THE FIFTY SECOND LIGHT INFANTRY FROM THE OUTBREAK OF WAR TO OCTOBER 1941
BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM THE REGIMENTAL WAR CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY VOL2 1940-1942 THE 52nd disembarked at Liverpool on the 18th July, 1940, after eighteen years’ service in India and Burma.
In July, 1940, two independent brigade groups were formed in England as a mobile G.H.Q. reserve. These brigade groups were self-contained and, in fact, miniature divisions, each consisting of four regular infantry battalions and the usual supporting arms, gunners, sappers, signallers, R.A.S.C., Ordnance, etc. Both brigade groups were highly mobile with sufficient mechanical transport to move quickly to any area threatened by invasion. They were the 29th Independent Brigade Group (commanded by Brigadier Oliver Leese) and the 31st Independent Brigade Group (commanded by Brigadier H. E. F. Smyth—an old officer of the Regiment). Both brigades afterwards became famous— the 29th as the first brigade to land in Madagascar and the 31st as the 1st Airlanding Brigade in the 1st Airborne Division.
On 31st July, 1940, the 52nd (under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel L. W. Giles, M.C.) mobilized at Wheatley near Oxford as part of the 31st Independent Brigade Group. The other three infantry battalions in the brigade were the 1st Bn Border Regiment, the 2nd Bn. South Staffordshire Regiment and the 1st Bn. Royal Ulster Rifles. Thus began for the 52nd a partnership which lasted with the Border Regiment and South Staffordshire Regiment until the spring of 1942, and with the Royal Ulster Rifles until parting in Palestine after the end of the war.
The next few months were difficult. After eighteen years’ service in the East, the modem paraphernalia of war was strange and had to be mastered. The 52nd was not familiar with mechanical transport, the latest weapons and tactics. Drivers and wireless operators had to be trained. Meanwhile, unfamiliar equipment was arriving and being allotted to companies and platoons. Invasion and action seemed imminent and it appeared to be a race against time to learn all these new weapons and equipment before using them against the enemy. On the other hand, the majority of officers and men were Regular soldiers, administratively efficient, disciplined and well versed in the traditions of the Regiment. Morale and esprit de corps were high.
On the 6th September the brigade was ordered to move on the 12th September to billets in the Maidstone area, but two days later the destination was changed to Harpenden. On the 5th September information was received that the German army had embarked for the invasion of Britain and the Regiment was placed at one hour’s notice to move (later changed to four hours’ notice). On the 9th September the Regiment left by road for Harpenden, but on the way was diverted to Berkhamsted as its new destination and accordingly bivouacked outside Berkhamsted that night. The following day orders were received to go into billets in St. Albans. These were later cancelled and the Regiment finally moved into billlets in Berkhamsted on the 11th September.
On the 27th September the Regiment left by road for an unknown destination, finally arriving at Wittersham (a few miles north of Rye) the same evening. Here the Regiment took over from the 18th Pioneer Bn Royal Fusiliers the line of the Royal Military Canal from Stone to Ham Street (seven and a half miles). This line was held with three companies up (C at Stone, A at Appledore and D at Ham Street), with B Company in reserve but watching the right flank and holding two bridges over the River Rother. Regimental headquarters and H.Q. Company were in Wittersham. The original G.H.Q. plan had been to hold the Royal Military Canal as the forward defences in this area with no troops on the beaches. This plan had been altered and the original troops holding the canal were moved forward to the beaches and the G.H.Q. mobile reserve was hurriedly sent to hold the reserve line.
On the 11th November 1940 the Regiment was relieved by the 8th Bn. King’s Regiment, and returned by road through London to Berkhamsted. 1
1941 - The Regiment remained at Berkhamsted until the middle of February, 1941. On the 6th January C.S.M. C. H. Styles, of H.Q. Company, was given an emergency commission in the Regiment. This officer later became adjutant and finally commanded the 52nd for a period in Palestine after the war had ended. He had served continuously with the Regiment since enlistment and with the 52nd since they were in Burma.
On the 7th January the brigade group was issued with the new divisional signs which came into use throughout the Army for wear on each shoulder by all ranks. In the case of the 31st Independent Brigade Group, a brigade group sign was worn. This sign was the family crest of Brigadier Smyth, the brigade group commander.
On the 17th February the Regiment departed by road for its new station, which was Ross-on-Wye, in Herefordshire, leaving Berkhamsted with some regret, all ranks having enjoyed great hospitality from the residents.
At Ross, H.Q., A. and D Companies were housed in a hutted camp next to the old Territorial drill hail, while B, C and Reinforcement Companies were billeted in the town. Regimental headquarters were in the drill hall and officers messed by companies in hotels or requisitioned houses.
In June the brigade was ordered to train for mountain warfare with pack transport. This was something the 52nd really understood after many years’ experience in India. Now began a series of extremely arduous exercises in the mountains of South Wales involving long and weary marches and many longed for the now familiar sight of the Regimental mechanical transport and buses. There is no doubt that this type of training was much needed, as the Regiment had come to depend too much on being lifted over long distances. 2
On the 13th August the 52nd left Ross-on-Wye for Highmead, near Llanybyther in Cardiganshire. Here the Regiment was under canvas in the park of Highmead, a large, old-fashioned house.
On the 25th September the Regiment moved by road to Lianion Barracks, Pembroke Dock. This was the first time since leaving India that the 52nd had been quartered in barracks. 3
1. The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, Vol 2: June 1940 - June 1942 Pages 23-25 2. The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, Vol 2: June 1940 - June 1942 Pages 117-119 3. The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, Vol 2: June 1940 - June 1942 Pages 201-203