“As the war clouds gathered over Europe in 1939, the government decided that, as a precaution, young men aged 20 would be called up for six months to train as a reserve for the armed forces. My call up papers arrived telling me I was to report on Salisbury Plain to train in the Royal Artillery.
However, before the due date arrived, war was declared and I was switched from the Artillery to the London Irish Rifles and on October 18th, I was to report to one of the main London railway stations from where we were taken on the underground railway, our destination being Southfields station in SW18.
On disembarking, we were marched down Wimbledon Park Road to Barkers’ Sports Ground which was next to Wimbledon Tennis Courts. There, we were kitted out with our Army uniforms, part of which were puttees which, I suspect, were left over from the First World War.
Training began, often in the tennis court grounds and on Wimbledon Common, which included marching, rifle and Bren Gun training. Once proficient, we were moved around the country doing guard duty in various places including the Air Force Records Office in London and Tangmere Airport.
This was followed by a stint in the south which included Chichester and Goodwood race course during which time we were engaged in erecting Dannet Wire defences on the beaches against an expected invasion. We were somewhat alarmed one day when we encountered a small party of army personnel with mine detectors sweeping the sand who said that, the previous day, they had lifted three mines.
We then had quite a few more moves which included spells at Gorleston, Thetford (where we were employed in harvesting sugar beet), Altrincham, London Colney, Knutsford, Malvern, Haverfordwest, and Tenby. During most of this time, I was engaged in the training of new recruits, mainly from London, who, once up to the required standard, were posted on to other units.
‘G’ Company, commanded by Captain Colin Gibbs, at Goodwood House in 1941.
The repetitive nature of this training routine began to pall so when volunteers were called for as pilots in the RAF I decided to volunteer. This entailed a day in London where medical and educational tests were carried out and I emerged with a document in which I was told to present myself to the CO on arrival at my first RAF station.
However, this was not to be, as our unit was immediately posted to Cumnock, Scotland, to be part of a new special Brigade of tanks and infantry, which meant all transfers to the RAF were stopped.
This was my first time in Scotland and we were under canvas in a field that had quite a slope to it and the rain went on and on and on. The rainwater was constantly running under the duckboards of the tents and the field was a quagmire. Going out in the evenings meant carried a clean pair of boots under one’s arm to be changed into once we reached the road, the mud-coated pair to be left under a hedge and changed back into on our return to camp. Eventually the Brigadier came to inspect and immediately ordered billet accommodation to be found.
We were then shipped to North Africa as part of the 1st Army invasion force landing at Algiers. From there, we were moved by train up the coast towards Tunisia. The train, of course, was all cattle trucks and there was a dearth of fuel for the engine so quite a few stops were required to gather wood, though that wasn’t our worry.
Our worry was liquid refreshment and during one of the fuel stops we managed to find a sheet of metal which we placed on the floor of the cattle truck so that we could light a fire and make tea. This only happened once as the heat from the fire set light to the floor of the truck.
Arriving at our destination, we disembarked and dispersed into an orchard which gave us good cover, especially from the air.
After this time, I began to keep a brief diary of events which are included on the following pages :