Sketch by Jack Chalker

Training for War

Preston depot of the Loyals was a short journey from Carnforth, dad arrived on time, a good start for your army carrier, and the ones that were late got off to a bad start.

 “Get in line you lot, I'm your sergeant major”, this was the start of six weeks of hell, Sergeant Johnson took over. All you lot, get yourselves into the stores, the uniforms were the worst fitting garments you could imagine, everything was too big or to small, lucky for dad Jack was a tall well made lad and dad was small and thin type, having swapped their kit around they both had something verging on a good fit.

PE was the first problem running 5 miles before breakfast was a killer for a farm boy who had never run anywhere in his life!

After breakfast it was square bashing till noon, then after dinner (they still had the main meal at dinner time) it was the shooting range, dad liked this as it bought back memories of hunting with Sam.

After basic training it was 5 days leave back to Carnforth to show off his new uniform, mum Nora was so proud of Philip seeing him marching round chin up chest out, his back was ram rod straight, and he looked 3 inches taller.

Then off to Stoke on Trent, where they were issued with more gear, then they moved on to Leicester, there they were given places to sleep in the stables of a mansion called Little Dalby, a few weeks later they moved to horse racing stables in Somerby.

All the time it was training, training, and more training, after Somerby they moved to Camberley in Surrey, and the now famous you you and you, you’re on motor bikes and sidecar, the idea was everyone got to try the brakes clutch and gears the ones who could get them moving got the job as driver.

Dad had been driving trucks so he had no bother getting a motor bike going, with this and intense training that followed many hours with bike and the deadly Bren gun.

With Twiss in the side car, brengun mounted on the front off they would go, they travelled the south coast, spotting anywhere that could be a possible invasion point they would ride over ploughed fields and all over the South Downs, they would go down narrow road at full speed, the motor bikes were high speed hit and run vehicles.

Dad loved the army life they set off and travelled for days camping out, everything would pack in the side car, six weeks later it was off to Salisbury plain for manoeuvres, the journey was exciting with Jack in the sidecar, in those days it took three days.

They stopped over nights in different army camps, always worn-out! “Pitch your tent over there would be the orders and get yourself over to the naffi” before it shuts.

Next morning after picking up more troops for the manoeuvres, and with dad up at the front with the out riders, they would go ahead and stop all the traffic for the large convoy of trucks and tank carriers.

The manoeuvres where full brigade strength 28 armoured brigade it was three days of war games with tactics  put into practice dad loved it, Reds against the Blues it was so exciting Dad and Twiss against the rest! with the manoeuvres over, It should have been up to Catterrick.

Thing had changed the  British expeditionary force that had been sent to defend Holland and Belgium had met with the German army full on! Blitz screed! the full might of the German army. With the panzer tanks stooka dive bombers and fully armoured troop carriers.

The British tried to stop them but they were still using the equipment from the great war, Adolf Hitler who had come to power in 1933 had been building his army for years in readiness for this moment.

Nevil Chamberlain our prime minister had been to Berlin to meet Hitler and come back with a useless piece of paper guaranteeing peace in our time. 

Winston Churchill was minister for war and was hard at work organising the rearming of our forces RAF where to get the new mark two Spitfire. The mark two had the new Rolls Royce  Merlin engine, it had a secret ingredient this was petrol with a catalyst additive which allowed it to rev at  higher revs than the German fighters this gave them the edge over the Mesherrsmits.

The top secret additive was anti knock or lead as we know it today,  ICI at Runcorn had developed it and because it made all the difference to top speed and general power for all aeroplanes and vehicles of all kind, the plant that produced it was top secret and moved from Runcorn to Clitheroe in the heart of north Lancashire for protection, it was never bombed and  is still there to this day.

Winston Churchill took over as Prime Minister from Chamberlain after war was declared, the first thing he did was to build up the production of the spitfire and navy ships and submarines.

After the Dunkirk disaster which  was turn into a victory by the way 300 000 troops were picked up by the  royal navy with aid of hundreds of pleasure craft out of the Thames and the Norfolk Broads.

After Dunkirk! Everything changed, instead of Dad returning to Catterick he was sent to Birkenhead for training with the Crossville bus company, their depot was to be the place to get on the spot training in driving and maintenance of large vehicles, this could have been a good billet!

The only thing was that the Battle of Britain had started, with Liverpool and Birkenhead being bombed every night, for two months the bombers came to bomb Liverpool docks.

Being based across the Mersey, Birkenhead was very dangerous, dad said after a while you stopped running for the shelters and stood and watched the anti aircraft shells trying to shoot down the German bombers

Two months and thousands of shells later not one bomber had been hit, Jazza my friend’s dad was serving on an anti aircraft gun by the Albert docks in Liverpool, every morning the women would come down with tea and a butty for the gun crews.

Later he was to remark “I wonder what we would have got if they had known it was a wooden gun!!!” The anti aircraft guns were there to keep up the civilian moral.

The number of  people who died was difficult to count, but it was many thousands, the damage done by bombs was considerable, the famous Lewis’ of Liverpool nearly burned to the ground, ships were sunk in the docks, and many thousands of houses flattened, everybody had relations and friends killed in the Blitz.

Kathleen-tnWith Carnforth only a train journey away, dad could get leave and a travel warrant, on the frequent trips back to Carnforth dad would court the lovely Kathleen, a gorgeous Auburn haired young lady of Irish descent.

Kathleen came from Barrow in Furness she was one of seven sisters, she worked in the Carnforth hotel as a chamber maid.  Dad would walk hand in hand with Kathleen along the canal tow path and talk about what they would do after the war.

Kathleen’s father John Loughran had been killed by a large swinging steel plate in Barrow docks; it was being swung from dock side to ship, when it slipped from the sling.

John Loughran died in 1936 aged forty leaving a wife and seven children. Bridget Kathleen’s mother had left Barrow to go back to Ireland when war broke out; the family owned a large country house called Carrickbroad.

Bridget’s great uncle was one Dr John Loughran priest and healer and confidant to Pope Gregory the 16th. Carrickbroad had been a gift from Pope Gregory for service to the holly sea.

18th October 1940 Dad got a 48 hour pass to go to Lancaster registry office, and with his eldest sister Anne as a witness, he married his sweetheart Kathleen my mum.

 

Next Chapter

Voyage

 

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[My Dad and Me] [Training for War] [Voyage] [Singapore] [Escape] [Columbo] [Bombay] [Swimming Tanks] [Ireland] [Next Step] [Sister Christine]

 

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