Monday, July 28, 2008

Saturday 16th December 1939

George Hignall having gone away on a signals course, I shall be NCO Signals for the next four weeks. The first batch of men for Christmas (and Embarkation?) leave left yesterday, Stan Ling amongst them.

It hasn’t been the cushy, duty-free week I’d expected. There was an artillery demonstration on Thursday, for the benefit of all the officers in the Brigade. So on Tuesday we went to the site and laid the lines. On Wednesday we rehearsed going into action. On Thursday we performed the demonstration. M2 and M3 with Sid and Ron, laid their imaginary cable at about 40 miles an hour! I took M1 and the command post signallers. We had six lines already down (the vital ends hidden in the grass) and laid two more, very rapidly and efficiently, making a total of eight. Everyone was keen and all went well.

On Friday, greatly depleted owing to 2/3 of the men being on duty or on leave, we did a scheme in the same position, watched by some big shot from the War Office. So on four days this week I’ve been carrying out normal duties – with a little surplus Orderly work to do in the afternoon! I was a pukka Orderly on Sunday, but that was a holiday in any case. And today I finished my sick orderly duties early (it is not quite midday yet) but again, this is a half holiday in any event and I’ve still to deliver the afternoon post.

Typical Dawsonic luck, what? Ah well, I’m not grumbling! It’s been an interesting week and a change from routine. Now, that the first batch of men on leave has gone we all begin to look forward, with excitement, to Christmas! And – Seven Days Leave!

Monday 11th December 1939

Intervals in an orderly’s day:- Up at 6:30a.m. A cup of tea had been left in the pot for me, in the kitchen. Hot water for shaving was already in the kettle. Nice billets these, better than those at Chelmsford. That cup of tea before first parade; a cosy fire in the evenings and a warm bedroom at nights.

I lent BSM Carlos a few sheets of paper for writing down the names of hapless absentees. Inadvertently I gave him a sheet on the reverse side of which I’d scrawled the words to “The Rose of Tralee”. Later in the day, whilst in the battery office, he approached me. “This yours, Dawson?” he said curtly but with a faint smile, as he handed me “The Rose”. Unabashed, I read aloud the first line; “The pale moon was rising above the green mountain…”

Wangled meals nicely today. I fell-out with the orderlies when the battery set forth on the usual early morning march. So I was among the first dozen for breakfast. At dinner time, ignoring the queue, I walked around through the cookhouse and into the dining hall. As I carried a mail bag full of parcels, I was unchallenged. So I was first to be served and had a damn good meal in comfort. After my first course I got up and importantly distributed the parcels.

I was late for tea. There at first sight appeared to be no mugs or cups, no seats and no pickles. I wangled an extra portion of butter and cheese to compensate and then “won” a seat, a mug of hot tea and a large supply of pickled onions and piccalilli!

Owing to the large number of sick, there was more work to be done than normal. However it was work, not just messing about! I got back to the billets at about 3:15p.m., quite tired after tramping up and down the streets.

Took off my boots, tunic and belt and rolled between the blankets on my bed. I read a “thriller” for a few moments then felt sleepy and snuggled down. A cup of tea was brought to me. I sat up for a few minutes and read a half-dozen pages, then but the book down and pulled the blankets over me again. Slept until 4:45p.m.

Sunday 10th December 1939

Sick, post, canteen and defaulters orderly from today – this job runs for a week now. There is no canteen, so it’s quite a pleasant job! I’m beginning to notice that it is rather nice to be a two-stripe man. Decent blokes like Thurley and Stephens, formerly my seniors, now call me “Steve” as an equal.

I have enjoyed Army life ever since I had that leave and a rest. Admittedly, I met Eileen and was promoted at about the same time! I’ll be glad of the extra pay. Hard up as usual! There are not many worries in the Army though, everything being planned for one’s comfort or discomfort. Sometimes I wonder about my kit at the Cock Inn. It seems awful to leave it there all this time; especially as we’ll go abroad soon, possibly to the East. If we go East we may be away some considerable time. Difficult to make any arrangements for getting the stuff home from Stock owing to transport and petrol troubles.

Well, I don’t anticipate, but I hope we do go East! A hot climate would probably suit me; I’ve always thought so.

Saturday 9th December 1939

Quite better by tonight. And to think that once, in my youthful enthusiasm I wished to go adventuring in the Army; and was deterred by the fact that soldiers must be willing “to undergo vaccination, inoculation and re-inoculation as required”. I can still see those terrible words in the recruiting pamphlet, read so many years ago!

Echo today from the notes written here on November 22nd re the dark lady. Brandon (amazing man!) has apparently mentioned me to his young lady (Edith by name) and has secured an invitation for me to go along to a party at her house. When he came into the dining room and said “Edith wants you to go round on Sunday”, with seeming cordiality, I was staggered. So were the “snakes,” who sat all around me, as usual.
They forgot of course, that the mystery of the dark eyes at a window had appealed to me before I’d seen the witchy vampire eyes of Eileen.

Friday 8th December 1939

Relentless rain, all day. We were all inoculated and also had a dental examination. (I’m to have two teeth and one root extracted and one stopping. Ough!)

After pay parade Ling and several other NCO’s were detailed to relieve the guard, so I went along too – and spent half an hour gloomily in a sentry box whilst rain fell steadily.

Had two games of chess before lunch, with Ling, in our café. I still lead, 3-2.

Well it’s 10p.m. now and I reckon I’m one of the lucky ones where inoculations are concerned. I don’t feel any worse than last time – just stiff and lethargic and “run down”. There have been several “casualties” during the afternoon and a good many absentees at tea time.

Thursday 7th December 1939

The only NCO in the Signals this morning. Stan was in the stores, Ron, Sid and George Hignall had gone to the range. Went to the chapel and had some buzzer messages first. It was very cold – frosty in fact – so we had early break and then went for a route march – a new idea in the squad.

“March at ease” as soon as we were clear of the town, then we marched through winding lanes, where frost hoar hung on the hedges. A thin mist around us. They sung, talked and smoked. As we came back into the Southwell streets I ordered “March at attention” and they all became soldiers again. The thudding halt and right turn as they dismissed… The squads getting much more disciplined lately, since the orderly new draft men joined. Quite a pleasure to take them! We all felt nice and warm; our breaths rose steaming in the crisp, still air.

Stan Ling and I found a snug café, where coffee and biscuits was only 2d, and played chess beside a cheery fire. One game each. I still lead on the aggregate – 2-1.

Met Ron and Sid again at lunchtime. They hadn’t done too well at the range. Ron scored nil and 3, Sid scored nil and 1!

Afternoon, Oxley, the Rugby pro, took us for PT. Cartwright and I had a wrestle. I won eventually. He’s very game. I was winning all the time and hurting him, but he wouldn’t give in. Must be fairly tough; I felt I’d had quite enough when we finished.
Felt pretty fit after all that!

Shan’t feel so fine tomorrow. Battery orders reads:- “0900 Full Battery Parade for dental inspection and inoculation”. Ominously, there are no further parades tomorrow except for pay parade which is being held at 1100 instead of at 1530 hours as is normal. We should have had this second (double) dose ten days after the first. Owing to some hitch in supply of the serum, there will be a lapse of fifteen days for myself and about sixty others. Anyhow, the general opinion is that we shall be given a bad time on this occasion.

Went for a walk with Eileen tonight. (Sometimes I call her Olga or Thora or Lucy or Witch – but Eileen is her real and rather nice name.) She took me along the road which we march upon each morning before breakfast. Coming back, I felt weak with hunger so we went into the Plough Inn at Halam. Through the bar into a snug room beyond. We had cider – and I had pork sandwiches – and played darts. She throws a neat dart.

Back in Southwell by 10:30p.m. and in the billets by 11 o’clock. An hour after “curfew” but somehow I do have late nights with Eileen. I’m going to see her again on Saturday night; “Unless I’m held back by iron chains or cannot walk”- “or go to the dance by yourself!” she finished. The snakes are rather amused about Eileen and I.

Twelve o’clock. Ye gods! I’m tired and sleepy!

Wednesday 6th December 1939

No! The same foolish custom exists in Bty. HQ group. Still, each night I must polish the brass work on my respirator.

Today we went to a rifle range near Lowdham and fired ten rounds each of .303. Quite a crude sort of affair. I didn’t do very well – nil for grouping and 16/20 for application (I missed once in grouping). Some – many had never fired before – were much worse than this, however.

Walked into the dinning hall this evening, late for tea, and looked around.
“He’s over there, Steve” said Langley.
“Stan Ling. The rest of the snakes have gone”
“Oh! I was looking for them! How did you know?”
“You four snakes are always in a huddle together, somewhere.”

Monday 4th December 1939

Bitter weather begins! It was stilly cold yesterday but today there was a biting northerly wind.

The battery having been reorganised I now parade with the Battery HQ squad again instead of with “A” Troop. I’m now with Hignall (now a sergeant), Ling and Underhill and Andrews. I wonder if this means I shall not have to polish my respirator brass work any more? It is possible that my new officer (Adams, the signals officer) may not have such stupid ideas on the subject as Luient. Dawnay. How I hate that quite unnecessary task. And it looks so bad too, being an Army “crime”.

Sunday 3rd December 1939

Up at 4 o’clock. A lovely night – stars and moon and silence except for the thud of a few pairs of Army boots as the wireless squad went to breakfast; except for the drone of an occasional Army truck, rushing through the streets. Quiet a decent breakfast for the select little party of signallers and drivers.

Cartwright and I at Rolleston Junction in “Charlie Uncle 2” whilst the stars faded from the sky and it became light. Men and horses detrained. Just as I was getting bored, cold and fed-up, Charlie U 1 came through (they were in Southwell) to say that Stan Ling had walked along and had some news for me. He then told me how he’d met Eileen’s’ brother in a pub last night and had gone home to tea at his house, where he’d seen Eileen.

“Hullo CU1,” I cried, “Please inform me this. Does she still love me? Still love me? Over!” “Yes” came back Stan’s voice from CU1, “Yes, I think she does, Steve. She seemed very interested to hear about you. Over!” From then onwards I felt happy!
And our work was done by 12:30p.m.

Pond and I went into the mess together and found a seat beside Ron Dean. Later Stan Ling came to us as well. So the four snakes walked back merrily to Landseer Road. Half holiday!

Saturday 2nd December 1939

Eileen on Thursday and last night at the dance. All the “snakes” there – Ron Dean hopelessly infatuated with a Dolcie, Sid Pond having a pleasant platonic friendship with a girl who made a good dancing partner, the quiet Stan Ling suddenly interested in a rather nice girl called Doris.. Cartwright amused today. Says he watched me last night and noticed that I was “obviously attracted” to the girl with whom I danced most. “You, of all people!” he said.

Wireless exercise this morning for seven of us. A not-too-successful rehearsal for a job we are to do tomorrow. Breakfast at 5:15 a.m…

Went to bed this afternoon and had an hours doze. This refreshed me greatly!
Nothing to do in the evening so I went to a dance with Dick Cartwright. The third dance in a week! My dance shyness has gone forever. Why the hell didn’t I start dancing sooner? Eileen wasn’t there of course, but I had quite a nice time. Four tango dances but the floor was rather too crowded to get the full swaying rhythm. I can’t understand their rum local notion of a tango. Everything and everyone moves forward and backward in a uniform manner.

Phew! It gets damn hot there! Must try a dance at a decent place in Nottingham, before we go away.

Five to twelve now; and the alarm is set for four o’clock.
Rumour: I shall get my Christmas (and embarkation?) leave in the New Years Eve period!

Wednesday 29th November 1939

Sid and I went to a tailors and had our double stripes sewn on. In the evening I had to change all the buttons on my great coat. The delightful and well polished cavalry type EY buttons were replaced by ten dull, raw, tarnished GS buttons.

Rumour has it that our Christmas leave will also be our embarkation leave and that the 4th Cavalry Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division will move to the near East (Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine?) at the end of January.

Tuesday 28th November 1939

I went to the dance once again. Stood with the “snakes” but anxiously watched the door. “I’ve just seen tomorrow’s orders,” said Sid Pond. “The promotions list is through; and you and I both go up to bombardier!” At last, after all these months, the second stripe! “Fine!” I said, still watching the door. And suddenly she was standing there, with her strange witch eyes. We looked at each other and laughed; and danced away. It was a waltz, but we didn’t dance very well; we talked.

“So you are Rolands’ sister!”
“I’m every so sorry about last week. We were inoculated that day”
“Yes, I know. Which arm is it?”
“Oh, it’s alright now”
“She’s come old man” I cried to the snakes.
“Everything’s fine now, then, Steve”
“Yes, no more depression”

No late pass but I stayed at the dance until about 10:20 and then took Eileen home. Felt a devil of a criminal; I usually respect all Army rules and regulations. Returned along Westgate as the Minster clock chimed a quarter to eleven. Until Thursday!

Monday 27th November 1939

Up at 7:30 a.m. Breakfast in a café in the town. Had a haircut, then reported at Battery Office at 9:55 a.m. – five minutes before my leave expired. I’d enjoyed the easy morning – and missed the spit and polish parade! Then, back to routine; but I felt better for the break.

Sunday 26th November 1939

Starshine 1939

The two days leave at home with the family (Father in naval uniform!) made me feel refreshed and no longer fed-up. Caught the 3p.m. train at St. Pancras with about ten minutes to spare and found a seat in a not-too-crowded Pullman coach. Later on I walked down the train to the tea wagon. There were many soldiers on the train and quite a few, like myself, wore breeches, puttees and spurs (now an unusual sight). The train was going towards the Cavalry concentration area!

Reached Trent at 6 o’clock, changed and reached Nottingham at 6:30p.m. Two hours to wait, so I went out into the town and was directed to a café for supper. Nice to be in Nottingham streets again, familiar yet strange, bathed in the brilliant moon’s light. Found the Hi Hat Café in Pelham Street. A snug little place, where I had egg, chips, bread and butter, and coffee whilst I read a book. Oh yes! The Richard Keverne mystery thriller I’d brought (something about Fleet Hall, a weird mansion on the East Coast) contributed greatly to the pleasantness of the journey.

After a slow journey in a crowded train I got out at Fiskerton – a station seemingly miles from anywhere in a desert of moonlit fields – at 9 o’clock and walked the two miles to Southwell. I was with four soldiers. (During the weekend I’d met many khaki travelling companions – ships that passed in the night…) A pleasant walk through a very silent countryside, our boots ringing on the hard road. A rough wind; and that great moon. Everything seemed unreal and deserted, as though it were terribly late at night. Yet I was back at billets by 10 o’clock!

So! Starshine begins with moonlight!

Friday 24th November 1939

This is being written in the train, somewhere between Leicester and London, hence the scrawl. Felt quite feverish when I awoke this morning after a good nights sleep. Lucky I went to bed tired; some of the others were not so fortunate it appeared later. I simply could not face the “double” before breakfast though and marched back peacefully with a few others. Was able to scrounge a double portion of fishcake, so made a good meal. Felt depressed and weary: this is a normal after-effect.

We stood on a sodden field, mud squelching dismally under our feet, for 35 minutes of second parade (how time is wasted!) I was told to get my hair cut and buy a new razor blade by the Major and to clean my respirator brasswork by Mr Dawney. Everyone, practically, received the latter criticism. Clean respirator brasswork! A crime in every other Army unit!

Dean and I, fed-up, went home afterwards. I did my packing. Paraded as usual in the afternoon. After pay parade I collected my pass and got my kit at the billets. “Cheerio Steve,” “Have a good weekend” said friendly voices as I met men in the streets. I went round to the back of the cookhouse, explaining my position. They rustled up a big mug of hot tea, jam, bread, butter and cheese. I felt a good deal happier.

Funny little train from Southwell Station. Familiar blue lights. A full moon outside, above the dark countryside. Occasional glitter of water. Changed at Trent. Now I’m in a Pullman coach, fully lighted, fairly crowded but no one standing and there’s a table on which to write.

I have looked behind the window blind and seen:- telegraph wires and posts outlined against the pale sky; a star; trees and tree shadows; moonlit fields; dark houses; white roads. Never any twinkling lights.

End of Twilight 1939

Thursday 23rd November 1939

Major Ingledew returned today. He stood in the steady rain, keen eyes sweeping up and down the ranks, as the Battery fell in during second parade.

One improvement in the system of meals serving. A pat of butter (or margarine) is put on each mans’ plate; before breakfast the Battery marches down the road towards Farnsfield and we then double back in sections, so that we dribble into breakfast in small parties. Some men – at the front – had to march a devil of a way before turning back. We had to double back about half a mile in my section (being in the rear of the column today) and found that quite gruelling enough.

Inoculation parade today for fifty of us. Fell-in at 9:15a.m. and marched about or stood in the ranks from then until 11 o’clock, when we received the needle. It rained steadily all the time. Had a cup of tea in a café with Ron Dean, then came back to the billets for a couple of hours. About dinner time now so I’ll go back. My clothes have all been dried but – it is still raining.

Work – buggering about – as usual in the afternoon. It rained steadily. The dope began to take effect and none of us could swing our left arms by 2 o’clock. Two or three blokes were taken ill but the rest of us carried on. There was no sick leave, as I believe is usual.

Felt very languid in the evening, as the BSM had prophesied. Cleaned my kit without any enthusiasm and went to bed at 10 o’clock. Arm felt uncomfortable but I soon fell asleep.

Wednesday 22nd November 1939

Eight a side rugger trial this afternoon. I feel stiff already! I’m hoping to get a long-week-end pass this Friday. Nevertheless they have booked me for the first of the typhoid inoculation parades, tomorrow. This is usually followed by about 36 hours of fever, so I may well go home a semi-invalid, blast it.

The lance-snakes had heard, with sympathy, of the mysterious, dark window lady. Yesterday Pond told me, “We’ve made inquires old man and your dream of love is ended. She’s already going out with Brandon!” (One of the gunners, a rum fella.)
Today I asked Brandon if this were true, adding that I intended to steal his prize if possible. At first Brandon was kind but firm but later in the day he relented and told me about her and said (vaguely) he’d “see what could be done”. “Yes,” I said, “I’ll be RP below her window tomorrow. Tell her to look out and make a sign” “Right,” said Brandon, “No harm in mentioning it.”

“Good heavens, is he serious?” I asked Pond later, in astonishment. “Oh yes,” he said, “Brandon’s a simple , kind-hearted fellow.” I knew that but surely there are limits to kindliness? Owing to the inoculation however, I’ve been relieved from duty and if She looks from her window she’ll see a tall lance-jack on RP duty who is not me. Garwood. He’ll be puzzled if she makes some sign of friendship or negation!

Tuesday 21st November 1939

Another muddling day, ending with “maintenance”.

Stan Ling and I arrived 25 minutes before tea-time at the dining hall so that we’d have the chance of a seat. About a dozen mournful individuals, were sitting on the cold steps waiting for the doors to be unlocked. “A handful of browned-off soldiers,” intoned Stan; looking at their sad faces. There was the usual scrummage and milling to and fro before we got in. The usual scramble for tea, for jam and for butter.

However in the evening I shook off my depression and went to a dance! It was not an Army dance and there was no bar but still, heroically, I went. Plunged into the dancing almost at once and got around alright. I seem to have forgotten most of the steps learnt so painstakingly at Margaret Goddards but a few remain with me.

Went down to the pub with Stan, Ron and Sid. They laughed when I confessed my lack of experience and how I, nervously, would always ask each partner what the dance was – as if I couldn’t tell from the tempo of the music. Eventually a tango was announced. After asking five girls the sixth one jumped up in a sporting manner and said, “Well, I’ve never done the tango in my life but I don’t mind trying!” Surprisingly (she with no knowledge, I with only “rusty” experience) we seemed to tango nicely together. Anyhow, I scored over the snakes that time! They did not take the floor for the tango!

Later I found this girl – her name was Eileen – again. “Ah! Aren’t you the tango lady?” “Yes! I expect you wish you hadn’t asked for this dance now.” “On the contrary, I’ve been looking for you.”

Had to leave at 10 o’clock, with many other unfortunates, as I had no late pass.
Speaking of passes, I’ve put in for long weekend leave. My Father wrote asking me to do so as he is going home himself and does not expect to get any more leave for “some considerable time”.

Dancing and rugger! How I’m altering, once more!

Monday 20th November 1939

Today we did lamp signalling and took two buzzer messages, in a little recreation ground behind the Minster. It was mostly a balls-up and nothing was learnt. In the afternoon we had sports training. This consisted of 16 men discussing the elements of rugger and punting a ball about in desultory fashion.

Afterwards we had “maintenance” which meant sitting in Stan Lings’ stores and keeping quiet. Nothing was done, really, throughout the day. Usual scramble at meals.

In late afternoon, as we sat in the stores, someone raised some query regarding the Army. “F – the Army!” I cried, pent irritation finding it’s outlet in a succinct phrase. There was laughter but Gayler looked quite shocked. “Steve!” he cried, “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you run-down the Army”. I felt right ashamed of myself – as they’d say in the midlands.

Sunday 19th November 1939

Regimental Policeman today – the latest and worst job for junior NCO’s. One is on duty from 0800 to 1730 – 9 ½ hours – with brief intervals for a hasty late breakfast and dinner – and has to march up and down on the pavement outside BHQ, with an “RP” armband above the elbow. One does nothing except salute the dozens of officers who pass by. (I made these salutes as fierce and noisy as possible – crash! of left foot to attention; swish, crack! of right hand to salute; crash! of the left foot to stand-at-ease.) The “beat” extends 20 yards to the right and 20 yards to the left of BHQ gateway but I altered this to 30 paces left and 10 paces right.

Romance enters once more the heart beneath drab khaki jacket! Dark eyes in a dark face looked mysteriously down from a window with a balcony. At a window of an old cream coloured house surrounded by quiet green railings there were seen glimpses, throughout the thus shortened day, of a tall, slim, stately girl.

Nevertheless I was not sorry when my duty ended, in the chill silent evening. I wasn’t particularly tired; guess I’m toughened now. Only seven cigarettes today!

Saturday 18th November 1939

Sordid scramble for food and utensils and seats at every meal-time since the new draft arrived. No extra accommodation had been prepared. Damned irritating these tense, unrelaxing meals.

No match but an hours rugger practice this afternoon. One of the militia men – an ex rugby professional – gave us tips.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Thursday 16th November 1939

NCO i/c Meals today. With 60 extra men it’s quite impossible to get any sort of order or comfort in the dining hall. Squeezed together like sardines, we feed like pigs. “Good food, but poor system” said a militiaman succinctly.

Wet, miserable day. Horrible morning, out on a signals scheme. I decided to dodge rugger after all but when I heard Hammick agree to turn out I simply had to do the same. I played in Army boots, ordinary socks and a borrowed shirt, as the only sports kit I possess is a pair of shorts. Well, I did not distinguish myself but at the same time was not an obvious ass.

It was rather fun, the roughness and rolling in the mud! Once after a desperate grapple, I heard the captains voice, as I hit the ground, “Well tackled Dawson!” That is the first time I have ever received any encouragement in a football game!
It shook my wind and tired me though. The game only lasted an hour, but I’d had enough by then and walked off the field coughing like hell. (Someone must have fallen on my chest I think.)

After tea, Ling and I and two specialists sat talking around the blazing fire in the specialists’ stores. Very snug, in the firelight, and chummy.

Wednesday 15th November 1939

Rashly, I agreed to turn out for a scratch Battery team tomorrow. A Rugby football practice match against the local School XV. I haven’t played “rugger” since about 1925, and then I played damn badly. Nervous, ignorant and ineffectual.

Our Militia replacements came in tonight. They are known as “the new draft”, officially. Bloody conscripts all the same.

Monday 13th November 1939

Cartwright, Dean and I, the only signallers here, were given a real signals job this morning. Dean and I put up a wireless ground station on the hill above the village street. Cartwright was sent to a railway station some three miles away with a wireless truck. He kept in communication with us right through the day, whilst stores were being unloaded. This was much better than the navvy work being done by the rest of the advance party! Messages were not very frequent so we had much jocular conversation and did a little experimenting.

Dean went to lunch at 1p.m, and I when he returned at 1:45. Arrangements for our own messing have been made now. I found the mess-hall in an ex-church hall. Peaceful there! Bread, butter, cheese and pickles and tea; no none else about except the cooks. There was a wash place and lavatory adjoining; and central heating was installed. What an improvement on the Rink at Chelmsford! Pleasant to have arrived here before the main body. Snug and quiet, with just a few of us here.

I’m beginning to feel pretty fit now. Smoking seldom, very seldom exceeds ten cigarettes a day; often I only have eight or so. That cough of mine is diminished amazingly, owing to this and the healthy life.

At about 3:30p.m the main party arrived by train. Cartwright gave a highly amusing “running commentary” on the scenes at the station. The afternoon dragged on to a cold twilight and work in the chilly, wet field was a less attractive proposition.

Dammit! The kindly hospitality of these Midlanders – with their lovely familiar dialect and understandable ways! I’d just said to Cartwright, “The fact is, I now feel cold and tired and miserable. Over” And then, two children came from a nearby house and shyly gave Ron and I plates of steaming hot pancake!

Sunday 12th November 1939

No impressive farewell to Chelmsford. I came through empty, misty streets at 8 a.m. gear and kit piled all around, in the rear of a wireless truck. Headphones on, I sat at the set intent rather than imaginative. “…339 calling 414. Can you hear me, 414? Can you hear me? Over”.

Bishops Stortford. The 414 Battery set failed, so I had an easy time from then, lounging by the set doing nothing, with a blanket over my legs. I attempted to contact Dean and Cartwright on key (working on 4.4 in/c about 30 miles or more in rear) but could not get through.

We travelled fast, for a convoy. Stamford. Wansford (near Peterboro), Grantham, Newark on Trent. Southwell. Not much sign of chaos! I was taken to my billets (the only soldier, alas!) and left my stuff there.

Had tea at a café. Unloaded wireless stores with Dean, when he arrived. We were all taken to 414 HQ, at Farnesfield for supper. Ride in a lorry, singing, through the night.

Nice to be in Southwell. The familiar Midlanders’ brogue and easy-going, homely ways!

Saturday 11th November 1939

Fatigues until 3p.m, when I came home to clean and pack, ready for the start tomorrow morning. At 11 o’clock, Remembrance. This year, “Owing to the circumstances” – there was no official Silence but the Battery had a little ceremony on its’ own.

Eleven o’clock in the garden behind headquarters. Three ranks of men; rain dripping sadly from bare trees and dark evergreen bushes; traffic rumbling by beyond the wall; silence; the unfamiliar Cavalry “Last Post”; and “Reiveille”. In a sad autumn garden behind an old house in Chelmsford.

Said good-bye to Mary this evening in between packing and cleaning (personal fatigue!) All the people I’ve known and do know in Essex! And when I went away, there was only Mary to say good-bye. Strange, the effect of Army life on me. Unemotionalising! Well, I, at least, am glad to be going. I never have grown very fond of Essex. Now, for a while at least, I’ll be in the Midlands. I’ve lived in so many different places but really I suppose I am a Midlander. So I should feel less homesick than the rest.

Eleven o’clock now – and the alarm is set for 5:30. I’ll turn in now; perhaps read for a few minutes – I’m alone here again – before going to sleep.

Friday 10th November 1939

Sid Pond and I reported sick at 7:30 parade and in due course went to Brentwood for dental treatment. We thought we might have some teeth out whilst there was still a chance of receiving civilised attention. Only one tooth each was removed eventually so I still have a couple to be extracted.

Except for attending a lecture by the CO re the move (“This is the first stage of a long journey and it may be a long time before we see Essex again”), Sid and I have been to no parade since returning from our (free) trip to the dentist. We are now in my billets attic – oil stove alight, skylight closed, electric light on. Sid is cleaning his kit whilst I write this. As there is a pay parade at 3:30p.m. – in half an hour – we’ll soon be fit for duty again!

I am in the next party to move. I go on Sunday with one of the road convoys, as solitary operator of an R/T truck set. The main body will go by train on Monday afternoon. And the place is still – Southwell, Nottinghamshire.

Evening: Rather against my inclinations, I was persuaded to go to the final Battery Dance tonight. Wore a very old pair of brown shoes, which I’d blacked for the occasion. Underhill paid my admission money – 3d! – and dammit! I enjoyed myself!
Sour old sod! Why didn’t I go to one of these “hops” before. Bisley, once a digs comrade, was there and of course, Dean and Pond.

I spent a good deal of the time in the bar and talking to Bisley but had several dances later in the evening. Luckily I chose a good dancer, - Sergeant Harts’ wife – as a partner and was able to trot around the floor alright, although I have not danced for a long while and have forgotten most of the little I once knew. Mrs Hart, whose husband was in the band, shoved me along cleverly during two waltzes, two fox-trots, a palais glide and a Lambeth Walk.

And at eleven o’clock, the MC (Ray Fullerton, the Battery Clerk) made a neat brief speech ending with “So good night to you all and good bye!” Then, the stately RA Slow March and The King.

Tuesday 7th November 1939

The “Action Party” had a rehearsal of assembly today. I hurried down to the rendezvous at the appointed time and found GA vehicle with the wireless already installed. Lots of equipment is carried; in addition to the usual drill order kit one now carries a mess-tin and groundsheet. Another name for this assembly of the “action party” is the “In case of Adolf” procedure!

As I was going down to the parade ground after breakfast a squad of some forty men carrying equipment swung down the road towards me. It was “the immatures” on their way to the station and an AA Regiment in Derbyshire. Perhaps I’ll never see any of them again. Salute the bloody officer then, “Cheerio!” “Good-bye,” “Cheerio!” as with thud of feet amid a haze of faces (some seen clearly, Stripe, Roden, Gobey, Norrington, Boden) the party marched by and was gone.

Quiet in the billets tonight. Underhill on guard; Stripe has gone to Derbyshire; Jennings left today with the advance party. Guess I’ll go out and have some supper then – if there is time – I’ll have a bath. Did an hour and a half of strenuous PT this afternoon and was soaked in sweat like all the others.

Sunday 5th November 1939

Another weekend and we still linger in confounded Chelmsford with nothing to do. Canteen Orderly today but I joined the Battery Church parade, having nothing to do, nowhere to go (that desolate, dirty little attic at billets).

The first hymn began with the line: “Lead us heavenly Father, lead us,” as given out by the priest. “We need some bloody leading” grunted a man in the pew behind me.
I turned round and laughed. “There’s nothing funny about that, Dawson”, said Cartwright seriously. He sat palely beside the scoffer. “Oh, I thought it rather humorous, “ I told him. But I liked Cartwright for that!

Ye gods! When this gloomy winter war is over, won’t it be ripping to serve again in the Territorial Army (if TA is reorganised after the war, which everyone hopes. How aimless life would be without TA). Summer camps in ideal conditions and attractive surroundings, easy discipline, in the evenings, “civvies” and the car. Roll on, summer!

After closing the canteen at 2:p.m I went back to the lonely billets attic, threw off a few clothes and got into bed to read a humorous story of small ships – WW Jacobs. Closed my eyes presently for a doze. Awoke from vaguely pleasant dreams at 5 minutes to 5, when Mrs Davies came up to make the bed.

“Deep, drifting sleep”

Friday 3rd November 1939

Quite a “panic” rumour today, when the Regiment apparently received orders regarding the action to be taken in case of an enemy invasion in the neighbourhood of Harwich.
Quite a routine arrangement, I presume, but everyone became very excited, as though German troops were already pouring inland.

Army lorries drove up with loads of shells which were unloaded and stacked away. Men were despatched hastily to various places on mysterious errands. Arrangements were made for the emergency forming of a composite battery within the Regiment. We were to form “A” Troop. All NCO’s are in this special troop – as far as the signals is concerned. I was put down as GA wireless operator, with Cartwright.

Ah well! The excitement began to subside towards evening and I managed to get home by 6 o’clock.

Thursday 2nd November 1939

Nursed myself; it was a half holiday. Went to bed and dozed during the afternoon.

Evening: walked up to the Sunbeam Café and had supper by a cheery fire there. Sausages, tomatoes, egg and chips and coffee, followed later by Welsh Rarebit and coffee. I sat and read a swashbuckling cloak and sword romance by Sabatini – leaving the Army far away.

Yesterday I only smoked nine cigarettes and today seven – but I shall risk one more before I go to bed. Reckon I might be able to cut it down still further, for a while at least. Must rid myself of this confounded cough and get fit.

Alone in billet attic (which I begin to dislike) tonight. I’ve darned a pair of socks and now I’ll clean-up for tomorrow. I’ll be glad when we move from Chelmsford and “the show really starts” as the Major put it.

Wednesday 1st November 1939

All the men under the age of 19 in the Battery, are to be ready for transfer to an anti-aircraft unit in the Midlands. Eleven signallers in the list: Stripe, Roden, Spooner, Boden, Chinery, Norrington, Gobey…

The name of the place to which the rest of us will be sent shortly was mentioned today. Southwell: about ten miles from Newark, Nottinghamshire. And – the cavalry with whom we shall be brigaded, includes the Household Brigade – the Life-Guards and Royal Horse Guards…

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Tuesday 31st October 1939

Lucky that I went to the Cock Inn early last night. Soon after I’d gone, an afternoon order was issued: “The village of Stock is now out of bounds to all troops” Apparently some infectious disease has broken out there. “Fall out any man who has been to Stock within the last week,” ordered Captain Boulton, acting OC, at third parade. I fell out and expected further developments but they just noted my name. Fortunate! I went there without a pass!

Having been inspected by Major-General Whitmore (Honoury Colonel of the Regiment), who gave us a succinct speech on the glorious traditions of the Essex Yeomanry, the Battery dismissed at 12 o’clock. Hellish cold! The four lance-snakes, Ling, Dean, Pond and I, went to a warm snack bar for steaming tea and fruit pastries. (Ling and Dean paid today; we take turns at “pushing the boat out” or “taking the chair” as it is sometimes called.)

We then went to a studio and had photographs taken of the four of us. There was much merriment as we posed coyly, first straddling a bench for a head and shoulders photograph, secondly draping ourselves artistically on bits of furniture for a ¾ length picture.

Monday 30th October 1939

When I arise, at 6:30a.m, and even when I’m preparing to leave billets at about 7:20a.m., it is too dark for me to see the Church clock, once discernable a short distance off across the roof tops. Winter’s setting in now. Oh damn the winter! If only we could be sent to a warm country – not to dodge fighting but to dodge the winters’ cold.

Evening: Borrowed Alec Stripes’ cycle and rode to Stock for a last call at the Cock Inn. Many soldiers about – several billeted at the dear old pub. (That attractive, old-beamed passageway to my bedroom that I’ve stealthily crept along as it grew light, with Slinky B cooling down in the yard below!) I left a few superfluous articles there and collected a few things that might be useful – a suitcase, (very ancient) a pair of old, comfortable shoes, two notebooks…

The Allens are awfully kind. I felt guilty at having to leave so many things there for an indefinite period but they were very glad to do it. Mrs Allen made me have a hot rum and milk before leaving.

I sat on the cycle and saw quiet old Stock, in the faint moonlight, straggling before me – it never did have any lights. Then I rode back to Chelmsford.

Sunday 29th October 1939

Liverpool Street in the dim light. I just had time to scramble aboard my train before it pulled out. Gloomy journey in semi-darkness.

I ought to feel fearfully fit nowadays – I live a much more healthy life than before – but actually I feel rotten.
I have a perpetual cold and hard dry cough. Due to smoking (no! that’s not a new cause!); the draughty attic at billets; and the bloody cold wintry weather.

Saturday 28th October 1939

After a fairly “cushy” morning – it was raining and the lance snakes at least, had a peaceful time, cleaning gear at BHQ and gossiping – there was a brief meeting for all NCO’s. The Major, who is leaving temporarily for a short course, addressed us regarding the move.

“The show really starts for us now,” he said. “Where we’re going (still no place named!) “we shall be brigaded with a regiment of cavalry (horses?) and you’ll find them pretty smart. But not as smart, I hope, as the Essex Yeomanry. As usual I want you to set an example to all the troops in the district” (Ye gods! The Essex Yeomanry showing the Cavalry how to do it!) “Things will be fairly strict up there; you’ll have a fairly warm time” (Phew, if the old man says so, it surely will be warm!) “To a large extent the duration of our stay there depends on ourselves. The better we get on, the sooner we’ll get away” (i.e. do your best and then you’ll stand a chance of being at the front for Xmas, what?)

Once again, his rather charming smile. “That’s all and – good luck on your move!”
“NCO’s – shun” snapped Sergt. Major Essler.

This being apparently the last weekend in Chelmsford, all those men whose homes were out of the district were granted leave. I naturally received a pass. This has been written beside a cosy fire in the lounge at the flat. A cup of “Ovaltine” is at my side. Mother sits opposite, knitting. Robin is reading.

The wireless is on and the BBC Theatre Orchestra is playing. Cosiness and comfort and home!

Thursday 26th October 1939

I know what rumours are, but this time we really are moving! And soon!

Speculation as to our destination is further complicated by the fact that the advance billeting party (which goes tomorrow) has been ordered to Newark-on-Trent to meet some Brigadier. I can’t think we shall all move to Newark – that’s perhaps merely a rendezvous – nevertheless it’s a hell of a way from the obscure town in Yorkshire. Ah well! It’s already written in the Book, no doubt!

Wednesday 25th October 1939

Pair work with lamps at Galleywood – as we used to do on Friday evenings in TA days. It was colder now though! Mr Adams came across to where Pond, Dean and I (“lance-snakes” in a huddle as usual!) and told us of a rumour that the Yeomanry might be horsed once more. “Plenty of riding facilities for riding at Newmarket, sir!” said Pond cunningly. “Oh but we’re not going to Newmarket” said our officer. “We are sir!, I exclaimed definitely. “Well, I felt as sure as you yesterday Dawson” he said in worried tones, “Then fresh orders came through this morning. We’re going up North somewhere, quite soon.”

Sure enough, by tea-time, everyone in the unit knew that we were destined for an obscure town in Yorkshire!

Monday 23rd October 1939

Chilly morning in the Park, buggering about at lamp and buzzer. Not the same since Sergeant Quayle went. However – the “lance-snakes” still stick together!

Afternoon – an interesting job, running a telephone line from Battery HQ to the Gun Park – across a garden, through an orchard, over a road and through the roof of a garage. I did the garage and road part, which meant much clambering among girders, hanging on to rain gutters etc. Good sport.

Pond (in the orchard) was a gentleman and collected enough apples to share out.

Sunday 22nd October 1939

Did not get up for breakfast. Luxury! I lay asleep until 7:30a.m. Went downstairs then; the sun had risen and it was much pleasanter than fumbling about in the inky darkness of 6;30a.m. Had some tea from a thermos and sandwiches which I’d bought overnight. Put on my uniform (laid out neatly and gleaming) and walked to the certain factory roof, where I took over from Sid Pond.

Little to do – except in air raids! Almost the “cushiest” job in the Army, I reckon!
In an office on the roof was a relay wireless station. It is now 3p.m and I’ve been in the wireless room nearly all the time except for occasional strolls on the roof and dinner – at RHQ. Jennings was dining there, also Cash, the man who was on guard with me that first night of the war. The Regiment was moving within a month he said, to commence training proper. One of the Officers had told him he said, and furthermore, a reconnaissance party had been despatched there this very day.

Damn him! Although bursting, he would not divulge the name of the village or small town to which we would be sent. By constant questioning, we found that it was within 50 miles of Chelmsford, in the Suffolk district, and a place of which everyone had heard. Tiny and I crept upstairs, took out an AA map and looked at East Anglia.. Immediately one place-name leapt at me – “Newmarket!”

We hurried down to the hall, button-holed Cash. “Know anything of the races, old man?” asked Tiny. “No, - eh? So you know then?” said Cash, bewildered but relieved that the secret was out. “Sure, we know,” said I confidently. “Yes,” he admitted, happy that concealment was no longer necessary, “It is Newmarket”.

Saturday 21st October 1939

Pond had a weekend job – in charge of an A.A. squad on the roof of a certain factory that manufactured certain materials. I offered to relieve him tomorrow so that he could get home for the day. Walked up there this afternoon to locate the place and hear what my duties were. A Lewis gun stood ready for action on the roof. “I do hope there’s an air-raid tomorrow,” I said eagerly, “so that I can shoot the sods down. Defence of Chelmsford by gad! Hero, what?”

One of the gunners showed us how to sight, load and fire.(Very elementary of course; this LAG squad is not a signallers job at all. Heaven knows why Pond was detailed for it.) Suddenly, a rapidly increasing roar! About 200 feet above the roof tops raced six Hurricane fighter planes. Whah – h – h – Wumph! They flashed overhead, one by one. I gaped.

“Lay on them, old man” said Pond, “just practice for taking aim at tomorrows’ possible raiders!”
“Um,” I said.
“Well, they have gone now, Steve”
“Yes,” I said soberly, “and I’ve changed my mind about hoping for an air raid tomorrow. On the contrary, I hope it’ll be deathly quiet. Six planes, each with about six machine guns, against one stationary Lewis? No thanks!”

Jennings and Stripe both away. Pond left his LAG post and came to the billets. He and I and Underhill sat talking “shop”, discussing love, smoking, practising morse. I walked some of the way back with Sid afterwards. Light nights again! The moon is half towards the full.

Underhill moved into Tiny’s bed for tonight and talked on various subjects until I very soothingly fell asleep. Whilst we’d talked I’d cleaned my uniform, boots and so forth. So I slept well.

Wednesday 18th October 1939

A picture of today:- Rainy morning. Miserable with our capes and wet trousers from knee to ankle, Pond and I adjourned to my billets. We struggled damply up to the attic (this was between breakfast and second parade) and found Tiny Jennings still in bed. Later Stan Ling also appeared – water oozing from every pore – and the attic was now full of damp soldiers.

Jennings held levee from his bed, Ling tinkered with Underhill’s’ wireless set, Sid Pond read the paper, I polished buttons; we all smoked. At 8:50 the three lance-snakes left for parade. Jennings (these RHQ blighters!) was still in bed when we went.

Twilight and Starshine 1939

SJ Dawson, 339(EY) Battery RHA
104 (EY) Regiment RHA, Chelmsford, Essex.

Southwell, Nottinghamshire

Tuesday 17th October 1939

Pond had been ok last night, but felt foul today. Dean “came all over queer” on his way home and “shot the cat” (spewed) on the kitchen floor when he got there. This news of fellow sufferers, cheered me up surprisingly!

Jacko appeared whilst I was in the NCO’s drill squad at noon. “May I fall out, sir?” I asked the RSM “I have to report to the canteen. Canteen Orderly sir”. “Get away then” he said.

Jacko followed as I marched smartly off the parade ground and we walked down the road together. We chuckled at our last night’s experiences.

Parting of the ways when we reached Duke Street – I to the canteen, he to his home and from there to the station… Double handclasp. “Cheerio old man, look after yourself”.
“Our next drink together must be on Armistice Night”
“All the best”

Monday 16th October 1939

I was listed for duty yesterday. When I did not report Sergt. Major Essler sent a man to my billets. The messenger returned saying that I’d apparently gone away for the weekend. In rage and glee, the Sergt. Major then issued instructions that I was to be placed under open arrest, pending sentence, as soon as I returned.

This story soon circulated but not the sequel (which was that Sergt. Major Essler later discovered I had weekend leave; chagrined, he eventually decided that I could not be charged with any crime) and during the morning many men approached me to ask if I’d not been arrested yet? As I passed groups of men I’d hear a whisper, “Arrest that man!” (quotation from a very hackneyed advertisement in American magazine).

This was Jackos’ last night of leave. He came to the flicks with Ron Dean, Sid Pond and I. We reached the “Windmill” later on – ten minutes before closing time. Sid stood a round of ale. Jacko stood a round of John Haig. We clinked glasses, this being a sentimental occasion, to “The Artillery”. I went to the bar with the four glasses and just said “same again”. “Six shillings” said the landlord lightly as he served me. They’d been doubles! A minute later Ron Dean had a similar shock and three minutes afterwards Sid Pond bought a round of singles. Fast elbow exercise!

As it was now closing time we came away and stood discussing the war and what-not for some time. Then Dean went home and eventually Pond. Jacko and I strolled along, whilst he began to tell me of some girl he’d been out with that afternoon. He went into the Milk Bar for some sandwiches (I dare not enter as it was past curfew hour).

When he emerged he complained that everything was spinning around in the most amazing way. We went down to the Market Square and digested Battery Orders by the aid of matches and a petrol lighter. I began to feel queer too. That whisky and beer, swallowed hastily on an empty stomach, seemed to have a delayed action! We went back to my billets, for a final pow-wow. We sat on my bed and giggled. We went into the next attic and laughed at Stripe and Underhill. “We’re bloody tight,” complained Jacko. “RHO Guard, Gunner Underhill,” I kept stating solemnly (showing that I’d at least digested Orders with intelligence).

Then we ate the sandwiches and giggled, side by side, on my bed. Over and over again, Jacko began to tell me of the girl and how he just couldn’t bring himself to the poking stage. “Hard luck ol’ man,” I invariably replied:

“What’s her name?”
“Oh, Joyce, yes, you told me before”

(This I know from Tiny Jennings, a disgusted witness of the sorry spectacle we made.)
Suddenly deadly nausea seized me. I staggered downstairs, through the yard and into the lavatory, where I was sick. Feeling better, though still hazy, I emptied a bucket of water down the pan and went upstairs again. “I’ve been sick,” I said with apparent pride. “Have you, ol’ man” said Jacko. “I just couldn’t be sick,” as though he earnestly desired to show his sympathy by copying me. “Now, this girl, “ he continued, “I wanted a poke, but somehow I just couldn’t do it…”

“What’s her name?”
“Oh, Joyce, yes”

The effects began to wear off about midnight. Jacko went home. With a sigh I went to bed.

Sunday 15th October 1939

Left home just after nightfall. Mother and Father walked with me to Ealing Common Station, through a drizzle of autumn rain. (I saw the trees this morning, leaves yellowing or gone.) I left them hurriedly on the dark platform, as my train came in.

Lots of things I might have said to Father but actually I only said, “Well, I’ll be seeing you, Father!” with great fatuity. “Cheerio, Stephen,” came from the vague shape. The train didn’t move for a moment. They both stood just above me but there was nothing more to be said. “Rupert Brooke!” I cried suddenly, “The dazed last minutes click…”

With a rumble the doors rolled forward and the train jerked away.

Saturday 14th October 1939

I put in for weekend leave but did not really expect to receive a pass as I was away last weekend. I was surprised and delighted when the Orderly Bombardier brought my pass along, at lunchtime.

Went up by train. Supper at home. Mother, concerned about my influenza (which still persists), “mothered” me thoroughly. Lucky I went home, because Father “goes off” next Tuesday – sooner than I’d expected – and heaven knows when our leaves will coincide again!

He will be a Sub-Lieutenant, RNVR and is reporting at a “school” (HMS Tamarisk, whereabouts not known) for a brief course in minesweeping.

Friday 13th October 1939

Dean being sick I ran “B” Troop Signals today – M3. Mt first experience of this but all went well. Samson and one of the Langleys were my maintenance men and were very helpful, especially Samson.

Gruelling sort of show, from first parade (in the dark at 6:30) onwards. Laying the line from M3 (Troop to OP) with Sid Ponds’ “A” lorry just ahead. 5 reels of line!
It ended with me struggling alone across a ploughed field. Crouching beneath a hedge at OP I found Spooner (OP telephonist), Captain Bolton and a specialist. The line was OK! The cigarette I smoked then (a Craven A) was delicious.

Then – reel in! Mad chase down the road, far ahead of the “A” men who did not get the order so soon. The Major watched us carefully as we reeled-in to the Troop and I began to fear we might be doing something wrong but apparently he was quite pleased.

Then M2 and M3 were sent to rendezvous – map reading! We found the rendezvous quickly and took decent cover. The Major, soon appearing, expressed pleasure. Sid and I, both hot and dirty, smiled smugly at each other. About ten minutes there (in a tree shrouded lane between high hedges) then on to the next position.

Same sort of thing. First a visit to the approximate OP position, then Hignall led us rapidly to the gun position. Back again to OP, laying line as we went. Cautious crossing of roads; passing the line over the tops of lorries, so that it lay safely in the ditch. After only a few minutes at OP we were told to reel in again. The Major was quite satisfied with the whole show!

M3 trundles slowly along the road, far behind the others.

“I can’t hear you shout “Stop”” complained the driver, Ritchie, as one of our many pauses was made.
“A little petulance?” I queried.
“Well, shout,” he said, “I can stand it how-ever loud you make it”

Eager to let him have it I leaned behind the driving seat, watching the line come in. “Whoa, Steve!” gasped Samson, as the line tangled. “Halt!” I bellowed in Ritchie’s ear.

But he had the last laugh. He’d been anticipating some such prank. Slam! Went the brakes; the vehicle jerked to a dead stop and a cascade of signallers seemed to tumble on top of me – only Langley and Samson actually – amid much mirth, especially from the triumphant Ritchie.

Very hot and dirty and tired. Very conscious of the weight of our greatcoats, water bottles, haversacks, shrapnel helmets and respirators. Yet quite happy! And then there was pay parade, followed by a damn good, hot meal.

Thrilling news in the post! Father has been offered a commission in the RNVR “which I shall of course accept”, for minesweeping duties. Proudly he told how he’d passed the selection board and three doctors.

I felt a bit scared when I read all this! (Now I know how Mothers and Wives and Sweethearts feel.) At the same time I felt terribly proud, and glad for his sake that after all the disappointments since the last war, he was once more an officer and gentleman.

Thursday 12th October 1939

Preparations for tomorrow’s drill order; and NCO’s marching drill. I got through the morning alright and luckily it was a half holiday.

Stripe, Underhill and I had a sing-song in the attic tonight. All kit and equipment cleaned for tomorrow. I’m more tolerant about cleaning now. It does fill one’s spare time!

Wednesday 11th October 1939

Still felt like death warmed up when I awoke at 6:30a.m. So I sent a message that I was “sick” and stayed in bed. Dozed, read, dreamed the day away.

Visitors in the afternoon! Mary and Sybil came up from the milk bar and brought me all sort of funny bits. Horlicks, Ovaltine, sugar, apples, chocolate biscuits, two cigarettes, two matches and a piece of sandpaper for striking on; three (girls!) magazines, a tomato cocktail…

In the evening Alec Stripe moved in with Underhill in the next room. No one came from the Battery. I might easily have been “swinging the lead”.

Went out in the evening (perhaps foolishly) after washing and shaving. Read “Orders” at BHQ and had supper in a café.

Tuesday 10th October 1939

Easy day today, as Canteen etc. Orderly. Several sick but I fixed them up by 11 o’clock, then went to the Square with other NCOs for a drill. There we had a gruelling 90 minutes with the RSM, learning the pukka way to stand at attention, turn, march by numbers, march, and turn on the march – oh! And how to stand at ease and stand-easy!

Had dinner with Sid Pond and Stan Ling at a café in the Town. (Curried meat and rice for me!)

It is now 5:30p.m. and I’ve done nothing since then except reading and writing here in my attic. I’m going out to have tea now – again at a café – and may then well find that my evening is free also, as the canteen has been closed all day, pending alterations. That will please me exceedingly as I don’t feel too good. Have a hell of a rotten cold, possibly caught whilst in a damp, hot state yesterday.

The canteen did not open. (It is being converted into a NAAFI concern. Light snacks and cups of tea will be now available besides beer and cigarettes.)

Spent some time at BHQ with Sid Pond (buzzer practice) then walked up to the Sunbeam with Jacko. Mary was there with boyfriend (Arnold – Military Policeman – quite a decent sort of bloke) and joined us for a while. Later Arnold also crossed the room. A most amicable arrangement.

Monday 9th October 1939

Miserable rainy day. We were all wet before long and then sweltered clammily in our damp greatcoats.

Shead is being transferred – minus his stripe – to the drivers section. I told Mr Adams I did not want him in M1 next time and it seems my wish has come true.

Saw Mary in the Milk Bar at lunchtime. Jacko had come back again, for ten days leave.

“You know what that means?”
“Going across - ?”
“Yes,” she said sadly.

Went to the flicks with Jacko in the evening. He doesn’t know where he’ll be sent to, but hopes it will be India.

Sunday 8th October 1939

In the shed at the top of Aunt’s drive, I revved Slinky’s engine; switched off. The song ended and Slinky B’s Long Silence began. Then I put bricks under the axles, so that the wheels were clear of the ground; emptied the radiator; took out the battery.

Soon felt the lack of a car! No trains were running from Willoughby Station so I borrowed a cycle and rode to Rugby, Marie being my companion. My train connections were now very doubtful, but I (fatalistically) neither worried or hurried. Left the bike at Marie’s. They gave me tea at her house, for which I was very grateful. Rugby Station seemed lifeless, but eventually the booking office opened. My special (furlough) ticket was only 7/7d all the way!

Caught the 5:59. It was full of servicemen returning from leave. In my carriage were a naval rating, an RAF Corporal, two cavalrymen and one miserable civilian. We exchanged cigarettes and talked “shop” all the way to London. Weird journey through darkened stations and blacked-out country. Only a dim blue light in the carriage itself.

At Euston a vast tide of khaki, grey and navy blue flowed down the platform. I felt proud to be one of that tide. Difficult tube journey (all the routes have been altered) but I reached Liverpool Street five minutes before a Chelmsford train went.

Reached billets 10:30p.m.

Saturday 7th October 1939

Pond and I had an easy morning, “checking stores” at BHQ and keeping out of everyone’s way. We wandered up there after second parade – stopping for a snack en-route – and spent the whole morning doing work which could have been accomplished in half an hour!

Once it seemed that we might really have some work to do; a lorry driver hurried in and said he’d a wireless set, to be dismantled and stored away. “Ah yes,” said Pond and I, almost simultaneously, then, “Go upstairs and report to Lance Bombardier Dean” – I said, - “And tell him to detail two men,” finished Pond. The driver disappeared. Sid and I laughed at each other. When Mr Adams appeared he was very pleased with the work we’d done…

Weekend pass came through! Slinky B took the road at 2 o’clock. Harlow, Bedford, Northampton, Daventry – Wolfhampcote!

Friday 6th October 1939

Up at 5:30. Roll call and breakfast in the twilight at the skating rink, 6:30. I was unlucky here. Sergt. Major Essler made me act as NCO Meals during breakfast. Ill fortune of being tall. Perhaps I was the only lance-jack he recognised in the darkness. Therefore I only had about ten minutes after breakfast in which to get things ready – greatcoat, canvas, belt, tin hat, respirator at alert, haversack, water bottle etc – before parade.

In charge of M1 again. Orrin was with me and Gilbert and Shead and three others; we’re short of men now. All went well, but Shead seems different in my eyes now! He really is a little sod, as Dean said. And being a lance-jack himself I really have little authority over him. Lazy, slow and awkward!

Back to the mess hall by 5:30p.m. I was lucky, being in the withdrawal group, to return so soon. Many vehicles did not get back until 6:30p.m. owing to some “hitch” – the inevitable error. By that time I’d had dinner, washed, and reported at BHQ for duty. I’m Orderly Bombardier again and stay here until tomorrow morning.

Now ten o’clock so I’ll turn in – kipping on the floor of the MT Office this time – and perhaps read a bit before going to sleep.

Thursday 5th October 1939

Battery Drill Order tomorrow and equipment had to be ready overnight. The lance-bombardier mugs were chosen for this unpleasing evening-of-a-half-holiday task. Shead was supposed to come but did not, the little rat. Went out with his girlfriend instead. (Dean had a “date” too for that matter, whilst I – oh heavens! had arranged to see April at 7 o’clock. That had to be cancelled, so now she cannot say good-bye to Slinky B (Captain) before his withdrawal into a country residence.)

Dean and I turned up at 6:30 and Sid Pond came also – bless him! – although not supposed to, as he was Canteen Orderly. We gloomily contemplated the work to be done. “We’re the bloody lackeys in the outfit” said Pond. The vehicles – RA, GA, GB, M2 and M3 – came at about 7:30p.m. and we fitted them up, slowly and laboriously, in the dark. Inefficient and inadequate equipment and darkness.

Once Dean and Pond were in a wireless truck, having trouble, whilst I squatted on the roof tying an aerial mast with cable – there being no screws, bolts or fixtures.
Terrible language began to float up from below – this in Chelmsford’s’ London Road! – and I laughed aloud. We all became grimly humorous and said we were “browned off” (an Essex idiom for being “fed-up”) and didn’t care a bugger what happened. We used night-light attachments to help us – the lamp signalling being slung weightily around our necks – and longed for some zealous air-raid-warden to accost us.

Mr Adams, somewhat contrite, went at 9:15p.m and assured us that it wouldn’t happen again. Shead called at 9:30, just to read orders and left hastily. “Good night gentlemen” he said as he passed us. There was no reply from the grim toilers.

We finished at 10:20p.m with many smiles and jokes, despite our tiredness – parade timed for 6:30 a.m. and equipment still to be cleaned. An agitated driver appeared as I walked out. “An officers’ left his respirator in my lorry. What shall I do?”
“I don’t bloody well know and I don’t bloody well care!” I said happily. After all, I had learnt a bit about wireless sets!

Couple of sandwiches for supper, then cleaned my equipment and talked to Tiny of psychological subjects. Bed 12:30.

Wednesday 4th October 1939

The signals section seems to be run on a co-operative or communist system now. Most of the blokes had a go at taking the squad for marching drill today and everyone did some sending by lamp and buzzer to the morse classes. Hignall is rather easy-going – easy to get on with, anyhow.

Hellish bleakly cold on the recreation ground today. In the afternoon we all marched to the skating rink and worked there. Yes, I’m beginning to think that this unit is doomed to extinction, in it’s present constituency at least. Today Hignall had to send in a list of all signallers who held current driving licences – purpose not mentioned. Pond, Dean and I went on this list. In the afternoon we all had to fill in forms stating our previous employers and the position held. Seems as though still more men may be returned to civil life. God knows what is going to happen!

Rumour is the craziest thing! The other day I was seen carrying a rifle. Several acquaintances wanted to know what it was for? Tired of answering, I told one man shortly, “Oh, I’m going to be a sniper!” Yesterday Boden told me definitely that volunteers for a sniping section were required. “I heard you’d put your name down!” he said, surprised, when I denied all knowledge of there being such a section.

There’s a delightful song nowadays – from Gracie Fields’ film, “Shipyard Sally”. Haunting, gay yet sad; amazingly topical. Something about giving a smile as you go on your way… I’m proud to say that, when I first heard it played, a couple of days after the war began, I said, “By jove, what a song! That’s going to be the Tipperary of tomorrow”. Now everyone is singing or whistling that song.

The other night at the flicks, the news reel showed “men of the RAF entraining for service overseas”. And as men moved across the screen carrying kit bags, climbing into railway carriages, kissing their sweethearts – then train gone and station deserted – all this time, in the background rang that beautifully fitting song.
I nearly cried!

Whilst writing the above, Jacko called. He sat down and smoked while I finished the story of the song. Then we went out (a very black moonless night) and found Capt. Slinky B in the Market Square. Started the engine eventually – batteries are very run down now – and drove out to The Sunbeam. There we had our traditional supper – steak and chips and black coffee for Jacko, sausages, chips and white coffee for me.

It was quite like old times again. Jacko hasn’t changed, inside. Still the romantic, thank heavens. I introduced him to Rupert Brooke (The “Complete Works” was in my billets) and we discussed his ideas, ideals and lovely words at length. We couldn’t sit talking in the car till “dawns left hand was in the sky” however, as all 339 Battery personnel have to be in billets by 2159 hours. L/Bdr. SJ Dawson was a little late however. He reached his billets at 2225 hours!

Tuesday 3rd October 1939

At the first parade we are supposed to perform PT exercises, and in my own case this is usually taken with “A” Troop, to which I and several other signallers have been appointed for roll-call purposes. “A” Troop PT usually consists of dull exercises under a strict sergeant and unpleasant bombardier, in company with some uncouth and unfamiliar gunners.

Today, for a change we fell-in with our own squads, so I was with signallers only, as I used to be. Sergeant Quayle marched us away across the Park at a brisk pace. Arrived at the far end, we fell-out, had a smoke and then marched back! At second parade we heard the order, “Fall-out men who are going away!” and our Sergeant was among these.

I was sent to BHQ to check and test five wireless sets. This took all day. In the afternoon Boden and I were there alone – with Lieut. Adams. Going into the QM’s stores I saw a man with unfamiliar buttons and badges on his uniform. Good heavens, it was Jacko, come for a gossip! He spent the rest of the afternoon with us, first in the garden on the sets, later in the wireless room whilst we lazily tested HT and LT batteries. Dean, Boden and I took him along to tea in the mess!

Jacko called at the billets later on and sat on Jennings’ bed whilst I cleaned up.
By jove! I do wish he was still with us! And George Embleton! We had a snack at Wainwrights’. Mary was there, with a quite decent bloke in the Military Police. Rather fond of him, I reckon. She’s awfully keen to get married, now that we are at war and heaven knows what may happen to everyone. I do not blame her; and I am certainly not jealous – have no right to be, anyhow.

This has been a hail-and-farewell sort of day. Hail to Jacko; an empty stool at the bar for George; hail to Hamick “Hemmings” posted back here from Div. HQ when I never expected to see him again; and farewell to Sergeant Quayle.

Jacko, Tiny and I went to a pub in the Broomfield Road district and, as arranged were joined there by Sergeant, Sid Pond and their wives. Sergeant Q was very jocular about haggis and kilts; he’ll be in Scotland this time tomorrow. “What are you having, Steve?” he cried, “I can call you that now I’m in a different unit!”

Went along to his house for a final drink, after closing time. Then – farewell again – “Good luck, Sergeant!”

Monday 2nd October 1939

My financial position will be quite satisfactory for the time being as my old firm have notified me that, for the present at any rate, they will make me an allowance of £2 per month. By the time that ceases, I shall perhaps have taken another stripe – and pay. All the same, I’m beginning to be very dubious about that second stripe, which people were once insistent I should have.

Things seem to be so disorganised. It may be that rumour is right and that the Essex Yeomanry will be gradually disintergrated as men are withdrawn for instructors’ courses or sent off as replacements to other, more efficient units. This will be rather a blow to me as I’ve always felt that comradeship is the great compensation for wars’ horrors and general unpleasantness. I want to go into battle – if that is necessary – among old friends. The best, - George and Jacko – have gone and Sergeant Quayle is going soon. But there still remain Ling, Pond, Dean and several others. Sergeant Quayle goes on Wednesday. Instead of a sergeant being posted in his stead, Hignall – still a bombardier – is to be NCO Sigs.

This also supports the sinister theory that, whatever fate is in store for us, we shall not be sent into action as a unit. Pond and Dean are both depressed and think about requesting a transfer to some other unit.

Lamp and buzzer morse tests this afternoon, at 8 and 10 words a minute respectively. Did well at the buzzer test – only one mistake in each message (first time I’d taken a test at more than 6, too!) I felt fed-up during the lamp test. There was a bit of interference, my eyes blinked, the sending seemed too fast. I got 20 mistakes in the first and 21 in the second. Sid Pond and the Sergeant, very concerned, rechecked the messages but it was no good. “Make it two wash-outs, Sergeant,” I said ruefully.
“Aye, maybe your eyes weren’t so good this afternoon,” he said sympathetically. “Well let’s go and have a cup of tea.”

So the three of us went across to the café for ten minutes. Sergeant was rather sad to be going, especially as it was a long distance – Edinburgh! Sid and I are collecting for a present for him. Oh dear! We shall miss Sergeant Quayle! I’m not so keen as I was – perhaps because I have less responsibility now – and am more inclined to do the minimum of work necessary to remain on the right side of the authorities.

Went to the flicks with Ron Dean tonight. Saw Bisley just after “God save the King” (strange to have to put on a cap for that) and went to the Milk Bar with him. And there, dammit, we met Carter and Bradbury, who were both still at no 5 Queens Road! We all had supper together – quite a reunion!

And, to crown it all, when I reached the digs, Tiny said that Jacko had come home for a couple of days leave and would be seeing me tomorrow. Funny that I was writing of old friends only this evening!

Sunday 1st October 1939

Post, sick, canteen and defaulters orderly today. No post, no sick, two defaulters.

I stood stiffly on the parade ground whilst the Battery, turned right, into column of route and marched off to Church. I was now alone except for Sergt. Major Essler. He lit a cigarette. “All right, Dawson,” he said with his usual quick curtness. “Report to BHQ now”.

I have spent most of the day hanging around the little-frequented canteen (where this is being written). Ah well! I might have had to do this yesterday, instead!
It is nine o’clock now, the place is empty and about to close for the night.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Saturday 30th September 1939

Sergeant Quayle gave us a lamp morse test at Regular rates – 8 words a minute. I was rather apprehensive, as I had qualified at 4 and had done hardly any reading since mobilisation. However I scraped through – 91% on the first and 97% on the second message. Dean, Ling and Pond who have been as unlucky as I regarding reading practice, fared badly also. The Sergeants’ sending was very good and he had a fine background – a dark railway embankment, 400 yards distant.

As hoped – further to my preparation of the duty rota – I am free this afternoon and “on” all day tomorrow. Used my ration cards for the first time – bought two gallons of petrol. That leaves four more gallons to be purchased during the next three weeks.

To Billericay – and April! I rang; the door opened a few inches. Aprils’ laughing eyes peeped through at me; she gurgled, “Hullo Stephen! Shan’t be a moment!” and disappeared. We had tea – bacon, egg and chips and coffee – at the Blue Bird on the grey arterial road. We used to go there long, long ago, although perhaps I never mentioned it in my diary.

April admitted she had a cold. “Then I must keep well away from you tonight,” I said tentatively, “Or maybe I shall catch your cold”. “It won’t be my fault if you don’t!” she cried shamelessly. We called on her Mother, just for a few minutes: they do not often meet nowadays. April said that her engagement was pretty well over, now.(This as we were driving along.)

“Aren’t you going to marry K after all?” her Mother had asked her recently.
“Oh no” April had answered, “I’m going to marry Stephen!”
“Let’s not do anything real, tonight,” April said as Slinky B droned into the gathering dusk.
“It’s very strange,” I said truthfully, “When we are together something seems to go click! As though our thoughts and emotions are slipping into each other, like pieces of wood, dovetailed”.

The moon – it must have been at the full – rose serenely, unafraid of black-out restrictions. We stopped in a lane near Sandon, where, on a windy springtime night we’d seen searchlights. Where I’d got out of the car just for the pleasure of getting in again and smelling Aprils’ special own perfume.

And this time April was quiet and depressed suddenly. “Oh Stephen!…Everything was so different then… And the searchlights were only practising… Now everything seems hopeless… And when we say “one day” that “one day” may never come”. Soon though she was gay April again and said she’d teach me the game of “nookie”. This started by an amazing move; somehow she bounced out of the front seat and into the back of the car.
I told her that if I had a chance I’d take the car to Warwickshire and leave it there until after the war.

April weaved fantasy again. “Oh yes! And one day – there’ll be cobwebs all over – you’ll say, “Let me see, I left a car somewhere” and we’ll go and find it. And we’ll pull the starter button and it’ll break off. Then you’ll try to crank it and the handle will break!” “Oh, I’ve thought of that” I said solemnly, “My Aunts’ garage is at the top of a hill, so we can start the car by pushing”.

(“We’ll go and find it”, April had said. Delightful picture of she and I, in the great peacefulness after war, going to the green heart of England to collect a car – Slinky B.)

Reached Chelmsford, then dashed on across Galleywood Common. Moonshine helped my dimmed sidelights as we swung around the bends. Ran through Stock at a little over 40. (Car uninsured and with defective brakes. Curious how reckless or perhaps more concentrated my driving has become, lately.)

Billericay. And then we parted.

Friday 29th September 1939

The Sergt. Major daren’t let me have a sentry-go, after all. (Rather humorous, a bloke begging for a sentry-go and being refused – “More than me jobs’ worth”!) However I was allowed to understudy the NCO i/c Regent Garage Guard for a couple of hours last night, to get an idea how things should be done.

I have not done any work with the squad at all, this week. They’ll soon realise I’m superfluous, there! Today I went out with Pond on an “A” Troop exercise, to get an idea of how troop work was done. Quite interesting. We jolted around in M2, found the OP area, jolted back to the proposed gun position and then puffed across the fields laying line. Gilbert was with me. Pond and Willoughly followed, tying up and insulating. Butler was OP operator and Sid Sorrell was Troop operator. A good team, too, Pond says.

We found the observation post, with a specialist and two officers crouching in the bushes, searching the hills beyond, through their glasses. Once through to Troop and first orders – “Map Reference” – being passed, we withdrew into a clump of thorn trees and lay talking and smoking for half an hour or more, until the “Reel In” order came through. Then we trotted back, reeling in the line as we went.

Wednesday 27th September 1939

Orderly Bombardier today – bugger it. To hell with the bloody job! I’m stuck here at BHQ with nothing to do, whilst the rest of the Battery has gone out on an all-day Scheme. Dear old M1 gone without me. And there’s nothing happening here. Just a few odds and sods – orderlies and so forth – wandering about like lost sheep.

Changes imminent in Battery personnel. Sergt. Yarrow was recalled for civilian work a fortnight ago. Now, this afternoon I must go round with another list of men who are to report at BHQ with their kits, in civilian clothes. They have been sent for by their previous employers and are to be discharged. The list includes Alan Cracknell, Hodge and two other signallers. Then several other acquaintances have been notified they are to be withdrawn and sent to various depots for training as instructors. They’ll remain there for the duration of the war, in all probability.

I must be enjoying this life more than some, because many blokes are quite disappointed at not being discharged or sent to training cadres. I’m not! But – bitterest blow of all – among those listed for a training cadre (at Larkhill) is our Sergeant Quayle – father and uncle and teacher of all the signallers. We shall miss him terribly. I always felt I’d not be afraid in action if he was around. (I went to the grisly scene of the Epping plane crash with him). Doubtless he’ll be replaced by some feller transferred from another unit. No one here is capable of being NCO i/c Sigs.

Night: Made myself comfortable on the floor of the Battery Clerks’ Room, with seven blankets. BSM Carlos came in and sat scribbling at the desk, occasionally scratching his head in obvious perplexity. He does not seem particularly brilliant in things clerical. I volunteered to help. He gave me the job and went out for a drink, gratefully!

The task was to prepare a rota of duties for the lance bombardiers! So I carefully worked out the dates on which the nine of us should follow each other in the duties of:-

a) Battery Orderly Bombardier
b) Sick, Post, Canteen and Defaulters Bombardier
c) NCO in charge of meals

I also gave a précis showing the numbers of odious weekend jobs we’d each perform in the next four weeks. He was pleased! My list will be thrown out of gear when Smurthwaite returns to duty – he’s ill just now. Until then the secret notes I made of the dates on which Ling, Dawson, Dean and Pond should be on “orders” will be very helpful to me and my cronies!

I did one “twisty” thing. My first rota put me on duty next Saturday. I rewrote it, so that I was “on” on Sunday instead. Because on Saturday I think I shall see April! A letter came today, saying that she had leave from her lousy control room on Saturday and could I see her? A sweet letter!...

“No Stephen! Darling, whatever happens you must never, never, never turn into a wooden, stolid soldier. Please don’t ever let that happen, think of all the lovely things in life you and I love, again, one day…”

How then, could I deliberately give L/Bdr. Dawson a duty which would keep him in Chelmsford until 10p.m on Saturday?

Sunday 24th September 1939

Breakfast 7:30a.m. Parade for Church 8:45a.m. My buttons seem to be getting that “regular” shine now and don’t become tarnished about three hours after being polished, as they used to. I suppose this is because they are cleaned so frequently nowadays.

Am writing this in the attic during the interval between Church Parade and dinner. We marched well this morning – 339 Battery is certainly improving in efficiency and smartness. The wind whistles through the half-open skylight. I’m afraid the summer is over, now. Hot days never come and warm days grow less frequent.

Well, whatever happens now, I had a fine summer. It was like the summer of 1933 – the end of a chapter. Strangely, a few months ago – it must have been in the winter or early spring – I had a “creepy” feeling, and knew something was going to happen. Indeed I mentioned it in my diary, although I forgot the precise date. Just an uncanny, fey feeling. Without knowing what it meant something sad would well up inside me, whispering, “Make the most of this, you’ll be going away soon. Something is going to happen, it will never be the same again. You can’t recapture this”.

The third time! I’ve always had it a few months before the event it foreshadowed, maybe to give me time to seize joy and happiness and laughter and light!

1933, at Lincoln and Sudbrooke.
1936, at Egham Riverside
1939, in Essex.

And, Thank God, I made the most of what I could spend, this summer.

“And I’ll unpack that scented store…”

Ah, it’s been beautiful!

“Summer days and summer ways and all to end in this… ”

Dear, dear! Snatches of rhyme wriggle from under my pen! I can still become a little mad sometimes then, even as I sit here in Army boots, khaki slacks and tunic, on the bed in my billets bedroom. Well, thank God I can!

Afternoon: Met Mary and drove to Romford (No pass, no car insurance!) Had tea at a café there, quite snug, with a fire, the first I’ve seen this autumn. Went to a flick afterwards. Came out just at twilight and drove home comfortably; the moon is nearly at the full now. Supper at the Sunbeam.

Nice to have got away from the garrison town of Chelmsford for a bit.

Friday 22nd September 1939

Hignall, Gobey, Boden, Moore and the rest of the trained signallers who have been at BHQ or RHQ since we were called up, came back to the squad today. We lance-bombardiers will get less responsibility now, especially as Hignall is a two stripe man and will take over when the sergeant is away. Rather sorry really, as I’ve enjoyed the responsibility and have gradually learnt more about the job, although I’m still mighty ignorant as a signaller.

One good piece of news. Because Pond as i/c “A” Signallers and I i/c Command Post signallers did our respective jobs satisfactorily, we are to stay in those positions for the present. At the same time, all NCO’s in future are to be taught all jobs, not just their own. A sound scheme, much better than blindly putting a man who has no experience over a man who has lots, simply because the former is senior. Eventually Pond and I will both receive a second stripe.

Went to The Cock Inn tonight to collect a few more bits and pieces. The Allens are awfully kind, letting my things stay there indefinitely and allowing me to wander in and out as though I’m still a resident. There were several soldiers – PBI bandsmen – in the bar as I passed through. “Evening Corporal,” said one, smiling (how I wish I was L/Cpl. Instead of L/Bdr!) “Bombardier, in the Artillery!” I corrected, smiling.
“Ah, yes” he said.

A few minutes later Iris came up with the message that the “Drum Major of the Essex Regt.” Would like me to have a drink with him. “Oh hell” I thought, but went down as gracefully as possible and plunged into the turmoil of the bar. I dislike noise and jollity in bars and usually feel “out of it” and ill at ease, and stiff. On this occasion my inner spirit of resignation was quite unjustified however for I thoroughly enjoyed the next hour or so.

One bandsman had a piano accordion and the rest were all singing. Soldiers dominated the public bar; civilian “locals” huddled nervously in groups or sat stiffly against the walls. They were “out of it”, not me. It was intoxicating to be one of the dominating party! The drum major was a very decent sort, rather like the old Quarter bloke in Number Three Company of the 54th. He and I (heaven knows why he should befriend a lowly lance-jack) leaned with our backs to the bar whilst he directed the singing.

We sang “The Only Girl in the World” (which one should I like to be the only girl, I wondered?), “Chestnut Tree”, and “Love’s Old Sweet Song”. A bandsman sang a humorous song about coming home and finding another man’s car in the yard. Then a tenor sang, sentimentally, “It’s my Mother’s birthday today”. Finally the drum-major, with a fine baritone voice, sang “Old Father Thames” We all joined in the chorus, civilians as well.

“High in the hills, down in the dales,
Careless and fancy free,
Old Father Thames keeps rolling along
Down to the mighty sea…
…Kingdoms may come, Kingdoms may go,
whatever the end may be,
Old Father Thames keeps rolling along
Down to the mighty sea”

Thursday 21st September 1939

Canteen, sick and post Orderly today. Turned out for the 7:30 a.m. parade but alas, there were no “sick”, so my glittering equipment was wasted. Found one sick man and a letter for delivery at 10 o’clock and then went to the quiet canteen, where I’ve been writing up my diary for the last few days.

When writing the foregoing, I neglected to give the full title of my job today – Canteen, sick, post and defaulters Orderly. We’d never had any defaulters so regarded this part of the duty as superficial. I therefore arranged to see Rio this afternoon, between 2p.m. and 6p.m., when the canteen was closed. At 1:45p.m, Sergt. Major Essler appeared and explaining there was a defaulter, reeled off a string of times and duties to be performed in connection therewith.

Numb with shock, I produced pen and paper and got the Sergt. Major to repeat his instructions. It seemed that one Gunner Parker EL was the defaulter. Just sentenced to 7 days CB he had to report to me at 2:30 for fatigue, and I was to see that he peeled potatoes until 3:30. I was to instruct him to report to the NCO i/c Guard at 5:30p.m. and thereafter at half hourly intervals. He could not enter the canteen except between 8 and 9 p.m. The blighters sin was smoking, in broad daylight, whilst on sentry-go! The punishment was too light, I thought. Thus, my afternoon’s leisure was considerably reduced.

At 2p.m. I found the defaulter already at work in the cookhouse. “You’re looking after me, aren’t you?” he asked dismally. “Who are you?” I asked viciously.
“I’m the prisoner” he said apologetically. “Your hour is from 2:30 to 3:30” I said.
“Can’t I work from 2 to 3?” he enquired hopefully. “There are no instructions regarding that” said he whose afternoon had been foreshortened, somewhat frigidly, “2:30 to 3:30 is your time”. “Oh, is it?” he said, and pushed off.

When he came back to the job he worked stolidly and seemed a decent chap and apparently appreciated the justness of his punishment.

The cooks – mostly old soldiers – gathered around and talked of the CB’s (“Jankers” they called it) which they had done in the War (1915 – 1918 of course). One of the cooks brought us both a cup of tea as the hour ended. The best Army cup I’ve ever tasted!

Slinky B did his best, and got me to Rio’s house by 4:10 p.m. Had one hour with her. We went to Hadleigh for tea, and gossiped. Impossible to recapture in such a brief meeting, the spirit of our starlit nights…

Back at the Canteen by 6 o’clock. It is 7p.m. now and the place is still almost deserted, as it is a half-holiday. (Yes, a half-holiday, blast it!)

Wednesday 20th September 1939

Battery Exercise today – the first since camp. In Ling’s absence (he’s still sick) I went back to my old job i/c Command Post signallers. Pond was i/c “A” and Dean i/c “B”.

Rather futile for me – who have done no Troop signalling – to be i/c “A” with Pond as my assistant, but Mr Adams says this is so, on paper. Good to be back with M1 though, just on this occasion. (“M1 Personnel, ‘shun!” I snarled as the Major approached during “Detachments front”)

Triumph for our Mr Adams when the Major, going through “Orders” said, “We have the wireless vans but I’m afraid the wireless will have to be imagined today” Mr Adams was able – through Sergeant Quayle’s overnight preparations – to step forward, salute smartly and say “We have three sets now working sir”.

We established the telephone exchange, completely hidden in a deep dry ditch beneath a thick hedge. Here we could work uninterrupted and secure from observation. I had Gayler with me. Having remembered that he seemed the brightest of the recruits to whom I showed the exchange at camp, I asked for him to be put in the CP group as an understudy for Ling when I have gone. Thus, in the Army, may a man’s destiny be set.

After the Exercise, our new CO, Major Ingledew, delivered a critical address. He’s strict and regimental but he certainly knows his job and should make us, ultimately, into an efficient and disciplined unit. The Command Post was the only section not criticised for having no concealment. He said we were concealed very well.

There was one “balls up” however – possibly owing to a “short” somewhere, “A” and “B” could hear each other without being connected. In the afternoon Gayler, Ling (now well again) and I overhauled and tested the Seven plus Three at Battery HQ, using a metallic circuit. We could find nothing wrong whatever.

Pleasant to have had a few days without any routine duty.

Tuesday 19th September 1939

Sid and I sent lamp messages to the rest of the squad, in the park. We’d been hectored on parade in true Regular style and it was fine when Sergt. Quayle came across at the end of the “school” and said, in his delightfully informal manner, “Well, pack up now, and then we’ll ship across and get a cup of tea before we fall-in again”

Pond, Dean, the Sergeant and I worked until 8 o’clock, tuning in the new wireless sets. We got them working all right, eventually – nice and cosy, smoking peacefully in the wireless room – and then went down to the “Fleece” for beer and darts.

Monday 18th September 1939

Colossal numbers of men sick this morning. Dean and Ling did not appear at all and Pond reported sick at second parade. All due to vaccination, doubtless..

I was sent to RHQ with two of the survivors, to collect and check new wireless equipment. These were then taken to Battery HQ and we stored then away neatly in an empty room at the back of the house. This occupied most of the afternoon, as well as the morning and made a nice change from routine work.

Sergt. Major Essler – ex-regular – has taken Sergt, Major Millers’ place as BSM. Have nothing against him personally, but he seems rather inhuman with his glittering, unsmiling eyes and general curtness. He is not unduly popular.

Sergt. Quayle went to a senior NCO’s meeting tonight and told us later that we must all remember that the unit was now subject to Regular Army discipline in all it’s grim forms. He also said that they were going to be stricter as regards information – that soldiering must not be discussed in cafes etc or on the telephone. (A few minutes before, I’d been in a café whilst Sid Pond, still sick and fed-up, was stating his conviction that we’d lost the war already. Things do seem rather gloomy, our “Courageous” torpedoed with a loss of 500 men and Poland over-run by Russians and Nazis.)

Went out with Mary tonight. Nice to be with her – tender and motherly! The gloom which had crept over me, lifted again. We sat in the car on Galleywood Common and listened to Mary’s portable radio set. It didn’t function too well. We had supper at the jolly old Sunbeam once again.

Petrol rationing has been postponed for a week. My car insurance has now expired but I’ll run Slinky until the end of the month, and hope for the best.

Sunday 17th September 1939

Russian troops commenced the occupation of Eastern Poland today…
Poles stated to be resisting along the whole front…
Russia states this does not affect her neutrality…

Slinky B sped like a bird towards Chelmsford, as the shadows lengthened. Nice to relax at the wheel again, whilst the needle steadied at 60.

Saturday 16th September 1939

Strange how I awoke as usual, at 6:30 this morning – on this occasion without an alarm or watch and in complete darkness owing to the thickly blanketetted window. Washed in a bucket in the kitchen – managed to obtain some hot water for shaving and used a jam jar for the shaving mug.

On duty again today, this time as NCO in charge of meals. First man to have this job, which is newly invented. One has to “maintain discipline” etc in the dining hall, but otherwise carries on with work as usual.

Leave for 25% from noon today until 10p.m tomorrow! I applied for a pass as from 6p.m this evening – after tea, that meant. I obtained a pass, praise be! During the afternoon I changed into breeches, puttees and spurs (only a very few army units are permitted that dress now) and had a haircut. Once the blokes had started their tea I considered my duty as NCO i/c meals ended and left hastily.

Drove rapidly to London, Ealing Common and home. My Mother did not arrive immediately. The flat seemed weird and dark. I lit a candle in the once-gay lounge, switched on the wireless. Gloomy strains of music. Eerie feeling of unreality.
I felt the war depression here – a sort of “little and lone and frightened” atmosphere – as at BHQ. I switched off the wireless, went into the kitchen – there was a shaded electric light there – and washed a shirt, two pairs of socks and four handkerchiefs.

Mother came at 8 o’clock, Father (from his grim canteen) at 12:30. Richard is away in the Thames – PAD with the Sea Scouts – and Robin is in Devon until things are more settled.

Friday 15th September 1939

Orderly Bombardier today, at the new London Road BHQ. Not much to do, apart from running trivial errands. I have to sleep on the premises – should have done so last Friday but just buggered off at 5:30p.m. in my blissful ignorance – and received no slightest reprimand or admonition for doing so. Surely a providence was caring for me on that occasion!

Petrol rationing begins tomorrow. Only one petrol –“Pool” – on the market then, and a car like mine will be allowed only 6 gallons a month. After making two vain calls on garages whose supplies were exhausted, I found a small filling station where business was proceeding as usual, and had Slinky’s tank filled to the brim.

Lois was worrying yesterday and upset some of my peaceful fatalism regarding things civilian. She almost made me start worrying about things which are really unimportant now – my job (as a representative for Paripan Ltd) disposal of the car, hire purchase payments etc. It’s obvious that I can’t run the car much longer on my pay of 3/3d a day. Insurance falls due next week, too. Anyhow, Slinky B would be an encumbrance if the Battery were suddenly moved to an intensive training camp – not that that is likely yet. So I’ll have to find some sheltered place where it could be left – a few years if necessary.

Today’s pay was 32/9d, there being a 10/- grant for producing my kit in good order. I now have altogether 52/6d in cash and must shortly get used to living within my income – the previously mentioned 3/3d per day!

Night at BHQ. A rather gloomy atmosphere this evening. Sorrell and Shead in the telephonists’ room, the Orderly Officer, even an old man in a café where I had supper – all seemed apprehensive. I suppose these people at BHQ get more time for brooding about unpleasant possibilities than we in the squad. Everyone’s outlook just now is swayed also by the fact that Russia (with a total manpower of 30 millions!) is mobilising and seems likely to ultimately side with Germany.

Played cards in the telephonists’ room with Sorrell (Ron) and a despatch rider. Pontoon – won 2d I think.

Went to kip at about 11p.m. Sergeant Merton, the Orderly Sergt. and I slept on the floor in the orderlies room. I had six blankets and was quite comfortable.

Thursday 14th September 1939

After several changes, we now have our meals at an old skating rink in London Road. A dismal place – and it will be a damn sight worse in winter, I reckon. Peeling distemper on the walls, leaky roof and filthy girders from which a gentle rain of fine rust particles often falls – onto our clothes, the tables and the food. We have vacated the old drill hall, and Battery HQ is now at an empty house in London Road. We still parade in the square however, and from there the signallers usually proceed to the park.

Had to drill a squad – the signallers – in the new threes formation today. Quite enjoyable. I’ve always longed to drill a squad, barking harsh orders! After work is over, Sergt. Quayle and his four lance-jacks – Stan Ling, Dean, Pond and I – have a cup of tea together, or a glass of beer according to the time of day.

Half holiday, so I motored across to Great Yeldham and saw Lois (at her request) for half an hour.

“I’ve decided that I shall not let you go” she said.
“I don’t mind being engaged,” I said, “But I do not intend to marry, now”
“Oh, that’s alright”

Sometime later, after we’d been talking about the war, I said, bewildered still, “I always thought of engagement as a prelude to marriage, not as an end in itself. In the latter case, it seems pointless” “Not necessarily,” Lois replied, “It’s a sort of first refusal, really”

We agreed that we could both have our love affairs with others… Which all seems very puzzling to me.