Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday 11th October 1942

We are now being buggered about. Yesterday morning, on roll call, all men of 104th RHA – plus Dewhurst – were fallen out. “Get your kit packed and parade here, ready to move, in two hours time. Your unit is sending a lorry to fetch you.” We waited a long while. My spirits sank when, after an hour or so, Bob was summoned into the office and told he would not be on the draft. (“You are not in the 104th, are you?” they said to him. “No” admitted Bob. “Alright, then, you'll be put on draft next Tuesday – to another Regiment”).

Bob, browned off, says he will not be keen to reach the blue after this. Now, I wish I'd applied for a Base job, as instructor at the Training Wing. People with lower marks than I have applied and been accepted. So I felt quite fed up. My spirits rose (slightly) when I was interviewed by the BSM and received my certificate from the Training Wing. “First class qualification. Reliable and capable. Recommended for Battery NCO i/c Signals.” The chit which goes to my Unit said much the same and also: “An excellent wireless instructor”. This struck me as funny, as WT is my weakest subject. Those practice lectures, with their lengthy introductions, must have made a good, though quite incorrect impression!

So we continued to wait. At 11:15a.m. - after 2 ¾ hours – we were told a mistake had been made, and the draft was “off.” We'd have to go up with the next ordinary WD draft, early next week... Bob and I attended no more parades, this day.

At 5:330p.m. we got evening passes and went out. Too late for the first house so we went to the last house of the flicks. With a crowd of other people, we waited an interminable time at the tramway terminus. Some breakdown in the system. Eventually reached camp at about 1:30a.m. instead of 12:45a.m.

Today I feel very sleepy. Sunday is an ordinary working day here but I don't think I'll go on any parades. I went on roll call, but walked off, serenely, unchallenged, when they began detailing NCO's for fatigues.

I have just heard that Dewhurst and I are both “on a charge” and are to see the OC at 12:30p.m. Our crime is not for missing parades but for being late home last night. This is the first time I have been “on a charge,” so it should be an interesting experience.

Later: Six of us went before the “A” Battery BSM. Whilst waiting we were watching a wretched gunner being drilled by a truculent and large Base Sergeant. Presumably the gunner had made some error in saluting, because the drill consisted only of “eyes right” and “eyes left,” on the march – with occasional “about turns” of course, and “to your right (or left) – salute!” The sergeant shouted his orders from the shade of some buildings whilst the victim marched to and fro in the full blaze of the midday sun. Sometimes the sergeant cunningly marched the man towards the shade and then ordered “about turn” when the sweating soldier was a bare pace away from the dark, cool patch. as the gunner grew more hot and tired, the sergeant became more gibing and critical. “There's no hurry! Eyes – right! I've got nothing else to do. We can stay here all day, if you like! Eyes – front! About – turn!”

He was ingeniously provoking too. For instance a squad of dirty Arabs were squatting on the sand, watching the spectacle. So several times, the gunner was made to march close to them and then to salute towards them. However, we had to leave this pretty scene and go into the office to see God, in this case the BSM. A second lieutenant stood beside him and there were two sergeants and a bombardier hovering nearby.
My explanations were not accepted.

“I don't doubt your story,” said the BSM, “But the fact remains you should have been back here by 12:45 and you were not.”
“Owing to circumstances beyond my control, sir.”
“That's not enough!” snapped the BSM, “You'll see the Battery Commander at 9:30 tomorrow morning.” (Prisoner and escort 'shun! Prisoner – cap off!)

I lost my temper; my hands began to tremble.
“I joined the Territorials in 1935. And before the war or during the three years of war, I've never been charged!” (They were all silent, eyes averted, perhaps expecting a “sob story”) But alas! I went on:- “It seems that you people down here are too keen to make criminals out of well behaved NCOs”.

(“Criminals?” whispered the still small voice of Reason. “You are, actually, a criminal, mate. What about that WD prperty you sold to the Wogs? Good enough for a year in gaol! You've not been well behaved at all, whilst down here!)

The BSM looked up sharply. “I take exception to that remark, bombardier! And I don't like the word “criminals”.”
“Well there it is, sir.”
“I'm very surprised, especially at you, an NCO who's just come from the training wing, with such a good report.”
“I have nothing against the training wing...”
“I'm not interested in that, nor do I want to hear what you are inferring...”

More words were bandied, hotly. It's a wonder they didn't pin another charge – insolence perhaps – onto me. When I came out, I found, as expected, that Dewhurst was “for the OC” as well. For once, though, he'd kept his temper, which is generally much quicker than mine.

Later still: It looks as though I shall escape the “prisoner – cap off!” business tomorrow as, if there is no further postponement of the latest draft, I should be far from this “last of meeting places” by 9:30 a.m. I didn't condescend to go to the 2 o'clock parade this afternoon, but retired to the sanctity of the Beacon. The 104th draft was again fallen out. No one seemed perturbed at my absence, but a message was sent to me that I was again on draft and was to sleep in the guard-room – ready by 4:30a.m tomorrow.

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