Sojourn in England
After disembarking from the Aquitania and entraining for the trip to Aldershot, we had quite a lengthy journey before eventually arriving at Aldershot.
The trip was normal except for the twilight. Most of us had seen twilight but nothing like the trip from Scotland this night of 17th/18th June 1940. In fact, it was so light one could actually see the rabbits from the train windows at around 0230 hours in the morning.
After being shunted around in Aldershot for what seemed hours, we climbed wearily from the train and put the packs on. While this was going on, there were some reunions between Major Oakes and members of the R.A. Major Oakes having served with the R.A. before going to New Zealand.
When the regiment was formed up the march to Borly started with the R.A. Band at the head. As we marched through Aldershot the whole of the Garrison must have lined the streets to watch as the regiment marched through. After six weeks on board it must have been some effort to march the three or four miles to Borly with packs up.
At Borly we were left to wonder what was going on, while the powers that be decided who was going where. There was a N.A.A.F.I. tent at the entrance and this did a great trade, so much in fact they ran out of beer. At this stage we sighted our first 25 Pounder. They were the Mk I. A 25 Pounder superstructure on a 18 Pounder Carriage. As most of the British had lost their equipment in France. we were lucky to glimpse this piece of ordnance.
The other thing that comes to mind of the first day in Borly was the Lancashire Hot Pot the Pommie cooks had prepared for our lunch. These Pommie cooks stayed with us for a week or so, but I don't think they improved the standard of cooking which Clutterback and Co. dished up.
We were only settled down in the tents. which were amongst pine trees with squirrels being quite cheeky, when we were told we were to have a couple of days leave, 48 hours I think it was called. There were all sorts of reasons given, but I think it was a bit of a morale booster for London. It was at this stage the remnants of the British Army had been evacuated from Dunkerque, and to show the Colonial Troops had not left them in the lurch we were given leave.
Maurice Johnston, Jack Campbell. Bas Mitchell and I headed off to London. We booked into the Westminster Hospital, where one could stay for 1/- a night, and set sail to see the sights of London. Bas left us to find out about a brother who had been in the Navy and died in London, leaving Maurice, Jack and Myself to have a good time.
It was after this 48 hours leave was over that the news was broken to us to the effect that there was not enough equipment around to fully equip us as an artillery regiment. Remember, at this stage we were a two battery regiment, each battery having three gun troops. Once again, the powers that be went into a huddle and out of it came the fact that 'C' Troop 27 Battery and 'F' Troop 28 Battery would become 'G' Battery, equipped with eight Mk II 25 Pounders, and the rest would be formed into infantillery. In passing, I would mention 'G' Battery became the first unit to be issued with the Mk II 25 Pounder.
From now 'A' and 'B' Troops 27 Battery and 'D' and 'E' Troops were to concentrate on infantry training. Route marches, bayonet training under our then R.S.M.. Bill Langevad, and we were introduced to the Bren gun. To train us on this new weapon we had Guard Instructors attached. During this stage of training the visit of the King, Queen, Princess Elizabeth and Margaret took place.
It was a wet miserable day (Saturday) and no lunch until after the visit. Immediately after 27 Battery was out on a route march when Aldershot was bombed. This resulted in a little damage being done to barracks in Aldershot and at least one Canadian being killed.
Then came the day when we were loaded on buses and taken down to the coast around a place called Deal. Many a good story can be told of the fowls killed and eaten and other good edible things. At this stage there was a scare on about Germany trying to make a landing. So there we were with four men to a rifle and ten men to a Bren gun guarding the Cliffs of Dover. I might add that when we took up a position not only was the Bren gun carried but tripod and boxes for the use of also.
Upon the return of the regiment to Borly 27 Battery and 28 Battery were issued with French 75 mm guns. These were of 1st World War vintage, and although looking antiquated, were quite accurate.
These 75 had steel shod wheels and could only be towed at six miles an hour. To get over this hurdle we loaded them into three tonners and it was quite surprising to see how quick the crews became in loading and unloading this piece of ordnance.
We had A.I.G.s from Larkhill as instructors on these guns, and very efficient they were too. During this training period the gunners were trained during the day and the officers had their gun drill periods in the evening. So every evening we would see the gunners take up a good vantage point to watch the A.I.G.s giving the officers the once over. And it was with a sort of sadistic glee one would see one officer or another getting bawled out.
While in Borly we used to mount a Pukka Guard, and no excuse was taken just because we were in tents for untidy or unpressed uniform. One particular guard I was on also had one Clifty Stenson. So here we were, all lined up for inspection, gas cape, gas masks, steel helmets and all. Big Bill Thornton was doing the inspection and came up to Clifty. After looking Clifty up and down, Big Bill said "Did you press your uniform?" Clifty immediately said "Yes Sir, I slept on it". Upon this Big Bill said "All I can say is you must be a light sleeper". For all those who knew Clifty you would know this would be nigh impossible.
Once we had become used to quadrants and mills, the regiment went to Larkhill, the "School of Artillery" for a live shoot. This went off without any accidents or untoward incidents. And the only thing that seems to stick in my memory is the fact there was thousands of rabbit around, and every time we were on the range it would seem a Lybander plane would appear from nowhere. How they were missed by shellfire I would never know.
After returning to Borly a rotation scheme of seven days leave was started. Bert Tier, Henry Foote and myself set off to go to Scotland. We spent a night in London, but somehow lost Henry at a pub called "The Final". This was a little pub off the Strand. So in the morning Bert and I went up to Glasgow and Edinburgh. But Henry never did tell us what happened to him. but he certainly had a satisfied look in his eyes after the leave.
Also at this stage we started to lose a few Sgts and W.O.s to O.C.T.U., included among these being Norm Mitchell, Arthur Roxburgh, Brian Gapes, Jim Fahey and Harold Reaney.
Our next move was to Maidstone, Kent. There we were confined at Moat Park. We spent a pleasant time there. We could have leave until 8 o'clock in the morning if you were not on duty. This proved very popular, and with a little training still on the 75 mm, a little play and a look at some of the best air fights of the Battle of Britain, life was looking good.
There had been quite a bit of movement amongst the officers, the biggest for 27 being Major Oakes going to the Anti Tank and Bill Philps becoming Bty Commander 27, and a very popular B.C. he was too.
While at Moat Park the 75 mm were taken back to Woolich and swapped for 25 Pounders and Quads. This involved some intensive training but not too bad. and I am sure there were no great hassles about the changeover.
Also, while in Kent we had a couple of men killed. Sgt. Waring was run over and killed, and Gnr Woon was shot in the chest while doing Boyes Anti Tank Rifle training.
From Moat Park the regiment moved nearer the coast as an invasion scare was on. At the move all units were billeted in farm houses or suchlike, and besides the usual training, rugby was in vogue, and many a good game could be seen between Troops, Batteries and the regiment side. We all played sides from English units, and we were even known to play soccer. A very pleasant time was had by all, even to 28 Battery having a pet girl in a fowlhouse. A certain officer thought he had exclusive rights but I wonder if anyone told him the truth.
All good things must come to an end. We had a live shoot at Larkhill with the 25 Pdr and all went well. After the stay in Kent we went to billets around Farnham. 'A' Troop was in the Red Cottage on the hogs back. At least the H.Q. personnel were. The gunners in a Nissen hut. This was only a little better than sleeping under the stars. The only thing that made it better was the fact that we had a little stove in it.
From this billet one could go to Aldershot, Farnham or a little village called Bagshot Lea. I would say the majority of members would go to Bagshot Lea. There was a little pub there called the "Cricketers Arms" and next door the Workingmens Club.
Now this club had a woman as the Manager, and quite a few had their eyes on the daughter. But the said woman made it quite plain she would have no hanky panky, and so that is how it was.
I am sure there could be some stories told of the few weeks in that area. One good story could be told of Sam Melling and Mick Day, but I will leave that story for Sam to tell which I am sure he will if someone asks him.
All good times come to an end, and as our stay in England came to an end with the vehicles being prepared for shipment and taken to Newport the personnel were taken to Liverpool and sailed on a ship called the "City of London". This was 18th December 1940. So after six months our sojourn in England was finished.
This article first appeared in a 5 Fd Regt Newsletter.