BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM THE REGIMENTAL WAR CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY VOL2 1940-1942 & VOL3 1942-1944
HEREFORD AFTER the evacuation, the 145th Brigade re-formed at Bradbury Lines, Hereford, on the 7th June. A lone hut was solemnly labelled “Headquarters. 145 Brigade.”
During the next few days something over 200 officers and men of the 1st Bucks reported. All ranks were immediately sent on forty-eight hours’ leave. The numbers returning from the two other battalions in the brigade were much smaller and consisted mostly, of “B” Echelon.
On the 11th June all brigade details moved to Bryngwyn House, Wormelow, six miles south of Hereford.
The Battalion was formed, pending reinforcements, into two companies. Nos. 1 and 2. with a nucleus of a headquarter company.
At Bryngwyn House, a large Georgian mansion, all ranks were under canvas in the grounds, the house itself being used for offices and messing accommodation.
On the 22nd June a draft of 375 other ranks, 250 from the 50th Somerset Light Infantry and 125 from the I.T.C., Taunton arrived. The next day the draft was sorted out. Most were posted to rifle companies, but certain men with specialist training went to platoons of H.Q. Company. With these additional men two more rifle companies were formed.
On the 24th Major R. D. R. Sale assumed command. His return and the arrival of the new draft brought about a new outlook, both events stimulating the men, especially those who had served in France. Altogether, a different atmosphere prevailed in the camp; men ceased to look back and began to look forward.
On the 30th the Battalion, having been warned to be ready to move at short notice to Winchcombe, in Gloucestershire, went by rail to Melksham, in Wiltshire!
MELKSHAM The Battalion stayed only six days at Melksham, a pleasant little market town on the River Avon, halfway between Devizes and Trowbrldge.
OKEHAMPTON On the 6th July the Battalion arrived at Okehampton, Devon where it spent a week.
UFFCULME The new station was a town and two villages in the vale of the tiny River Culm: Cullompton, Uffculme and Culmstock. The next two months provided the Battalion with its first opportunity to concentrate on hard training in pleasant countryside in fine weather.
The divisional role, a mobile reserve to counter-attack any enemy landing on the coast to the south, meant that, for the next few months, one of the main training objectives was perfecting moves by transport and making all ranks familiar with the roads, lanes, towns and hills of the district.
In the second week of August a draft of seventy-four men from the depot of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment reported.
ASHBURTON Eventually the move to the Ashburton district, north-west of Newton Abbot, took place. Route marches were held weekly, usually as a battalion, but sometimes on a company basis. By October all ranks were as used to marching twenty miles and more in a day as they had been in France.
In October the Battalion band was reconstituted. Many bandsmen had been captured in France, but some remained and with newly joined musicians formed the nucleus. The reappearance of the band was a welcome morale-raiser to all ranks and the local population. The difficulty of instruments (the whole of the original set having been left at Wahagnies) was resolved, in the first place by the kindness of the authorities of Ashburton, who lent a set which had belonged to the town band; and ultimately by the generosity of the county of Buckinghamshire, whose people, urged by Lord Cottesloe, subscribed enough to purchase a complete, new set in a remarkably short space of time. 1
1941 - Another change occurred at the beginning of May 1941. Lieutenant-Colonel R. D. R. Sale (the last surviving Territorial commanding officer in the 48th Division) was posted as second-in-command of the 5th Battalion in Ireland. For the commanding officer it was an unhappy moment. Ten months before he had assumed command of some 200 dispirited survivors; he left the Battalion at full strength just at the time when, rewelded and retrained, it was at last showing results from his comprehensive training programme. He was succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel J. E. Dunbar Kilburn, 52nd Light Infantry.
On the 16th May the Battalion moved by transport to Amesbury for four days’ concentrated range practice on Bulford ranges.
On the 29th May, the first anniversary of Hazebrouck, the padre, the Reverend R. J. E. Dix, held a voluntary service in Ashburton. Over 200 men and more than half the officers attended.
The Battalion moved to the Torbay beach sector from Ashburton on the 20th June. 2
On the 18th July the Battalion moved to Denbury Camp, a few miles north-west of Newton Abbot, at the same time rejoining the 145th Brigade.
In September the commanding officer ordered that forage caps were to be worn straight on the head, in keeping with Regimental custom.
An interesting interlude and complete change were provided in the middle of August. With the Denbury parade ground available, the commanding officer invited the honorary colonel, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Kent, to inspect the Battalion.
Several full-scale rehearsals were held, including drill parades before breakfast every morning for a week. The parade itself on the 21st August went without a hitch, the chief feature being the Battalion wheel at the double to the tune of “The Keel Row.” The band and buglers wore their black Battalion forage caps officially for the first time on this parade.
A move to Lincolnshire drew near.
BRIGG The Battalion reached Brigg, twenty miles north of Lincoln, at midday on the 15th November. 3
1942 - News was received early in the month that the Battalion would move to Marsh Chapel in March.
On the 2nd March, 1942, orders were issued for the move to the coast in relief of the 11th Green Howards.
During the remainder of March, in addition to normal defence duties, the Battalion dispatched its first draft overseas. This draft marked the beginning of a steady process of bleeding.
On the 6th April the Battalion moved to Usselby camp close to the market town of Market Rasen.
In the meantime orders were received to provide six subalterns for service in India.
On the 4th May the Battalion moved to Saltfleetby and Louth in relief of the 4th Battalion.
The Battalion was ordered to provide three further drafts, varying from twenty to forty men, for service overseas; and it now became increasingly obvious that drafting was to become as regular as it was an unwelcome occurrence. These losses were offset by the receipt on the 24th of May of eighty-four men nearly all of these men had been recruited in Buckinghamshire.
On the 9th June a further change of station took place, the Battalion relieving the 9th Somerset Light Infantry at Woodhall Spa.
Soon after the arrival at Woodhall Spa, the commanding officer informed company commanders that the 48th Division would not be included in any expeditionary force in the immediate future and that it would remain in Lincolnshire for a further nine months. Drafting was to be intensified and drafts of specialists would be called for. To meet this contingency, the commanding officer decided to discontinue the practice previously adopted of filling drafts with volunteers and to institute compulsory drafting, drawing on companies in turn until each was exhausted, with the exception of company headquarters and senior non-commissioned officers. Incoming drafts were to be posted to companies so exhausted and a constant standard of training thus maintained. During June further drafts of men were provided. 4
In early July 1942 the Battalion left Woodhall Spa, and, after sundry exercises, returned on the 8th August to Horncastle, a town only five miles from Woodhall Spa.
A fortnight later the battalion was on the move again, this time to Burgh le Marsh and Skegness, where beach defence posts were manned.
October was spent in routine defence duties and at the beginning of November moved back to Horncastle.
As predicted by the commanding officer at Woodhall Spa, drafting had continued without intermission during the preceding six months. Although the War Office had authorised the retention of a minimum cadre of officers and N.C.Os., commanding officers in the 48th Division were instructed to abandon any hope of preserving their battalions as fighting units, to turn over the cadre as often as possible, and to regard their commands solely as draft-producing machines. In spite of this instruction, the 1st Buckinghamshire Battalion at the beginning of December, 1942, still retained its most experienced officers, N.C.Os. and specialists, but was weak in riflemen and lacking in junior N.C.Os. and trained privates. The outlook was gloomy. If drafting continued at the existing rate all ranks realised that the Battalion, which had been trained with such care and with so much energy and devotion, would cease to exist and the chance of survival seemed small. At the end of the month Lieutenant-Colonel Dunbar Kilburn was informed in confidence that the G.O.C. Northern Command, Lieutenant-General T. R. Eastwood, had been ordered to nominate a battalion for inclusion in the 54th Division and as a result of his inspection on the 30th October had chosen the 1st Bucks Battalion for this transfer.
Company commanders were informed of the change on the 3rd December and the Battalion left the 48th Division on the 12th of the month. The Battalion had formed part of the 48th Division (or South Midland Division, as it was called before 1914) ever since the Territorial Army had been constituted and formed into divisions. There was a certain sadness at this break with the past, but it had been clear for some time past that there was no future in the 48th Division and it was not long before the division was officially converted into a training division.
The 54th Division was stationed in Suffolk under the command of Major-General E. H. Barker, C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C., and the Battalion was ordered to join the 163rd Infantry Brigade and was allotted billets at Walberswick and Southwold.
One infantry brigade had been removed from the 54th Division and a tank brigade substituted, and as the division was expected to see active service in the near future spirits of all ranks were high. It was believed that the division would be relieved shortly of defence duties and intensive field training would begin. These expectations were not to be fulfilled immediately, nor was the Battalion, which by this time had been reduced to some 300 all ranks, brought up to strength.
In December Lieutenant-Colonel R. D. R. Sale arrived to take over just before Christmas and resumed command on New Year’s Eve. 5
1.The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, Vol 2: June 1940 - June 1942 Pages 46-68 2.The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, Vol 2: June 1940 - June 1942 Pages 133-142, 3.The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, Vol 2: June 1940 - June 1942 Pages 221-230, 4.The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, Vol 2: June 1940 - June 1942 Pages 303-310
5. The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, Vol 3: July 1942 - May 1944 Pages 24-27