Sunday, March 23, 2008

Wednesday 10th August 1938

Utter chaos and “panic” when the Signals Scheme commenced this morning. Eventually, however, I found myself, with Smith (operator) attached to No.1 Company and in Div. HQ Reserve group. This seemed like being bloody dull but it wasn’t, because reserve men especially, are liable to be sent anywhere. Lorries, cars, Don R’s rushed away whilst Divisional HQ Reserve stayed, parked on a white line, like buggers.

I sneaked away to No.3 Coy. Tents and found a most gorgeous Old Daventrian Blazer had just arrived. Very vicious design – blue, chocolate, blue and yellow. Next I went to the canteen, had a glass of cider, and cooled down a bit. I had just returned to the car when a Sergeant ran up waving his hands. Off! Engines revved, Don R’s sped away, the convoy began to move. The only other man we know in this crowd was Jimmie Small, driving an Austin seven van with a ground set. At Falmer we halted beneath some trees and a long wait ensued. No transmitting was done. “The lost battalion!” said Smith bitterly.

Orders came at last and we moved on to Lewes – where a “gas attack” caused us to don respirators. At South Malling we pulled into a yard, where Rear Div. HQ was established. A grotesque, masked face peered into my car. “Is that you, Steevie boy?” Martin! A few minutes later his convoy left us. One or two other No.3 Coy. People were about, doing odd jobs so we felt less lonely.

Orders were altered after an hour or so (meanwhile we’d had a scrap lunch at an adjoining pub) and my car and a lorry were sent on to Ringmer. This was Directing Divisional HQ (“YAMA”) and we had bugger all to do. Just sat in the car and listened to piercingly loud messages being transmitted by a set only 25 yards away.
Woolmer drove up but was ordered to go on to Brigade HQ – 163 Brigade (“NOVA”) No move was being made by “YAMA”, that was obvious. So we sat there gloomily, resigned to a night among aliens. Every now and then we would close our eyes and doze – delicious and terrible – for a few seconds. I sipped from my water bottle, ate chocolate, smoked. Joyfully, we at last received orders to report, independently, to (“BOPA”) 162 Brigade, at Isfield or thereabouts.

We found them 20 minutes later, established in a farm yard. No.3 Company men! Kirby, Martin, Nobby, Lieut. Layton, Capt. Gentry, Serg.Smith, Serg.Marshall… We were given a map reference and told to go to that point, operating on the way, as TIGE. The car sped along the road whilst Smith’s expressionless voice intoned:- “Tige calling Bopa. Tige calling Bopa. Can you hear me Bopa? Over” Reception was strength nine – ok.

Arrived at our rendezvous simultaneously with a Dan R who handed me a message for Tige. Just for a moment I was the Officers, NCOs, and Ors of an infantry battalion!
Ordered to close down Tige and return to Bopa, soon afterwards. Back at the farmyard I had a gorgeous wash under a tap. We had hot tea, cooked over a wood fire. A van and a lorry were standing beside the farmyard on the edge of a copse into which a rough track disappeared. Romance in the Army at last I thought, seeing the group of men drinking tea; in dirty uniforms, around a wood fire. Active service rehearsal.

Mother and Father, with Robin, drove up to the billets. They had been directed from place to place until they found me. Speaks well for our communications as well as their tenacity! Had a drink with Father at Uckfield, then returned to the farmyard, where they left me. Martin and I marched along to the village pub. It was full of our men.

Back at the billets. The fire blazed merrily in the darkness. I joined a Brag “school” in the lorry and after half an hour’s playing finished in about the same position as I started. Supper, then. Ripping hot stew which we ate around the fire. Our lads had previously been arranged in the barn. On deep straw… Luxurious…

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