Training for War
When the war broke out in 1939 Jim Quadling and myself were working on a friends new house in Westfield Road, Dereham. We were building a gable wall and, on hearing that Britain was at war with Germany, Jim and I wrote our names on the back of a brick and layed it in the wall. Off home to get cleaned up and then up to the Drill Hall in Norwich Road, Dereham. If I remember correctly we were told to bugger off home and come back tomorrow! That was the start of a period in my life that was, in the earlier years, a unique experience learning to live a completely different lifestyle.
With other local Territorial Army blokes; Bill Garrod, Billy Shields, Eric and Walter Dack, Frank Oldfield, Ronnie Patterson, Bob Cox, Jack Disdale, Dick Langley, the Weales trio and many more, it was that much easier for us. The fact that we had a local gentleman, Douglas Grey, for our platoon officer made things better for us too.
Later we were to get an intake of regular army blokes. We had two sergeants, Jack Reece and Albert Amis, join our platoon. At that time we were at Weybourne Camp. A bit later on we were moved into battle positions. One morning a German plane came over and dropped a stick of sixteen bombs near us. I didn’t hear a thing although I admit I was a bit of a heavy sleeper.
Another morning Smokin’ Joe had one of his lightning inspections for us flag wavers. All was proceeding nicely until he told Doug Stratton to take the bolt out of his rifle. When the RSM looked through the barrel he looked at Doug and yelled “boy, there’s a bloody earwig in your barrel”. Doug said with a grin “go on, I cleaned it this morning”. I thought the RSM was going to blow a gasket, he politely told us to go back to our duties.
C Company were in Salthouse village and I spent some time there in our signals office, just back from the main road. One chap from a rifle company was killed on the beach while priming a mine. A machine gunner took some bullets in his shin, someone made a mistake while cleaning a machine gun. A third bloke, from memory he was from the Cambridgeshire Regiment, was shot in the throat, killed by his mate. Apparently when the bloke swung his rifle onto his shoulder the rifle struck a wall and discharged. These three incidents happened in one week and really shocked us all.
Kings Lynn is another place that brings back some memories. Our living quarters certainly weren’t the best but were much better than some we were to experience later. The dances at Gaywood were a pleasant interlude for us. One night while walking back from the dance a German plane came over very low. So low in fact the Jerries read the time on the clock close by and it was on their Haw Haw radio program the next day.
The next move for the fighting 5th was to Cheshire, that place seems to stand out in my mind somehow. Marberry Hall was an ideal place for the Battalion. There was the swimming pool, Marberry Mere and plenty of space for a quiet stroll. Nice and handy to town, three cinemas and some clubs let us in for games and drinks. We certainly had some good times. I remember our route marches, particularly the three day one with some night schemes thrown in.
Castle Douglas was another lovely place where we were stationed. A small town where we were truly made welcome. I remember the first hut we stayed in, Loch Street I think. How we got froze out and had to go into private billets. What a lovely house and people that Ted Reavey and I went to. A real home from home. After the war my wife Lily and I went to these people for our honeymoon. Once again a fantastic welcome. It was like a family reunion. We met up with Leslie Barnes, Ivor Self and Harry Newstead who I think was in the local police force.