitable happened. At the end of April the whole regiment got its marching orders to join 1st Corps in Scotland, and our resting place was to be Alyth, a small town in Perthshire about twenty miles NW of Dundee. Here we had further changes. We were no longer to have three batteries, one for surveyors one for flash spotters and one for sound rangers. There were to be two Batteries each containing one survey, one flash spotting and one sound ranging Troop. I with my D Troop was to be in B Battery still under Major Humphrey. This was a much more logical split as the two SR units never worked together being allocated to separate divisions (a division being the next split down from corps). Tactically the troops almost always worked away from the regiment, coming under command of the Divisional General. In fact during the invasion I must have worked under almost all of the divisions in the British army and also with the Polish division and an American one the 72nd Timber Wolf Division and some sort of Jewish brigade.
We spent our time up to the beginning of December in Scotland preparing ourselves for the assault on France and getting used to operating in our new formations. We had a little distraction. D Troop was sent down to Moffat to survey an artillery range. It took a fortnight of very strenuous work, I was up at first light (May time) and did not get to bed before midnight as I had a certain amount of admin work to do after surveying was stopped for the day. On completion I gave the boys the option of rushing back or leaving the next day on a leisurely drive. They chose the former. Arriving at about 4 o'clock I was immediately drafted into a 7-a-side rugger tournament being held in the village. I was very tired, but also quite a fast runner, and when we reached the final after about three games, everyone was about spent. We had a Rugby League player who proceeded to flatten the opposition. He could not run but gave the ball to me and I ran in about five tries. On the final whistle I collapsed to be dumped in a truck, taken to the mess and put in a bath with the tap running and left until I could find the strength to get out. What strenuous effort fighting wars demands.
Another little episode occurred which was so secret we were not told where we were going, and no maps. We were just told "You will be working hard day and night so do not take any smart kit, just overalls." I was not to be parted with my possessions, so I took everything. An escort of Military Police lead us from Bellahouston Park in Glasgow through the mean streets until we reached an isolated stretch of the River Clyde. Three or four LCTs (Landing Craft Tank) drew into the bank and the bows came down and formed a ramp and we loaded up. Each one held, as far as I can remember, something like six vehicles and fifty or sixty men. After a long trip down river we landed on an equally desolate shoreline, mountains, heather and not a crofter's hut in sight. We drove along the coastline and gradually found civilisation to end up in the harbour of a small town. We were told it was Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. It was a bright, warm, sunny day and the world and his dog was on show all in their Sunday best. Apparently it was holiday week in Kilmarnock and it was not at all like war time. The officers were billeted in a hotel with civilians and I swear we had cream cakes for tea. There was no tea time orchestra, but two girls, both around 19 or 20, entertained us on the piano and violin. It was interesting to watch the antics of the married officers flapping around the girls, turning their music over and generally being a nuisance. Between tea and dinner, Griff (the only other single chap) and I indulged in our own strategy, and it was a joy to see the expression on the faces of the married men when after coffee the four of us (Griff, I and the two girls) got up and said we were off out. Did they have cinema on Sunday in Scotland? I was pleased I had brought all my kit with me.
On the Monday we learnt the purpose of our visit. It was to prepare us for the assault landings from ships. Basically we drove down a ramp at the bow of a LST (Landing Ship Tank), about the size of a cross-channel boat, into a maximum of 3 to 4 feet of water, and then we drove the vehicle under water to the shore; try to avoid the pot holes, you might disappear. Other joys included scrambling up and down nets, rowing large boats, in fact anything to get us extremely wet.
In the harbour was a submarine mother ship with 4 submarines. One we were told was the "Thetis", renamed I think "Thunderer" after being salvaged from her disastrous sinking on her trials just before the war. She was reported missing while we were at Rothesay. Between rowing boats on the beach were large cigar-shaped objects which we were told were one or two man submarines. To cap it all on the promenade there was a photographer snapping everything in sight and handing out cards which said "Get your holiday snaps from the Hole-in-the Wall after 10am tomorrow." I had a photo of me walking hand-in-hand with Molly (the better-looking of the two sisters). Over time it seems to have disappeared. Perhaps Lena objected to the hand-in-hand bit. I wonder what she was doing in the WRNS at that time? After this pleasant interlude Molly returned to work and I and the rest of the party rejoined the regiment.
With more toughening up schemes, the "assault party" was introduced. The idea behind these words was this. It was realised that in the event of the troop taking an early part in an invasion it would be impossible for the whole troop to be landed at once (all disciplines would be required at the start). Therefore the troop would have to be thinned out to about 40 percent of its full strength consisting of men necessary to get the troop into action and to keep it going without reinforcement for I think up to four weeks or until others arrived in various waves. After several trials the SR assault party was generally made up of 44 men with six vehicles. We continued to train on these lines until the 9th November  when we said goodbye to Alyth. We travelled south to our last resting place before venturing on the assault of northern France.
It took some time as we called at several places, principally to call on Canadian gunnery regiments. It had been decided that tactically we were to form part of the 3rd Canadian division who with 3rd British division were to be the two parts of 1st Corps who were to be the advanced formation of the assault by British troops. Later when Montgomery came from the Middle East to take charge of Operation Overlord as it became known, he wanted to involve his precious 30 Corps which he had commanded in Africa, and the whole scheme was redrawn with 30 Corps on our right next to the Americans and 1st Corps took the left flank with airborne troops on our extreme left.
It was our battery, B Battery, which was to work with the Canadians. A Battery was to be with 3rd British division. At the same time the whole regiment was under command of 1st Corps Troop. Quite a tricky job for Colonel Eastwood.
We finished our travels at Fairmile Common, a large area of scrub land next to the A3 (London to Portsmouth) about two miles SW of Esher and three miles NE of Cobham, in Surrey. The camp was Nissen huts placed randomly among the trees and undergrowth, and frequent were the cursings with men wandering around to find their hut in the blackout. At Cobham things began to sort themselves out in real earnest, ready for the day which was to come. I found that my troop (D Troop) was working more and more on its own, and I began to feel much more responsibility for the 100 or so troops under my command. A sobering thought. We honed our skills in waterproofing our vehicles and equipment and testing our driving and the waterproofing in a large pond on the common. Vehicles were loaded and weighed, small schemes were carried out to ascertain if we had packed what we needed and if we had enough consumables to last for 4 weeks without replenishment. On one scheme one truck crashed into a tree and the driver Callick was fatally injured. It was not a happy time for me attending his cremation and meeting his wife and young children, particularly when she fainted on seeing her husband, and all this because her father-in-law thought she should have one last look. I had my brandy flask but I still had to almost carry her into the crematorium.
It was not all work. A good number of my troop came from a TA unit in Durham and they enjoyed exploring London. A lot of the others seemed to live in or around London so the trains from Esher and Oxshott were well used. The first time I arrived back at Oxshott I had not walked the area before and it was a severe test of my ability as a surveyor to find my way across the heath after a cursory look at a map before leaving camp. Weekend leave was restricted to one-third of the troop at any one time. I did not enquire too deeply into the workings as my thoughts were that in a few weeks time we may all be blown into oblivion, so let's savour the moment. At the time I did not appreciate how extensively the boys had interpreted my thoughts. The Battery Orderly would make out two sets of passes. When Lt Wright appeared in the office he was asked to sign the weekend passes. Then later Lt Simpson would be asked to sign the second set. Then No 1 Sgt could sign day passes for men not on duty, and if both Saturday and Sunday were free one could have virtually a week-end pass. The place must have looked a graveyard. Fortunately, Uncle's Regimental HQ was some three miles away so his afternoon walks did not extend to Fairmile. Major Humphrey was probably doing his press-ups. As for me, I was seeking to get away from the dull routine in a pub in Esher, now fortunately demolished and built over. The landlord owned a boatyard on the Thames which had been taken over by the navy. He took a pub, and to drink, and became an alcoholic, who was then taken off at intervals to be dried out. He lived with his girlfriend and I befriended her daughter. I thought it would be scary when Pet was taken off with me the only male around. The potman came in the morning to do the cellar work. The place was always seething with Canadian soldiers, but when they knew the score they were as good as gold, no tales of the limey officer being beaten up by Canadians in a pub brawl. In fact I remember one about 6ft 8in tall lifting the clock from the wall so that I could adjust it to summer time.
It was a pretty relaxed time and Christine and I spent many hours cycling around the area (me on her mother's bike) visiting friends, drinking innumerable gin and oranges (tonic was not available) in the local pubs and at the Upper Deck, a swimming pool and club at East Molesey, with I think a little bit of a reputation.
A Mr and Mrs Large kept the Bear at Esher (both very large) and I used to annoy the landlady by asking for a further gin in my glass as I could not taste the berry. One day she banged both bottles on the counter and said "Help your bloody self, I can never satisfy you". In those days there was no need to pander to customers.
©2003 Ron Bromley