THE FORTY THIRD LIGHT INFANTRY JANUARY - MAY 9TH 1940
BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM THE REGIMENTAL WAR CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY 1939-1945
The Regiment left Tourcoing in the first few days of January, 1940, and had a slippery march in snow to Fives, a suburb of Lille. Here the whole Regiment, except carriers and mechanical transport, were billeted in a school. This accommodation was rather cramped, but there were some quite good rooms. One platoon and company headquarters of A Company were gassed the first night by a leaking gas main, but no serious casualties resulted. The Regiment for the first time had centralized messing. The billets of the officers were excellent in well-appointed houses, and there was a good mess in a large house. Regimental headquarters was in a cottage nearby.
The weather was very cold, with snow everywhere. The plan was that the Regiment should do some training and move to St. Pol for corps exercises. The corps exercises were put off owing to an alarm of threatened invasion which stopped leave. An advanced billeting party had reconnoitred the ground, and we were not sorry for this cancellation, as there were deep snow and very poor billets. Two exercises were held to the west of Lille, under brigade arrangements, the second involving a river crossing. This was followed by a river-crossing exercise under regimental arrangements, the river being represented by a road.
A brigade T.E.W.T. was also held on about the coldest day of all.
While here, a set of instruments was purchased in Lille to enable the band to play at church services and concerts. The band did excellent work until the instruments were left behind on the Regiment's move into Belgium. A canteen was opened in a church room which had a reading room adjoining.
On the 21st January the Regiment again moved to the frontier, marching through snow to relieve the Royal West Kent Regiment at- Roubaix, quite close to its old station at Tourcoing. Here the billets were mostly in factories spread over a considerable area. Regimental messing for the officers had to be abandoned and company messes started. Snow still continued. The Regiment took over positions which had been prepared by the Royal West Kents, and some patrolling exercises were carried out. Again a canteen was opened, this time in a room of a cafe'.
While here, the Regiment learned that it was to leave the 4th Division and join the 48th (South Midland) Territorial Division as part of a scheme to mix Regular and Territorial battalions. It was understood that the Regiment was to join a brigade in which were the 4th and the 1st Bucks Battalions of the Regiment, but this plan was changed later.
On the 29th January, a very cold day, the Regiment moved by train to Roost Warendin, near Douai, to join the 143rd Brigade of the 48th Division. It was billeted in some very poor empty houses in a straggling village. There were mines close to the village which provided facilities for bathing.
The 143rd Brigade was commanded by Brigadier Muirhead, and the other battalions in the brigade were the 1st/7th and the 8th Battalions of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment; the 4th Battalion and the 1st Bucks Battalion were nearby in the 145th Brigade. The Regiment had to leave behind its chaplain, the Reverend G. Bidgood, as his appointment was to the 11th Infantry Brigade. It also left behind Lieutenant B. W. Greene, who had been appointed 4th Divisional entertainment officer. The new chaplain was the Reverend W. H. Cox.
The operational work of the Regiment at Roost Warendin consisted of the preparation of a I Corps reserve line. The Regiment had no part in planning this, and sent parties for the most part to carry out work in digging anti-tank ditches and constructing concrete pillboxes under sapper supervision. The digging, as it had been all through, was complicated by the great difficulty of revetting the shifting clay soil so as to prevent its collapse.
While here, a brigade patrolling course was held, run by Major Conant, and special fighting patrols were formed.
The Regiment was warned for a tour of duty in the Maginot Line in about March, but the plan fell through. Lieutenant Clerke Brown, however, did an attachment to the Scots Guards in the Maginot Line.
Following the brigade patrol course a series of inter-company night schemes was held, using the prepared positions hi the Bois de Flines.
The Regiment visited the frontier on two occasions, first when a party of officers went up to inspect the defences, and secondly when the Regiment took part in an exercise involving an attack behind a barrage at dawn.
When we first arrived at Roost Warendin a platoon of Durham miners was attached to us. These worked at a very secret task, which we later found to be the preparation of a corps headquarters dug-out. The task was taken over by mining engineers, and the Regiment found working parties. Secrecy went by the board after this. The engineers spread the sand well outside the dug-out, and as German aircraft frequently passed overhead it must have been obvious. We had one or two leaflet raids while here.
The Regiment held a children's sports day at the beginning of May, and gave tea to about two hundred children. The canteen in this village was again in a cafe, where a sort of partnership was arranged with the proprietress whereby she made tea and Corporal Jotham ran his stall of cigarettes, chocolates, etc.
In March Major J. E. H. Neville, M.C., presented the Regiment with Regimental headquarters' and company flags. The Regimental headquarters flag consisted of the Regimental colours on a large buff field. A, B, C and D Companies' flags were squares of red, blue, green and chocolate on larger buff fields, and H.Q. Company's flag a quartered square of the rifle company colours on a large buff field. These flags were used during the remainder of the Regiment's stay in France and Belgium. The only flag to reach England after Dunkirk was the H.Q. Company flag.