This is my Grandfather’s recollections of the start of World War Two that he started to write under the title of “For My Grandchildren”. As far as I know the project got no further than is reproduced here.
I rather doubt whether I ever finished my story of my part in World War Two, but it maybe increasingly interests as it sinks back into the past. Already the attitudes and life in general, nearly fifty years ago, seem like the dark ages.
Part one deals with my brief and fairly inglorious part in the history of World War Two and experiences in the evacuation of Dunkirk when I and some 350,000 individuals got out of Europe in June 1940 and trained to fight another day.
I was married first in June 1936 and already the strain of world events was starting to effect our daily lives. Because of the situation in Spain our original plans to spend our honeymoon in that country changed and we decided on the French Savoy. The civil war made our seriously in June of the next year. The previous year Mussolini had invaded Abyssinia and in 1936 the Rome - Berlin Axis was announced and in the fairly near future seemed assured.
Towards the end of 1937 I had started to in the British Xylonite Co.’s hierarchy and knowing in the event of war I might find myself in a “reserved occupation” and unable to join the fight which I would have hated.
My original intention was to join the Navy as a career office but in 1925 when Washington Treaty (limiting the size of Navies and Capital Ships) [was signed], my father stopped me from going up for the Navy Exam saying I would find myself out of a job at 35. He was probably right and a lot of fathers had a similar views and the Navy’s intake dropped sharply. Anthony Davies who was equal with me at school became an Admiral fairly young.
I next tried the Royal Marines reserve in about 1935 but they did not want to know you unless you had family connections with the Marines.
Towards the end of 1937 I decided on the Royal Regiment of Artillery. I was then living in Langham about half way between Ipswich and Colchester and the Headquarters of the 58th Medium Regiment was at Ipswich. I went to see the Colonel and he accepted me immediately. I obtained both Certificate A and B in the Officers Training Corps at Oundle which was fairly unusual amongst his applicants. In fact in Certificate B I had gained the highest marks ever obtained by anybody at the School! I was “gazetted” at the end of the year and from then on went to drill nights in Ipswich twice a week. We went to a “firing” camp at Oakhampton on Dartmoor in August for which I had to give up half my two weeks annual holiday.
We had an interesting and amusing camp and the things we got away with would create “front page” scandals in the world of today, but after all the Territorial Army was one of the country’s best young mens’ drinking clubs!
We still employed mostly incredibly involved World War One procedures and to fire on a predicted target took about four hours (at the end of the war we would have been ashamed if we could not achieve the same effect in 10 minutes).
At camp we fired the depot battery’s elderly 4.5 howitzers as they were being phased out and there was surplus ammunition. It had a maximum range of about 5,000 yards and fired a 45lb shell.
Our own guns were 6-inch BL Howizters firing a 100lb shell a maximum range of just under 10,000 yards which had been introduced into the army in 1916 and all of ours were of 1918 vintage with fixed trails, iron shod wheels and only 8 degrees of traverse. Even now they seem like weapons from the Ark!
Shortly after returning from Camp the government decided to double the T.A. and each regiment formed a second line. The 58th formed the 67th to which, luckily, I was not posted. Another event was the complete change in formation, drill and procedures mostly based on the French pattern and the 58th became two batteries, 229 and 230 each of two troops and a Battery H.Q., each troop of four guns (thus 16 guns per regiment) and I was posted to 230 Battery as Assistant Command Post Officer (ACPO) a new organisation, mainly to layout and survey the battery area and to work on barrages and predicted fire.
In 1939 in June we took our holiday in the south of France and witnessed a French national “blue out” which did not seem very effective. In early August the Regiment went to a non firing camp in Roedean in Sussex, just beside the famous girls school. While we were there Germany and Russia signed their notorious non-aggression pact and war seemed certain.
It was, and we had only been home for two weeks when the T.A. was embodied and I reported to the Sudbury Drill Hall while Angela droved back in full “black out” conditions, luckily there was a moon. Over the next few days we moved our furniture to store in Sudbury and closed up the house in Langham (the owner who lived in London wanted it) and Angela who was about two months pregnant with Christopher moved into a pub in Sudbury.
War was declared three days later… It was a hectic time.
[Unfortunately the first sentence proves rather prescient since as far as I know this was all that was written.]