Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sunday 3rd September 1939

Parade 7:30a.m. Button cleaning. Breakfast.

Pay parade for the famous £5 embodiment gratuity lasted several hours; we were allowed to sit down and smoke. I talked chiefly with Ron Dean, Tiny and Fenning.
Cartwright felt confident there would be no war and wagered me a snack at Wainwrights. The time was then 11:20 or so.

At 11:40, the Battery Commander stepped into a hollow square we’d formed and said briskly, “This country has been in a state of war with Germany since 11:00 a.m. So we’ve got to fight the buggers” He then left us.

“There you are, you’ve lost, Cartwright!” I triumphed.
“Aw, dammit,” he grumbled.
“Silence in the ranks!”

Medical inspection this afternoon. I had to march a squad up for the exam. Wasn’t particularly nervous at this famous nightmare for the junior NCO but made one slip, which an officer noticed. He pointed out, kindly, that it was bad form for an NCO to have one hand on his hip when giving an order!

Got away from the drill hall by 5 o’clock. Back there at 7p.m. being NCO i/charge car park piquet. This was not a job I particularly desired but it was interesting to be picked for duty on the first night of the War.

(Wonder what they’ll call this war, in later years. Four nations are concerned now, for France has also declared on Germany as from 5p.m this evening.)

Darkness, then the moon rose in a clear sky. Cash (old soldier), Chalmers and Cartwright were on piquet. Now it is nearly 1 o’clock and I’m still sitting in my truck. A lewis a.a. gun stands ready across the square but there have been no signs of raiders to break the monotony. I shall be relieved when something does happen for I just can’t realise that we are at war, that that strange state of which old soldiers spoke had come to pass again, and that if planes came, wheeling in the searchlights, they’d be enemies, real enemies, not just opposing sides in a tactical scheme!

Thrill at 3:30! Cash and I, standing chatting in the moonlit square heard suspicious noises but said nothing. Suddenly, but not unexpectedly, the air raid sirens began their horrible wailing – “ooo-er, ooo-er!” And the night had been so still!

“Here it is! Yes!” we said excitedly, replacing our SD caps with steel helmets.
Awoke Cartwright and Chalmers. Must have been a shock to them. “The moment savoured of panic” said Cartwright later. They staggered to their feet automatically clutching their gas masks but put them back when it was pointed out that no gas alarm had been given. I found that all three of the blighters had their masks slung wrongly and showed them how to do it whilst waiting for the raid to commence.

It did not. Spitfires fled across the sky, but there was no sign of enemy bombers. 15 minutes later we heard the “all clear” – a long blast on the sirens.

(There was as usual conflicting stories about this business. The papers said it had been a false alarm but Army rumour said the raiders had been forced back when they reached the coast.)

Had about two hours sleep altogether. Washed, shaved and cleaned at a tap in the square and fell-in as usual at 7:30.

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