FORTY-THIRD LIGHT INFANTRY FROM JUNE, 1940, TO 31st DECEMBER, 1940
BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM THE REGIMENTAL WAR CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY 1939-1945
At Dover officers and men were put into trains as they landed and were shot off to various destinations. The result was that the Regiment was split up into small parties and sent to various towns in South Wales.
The biggest single party, consisting of Captains Blyth and Warner, Lieutenants Warnock and Barton, C.S.M. (acting R.S.M.) Neal and ninety men, reached Porthcawl and spent a lazy, very comfortable week sleeping off their weariness in wonderful weather by the seaside. Major Richards, commanding, spent the tune at St. Athans boys' camp until he and Warner and Warnock were summoned to Hereford for the re-forming of the Regiment.
At Hereford driblets kept arriving. Colour-Serjeant Wyatt was there from second echelon and a keen look-out was kept for Serjeant Yetton, who had the casualty returns. When he turned up they were compiled and sent in and the next item was forty-eight hours' leave for all. The numbers arriving brought the Regiment's strength up to over 450.
Promotions on a staggering scale had to be made to provide for losses and cope with demands for N.C.Os. from other battalions of the Regiment. It all had to be done hurriedly as drafts of new militia men arrived; very good types of men indeed.
Officers joining were Lieutenants Callingham, Martin and Florey, of the Regiment, and Lieutenants Cotterell, Towerzey, Oberst, Skellon and Penny (who left after a few days for the 4th), from the Royal Fusiliers.
The Band came over from Oxford and was a great asset in the re-forming process. After absorbing its old members it numbered over forty and was worked hard.
The following directive was issued by the commanding officer on the 25th June:
"To officers commanding A, B, C, D and H.Q. Companies,
"1. On account of the changes of command in companies, which must inevitably take place in the course of the next few days, it has been thought advisable to put on record a summary of the decisions arrived at in the course of the company commanders' conference held on the 24th June, 1940. This may be found of assistance in preparing programmes and should be communicated to any officers taking over companies since the conference took place.
"2. general.—The period of reconstruction and reorganization of the Regiment will be rendered peculiarly difficult owing to the lack of equipment, training stores and manuals.
"A high degree of initiative and ability for improvisation will, therefore, be demanded of officers commanding companies.
"The Headquarter Company is particularly affected. It can, nevertheless, share very usefully in the training which is being planned.
"The retreat from Belgium proved conclusively that the training of the Headquarter Company in minor tactics, particularly with regard to defence, is not only advisable but also essential.
"This training can, of course, be supplemented for the time being by lectures on technical subjects.
"However, as it seems probable that it may be a matter of even several months before the Regiment is fully re-equipped, the fount of inspiration is likely soon to run dry.
"Officer commanding Headquarter Company will therefore immediately set about reorganizing that portion of his company which cannot be employed usefully and continually for the time being on technical training into three rifle platoons, one of which will be attached to A, B and D Companies for purposes of training, by mutual arrangement between company commanders.
"The sudden influx of some 400 partially trained militiamen is not going to make the problem of the rifle company commander any easier. The foundations of good discipline must be laid at once.
"For the benefit of junior and inexperienced company commanders, it is emphasized that there are, and will always remain, good interior economy, administration and drill. This must be our first care. A high standard is expected and must be attained. "With regard to field training, it is not easy to devise a sequence and method which can be broken off at any point owing to emergency, and yet allow the fighting machinery of the Regiment to function as a whole, even though the standard of efficiency aimed at has not yet been reached. It entails primarily the avoidance of water-tight compartments in training (such as completion of individual training before going on to collective training) so often the practice in peace time.
"Owing to interruptions, frequent enough in peace time, and even more so in war, the system must be elastic and give full play to the initiative and independent judgment of company commanders within the general framework of the policy laid down.
"It is essential that company commanders should fully understand and agree with the general policy, as only by their energy, intelligence and co-operation can the righting machine be made to function smoothly.
"3. responsibility for training.—It is emphasized that during section, platoon and company training, preparation of programmes, exercises and the direction of training is not in the hands of their commanders but in those of the man above them. Thus platoon commanders are responsible for section training, company commanders for that of the platoon, and the commanding officer fpr that of companies.
"Only by this means is it possible to achieve co-ordination and a common doctrine.
"This principle cannot be sufficiently emphasized and company commanders will be held responsible that it is carried out to the letter in so far as it concerns them.
"Naturally enough, platoon and company commanders cannot personally direct each of their sub-units at the same time. Consequently the principle is that during any given period of training each sub-unit must carry out an exercise under the direction of the commander immediately superior.
"For instance, a morning's section training will be divided into three parts; each section will carry out successively an exercise planned and directed by the platoon commander. The two sections not engaged in the exercise will carry out some form of individual training under their section leaders. The same principle applies to platoon training, except that in this case the two platoons unemployed on the platoon exercise directed by the company commander will be carrying out section training under their platoon commanders.
"Finally, in the case of company training, the four rifle companies Will carry out successively an exercise directed by the commanding officer, what time the companies waiting their turn, or having completed the exercise, carry out platoon training under their company commanders.
"4. cycle of training.—In peace time, as is well known, the cycle of training was the year. It began with individual training in the winter. The shortage of men during the leave and draft-finding period made the organization of cadres and classes far easier. The cycle ended with higher training at the end of the harvest.
"In war this is quite impossible. The training cycle must be far shorter. Indeed, it must be as short as possible. We cannot afford to ripen our junior leaders and soldiers like cigars. They must be mass-produced.
"It is therefore proposed to adopt the Week as the training cycle for the future, and to run through the whole gamut of training, from that of the individual to that of the Regiment, in the week.
"It goes Without saying that at first each stage will have to be a very elementary one. Moreover, to begin with at any rate, Regimental training will have to be left out for several reasons, but chiefly owing to the great pressure of administrative Work on Regimental headquarters and to lack of equipment in the Headquarter Company.
"Without at least supporting arms and means of communication, nothing like a real picture of Regimental training as a Whole can be obtained.
"It is, however, emphasized that in the case of invasion by air or sea, now particularly imminent, this Regiment may be called upon to go into action With what it has, i.e., only rifles and a limited amount of ammunition. For those who took part in the withdrawal through Belgium, this at least will be nothing new.
"Nevertheless, we must, in the near future, be prepared to function on these lines.
"The week having been decided on as the cycle of training, a particular subject or phase will be chosen each week for study, and notified in advance, e.g., formations in the attack, hasty defence, passage of water obstacles, wood fighting, etc. This should enable company commanders to concentrate during the week in question on the subject or phase of training chosen to the exclusion of everything else.
"The whole cycle, therefore, from individual training up to eventually the Regimental exercise will be directed to one end.
"Variety of ground and subjects will give interest, and repetition of the different subjects and phases at regular intervals will, it is hoped, give opportunity for the practice that makes perfect.
"The object of such a policy is to enable all commanders from commanding officer downwards to see the effect of their instruction as a whole at regular intervals and thus to correct defects by degrees. It should also reveal weaknesses and the points which require attention.
"The cycle, of course, is liable to interruption owing to the Regiment as a whole being engaged in some other activity or, as is more likely, companies having to be struck off for duties and later possibly for musketry, demonstrations and so forth.
"The specimen programme given below should make the general idea clear, and serve as a guide to company commanders. It embodies the subject chosen for this week's cycle.
"Subject—formations in the attack
"First Day.—Individual training. This being primarily the work of warrant officers and N.C.Os., company and platoon commanders can be made available for T.E.W.Ts., cadre classes and lectures.
"Second Day.—Section leading (individual training under section leaders for those sections not engaged in the exercise under the direction of platoon commanders). Platoon serjeants and company seconds-in-command can be made available for T.E.W.Ts., cadre classes and lectures.
"Third Day.—Platoon training (section training under platoon commanders for platoons not carrying out the exercise directed by company commanders). Deputy section leaders can be made available for T.E.W.Ts., cadre classes and lectures.
"Fourth Day.—Company training (platoon training under the direction of company commanders for those companies not engaged in company exercise). Section commanders can be made available for T.E.W.Ts., cadre classes and lectures.
"Fifth Day—Regimental training.
"Sixth Day.—Interior economy.
"5. Drill.—Except when otherwise ordered, or when its execution is made impossible by field training, and of course on Saturdays and Sundays, drill will be carried out daily for at least a period of three-quarters of an hour from 2 p.m. onwards except on days when Regimental drill parades are carried out, which will be notified in orders beforehand. Company commanders will ensure that the time allotted for drill is divided into three parts, during which section and platoon commanders and the company serjeant-major have the opportunity of carrying out drill. This is particularly necessary for junior and inexperienced officers and N.C.Os. In this connection it is important above all to improve the bearing of the men. Slow marching is the best method of doing so.
"6. Interior Economy.—Apart from the daily inspection of lines, the most important items are the meticulous and painstaking inspection of weapons, stores, personal kits, clothing, boots, hair and feet. It should be impressed on young officers and N.C.Os. that the lay-out of a kit is of relatively minor importance; the only way to inspect a kit thoroughly is for the section commander, platoon commander or Serjeant, and possibly in some cases the company commander and Company Serjeant-Major and Colour-Serjeant each to undertake the detailed inspection of a certain number of articles in the kit shown. No one person inspecting a large number of kits has sufficient time to do the job thoroughly.
"Excessive centralization is to be avoided, and section commanders must be taught that the entire responsibility for their section rests on their shoulders. It is, however, the duty of their platoon commander, by inspections from time to tune, to see that they are fulfilling their duties. If not, there must be no hesitation in replacing the delinquent with somebody better fitted to do so.
"Our responsibility as commanders towards the men is a very heavy one and it is our duty, so far as lies in our power, to see that they are as well led as possible. If we do so, it has been abundantly proved that they will never fail us.
"7. Physical Training.—The period before breakfast will normally be devoted to this purpose.
"At the discretion of company commanders it may take the form of road walks, runs, P.T. or games.
"Except when carrying out reconnaissance for field training, all officers will attend this period. Those below the age of 30 will take their place in the ranks or act as instructors according to their capacity.
"This training will not, of course, take place on Saturdays and Sundays.
"In case of inclement weather, the adjutant will give orders for its cancellation.
"8. Headquarter Company.—It is clear that the training of the Headquarter Company during the period of reconstruction and re-equipment is, as always, more difficult and complex a matter.
"In any case, certain men such as the administrative platoon are fully employed and cannot generally be made available.
"Technical training by means of lectures will be possible to a limited extent.
"The reorganization and attachment to rifle companies of three platoons of the Headquarter Company has already been referred to.
"In addition, while equipment and stores are lacking, the remainder will be organized into a company of three platoons capable of operating as such.
"It will be seen from the cycle of training the days on which the officer commanding Headquarter Company can attach his platoons to rifle companies for training. The lines of the cycle should not be lost sight of and should conform as closely as is consistent with the needs of technical training to that of rifle companies.
"Officer commanding Headquarter Company should consider a day in the cycle allotted to company training as one upon which he will, if called upon, furnish detachments of either signal, mortar or carrier platoons to operate with rifle companies. It is intended to do this frequently as soon as rifle companies have reached a sufficiently high standard of training for their company commanders to be able to handle such attached troops.
"9. Conclusion.—This training instruction should be carefully preserved in company files, as it contains the broad lines of the policy which it is hoped to develop and expand as time goes on and practice makes perfect.
"The suggestions and amendments proposed by company commanders at conferences and at any other tune will always be given full weight. They are indeed particularly valuable and will be very much welcomed.
"No doubt many things will arise to hinder the fulfilment of any such policy, and it is only with the co-operation and general approval of company commanders that such an end can be realized.
"The question of Regimental cadre classes, T.E.W.Ts. and lectures must, of necessity, remain in abeyance until such time as the new organization of the Regiment has settled down.
"Changes in command, particularly of sections, are inevitable.
"The fixing of responsibility for the preparation of programmes for these branches of training must also wait.
"(Sgd.) E. C. Richards, Lieut.-Colonel,
"Commanding 43rd Light Infantry. "Hereford.
"25th June, 1940."
On the 29th June, after a false alarm or two, the Regiment moved to Weston Birt, near Tetbury. It marched to the station in two parties and spent most of the day on the job.
The Regiment was in two camps, one near the "Hare and Hounds," in which hotel were the officers' messes of Headquarter and C Companies, and the other, Nesley, containing A, B and C Companies. The country and trees were wonderful, and the officers at any rate were prepared to stay there indefinitely.
Here we held a memorial service to those who fell in France and Belgium and succeeded in persuading our first chaplain, Bidgood, to come over. He had had a thrilling evacuation, being in an ammunition train that blew up, then getting left behind and finally leaving in a cutter with some ambulance drivers and nurses whom he had picked up. The service was a great success. Quite a number of relations came, including Mrs. Wykeham, Mr. and Mrs. Cooke and Mrs. Clutterbuck.
The enjoyment of Weston Birt was broken the following weekend by a move to Yelverton, near Plymouth. This again was on a Sunday and done at night. Here we were in billets and about as comfortable as we well could be in empty hotels, nursing homes and large houses, nearly all buildings having baths; and a wonderfully kind lot of inhabitants, who ran four canteens, put on three entertainments a week and gave baths to the men. Before we left, B Company put on a concert arranged by Towerzey and to which we invited our hosts. It was a great success and Towerzey's own acting and stentorian voice were excellent.
The Regiment was split up a bit. C and D officers messed together at Dowsland and the rest had the Moorland hotel to themselves and were very comfortable with water laid on to each bedroom.
Here a new company was formed to comprise carriers and mortars and the new tank-hunting and motor-cycle platoons. After considerable argument it was called the Light Company.
There were a good many air raids on Plymouth and consequent air-raid alarms at Yelverton. A fairly high state of tension existed at the beginning, with the Regiment permanently at two hours' notice. This was relaxed about the time that the invasion was expected at the end of July to six hours.
Four buses per company were issued, and mechanical transport and an odd assortment of hired and impressed cars and vehicles began to arrive.
The comfort of Yelverton was left on the 5th August, when the Regiment moved to Hatherleigh in sweltering weather. The move was done on foot with a halt for the night at Bridestowe, where the Regiment was given shelter and help in cooking a meal by the 8th Royal Warwicks.
The camps (of which there were two) at Hatherleigh had been constructed earlier in the war and demolished about a fortnight before we came. All the work of water laying and cookhouse construction had to be started again. The work was only begun when the Regiment moved, but proceeded with praiseworthy speed. The water available in Hatherleigh was in any case less than that needed for the Regiment, and this became apparent after about three or four weeks, when ablution benches had to give way to fetching water from the river or washing there.
In August and September we had a series of alarms when the Regiment had to pack up and be ready to move. On the first occasion troops were reported having been seen sailing from Norway, on the next large numbers of ships had been sighted making towards the Isle of Wight and Plymouth, and the bonne bouche for the third was the report of the dropping of poisoned cobwebs.
At first we were able to send troops in buses to Okehampton to attend the cinemas there, as none existed in Hatherleigh. This was stopped towards the end of August on the grounds of economy.
In August the Regiment was told that it had to look out for winter billets in the neighbourhood of Hatherleigh. The task was very great and involved Lieutenant-Colonel Richards and Lieutenant Malim in a great deal of work and some amusing experiences. At the end of September winter quarters had been arranged, with Regimental Headquarters at Buckland Filleigh, which was not ready; A and B to stay and billet in Hatherleigh as soon as Regimental Headquarters could be moved; C to an isolated house called Winsford Towers near Halwill Junction; D to Chumleigh and Light Company to Winkleigh. C and D moved on 1st October.
On the 27th August Major D. C. Colvill, D.S.O., M.C., joined and assumed command, being promoted lieutenant-colonel. Lieutenant-Colonel E. C. Richards, O.B.E., relinquished his acting rank and reverted to major and took over second-in-command.
In the middle of September the Regiment was inspected by the colonel, Sir John Hanbury-Williams, G.C.V.O., K.C.B., C.M.G.
The Regiment moved to winter quarters as they became fit for occupation, and all were installed by the 28th October and very glad they were, as Hatherleigh Camp had become very cold. During the winter most officers and many N.C.Os. and men went on courses of all kinds: senior officers', company commanders', junior leaders', vehicle maintenance, gas, physical training, bomb disposal, signalling, and cooking, to mention some.
The leave allotment was increased and when a twenty-four-hour weekly local leave was introduced, numbers available for parades were low. We had a varied assortment of entertainment and had visits from concert parties and mobile cinemas. These usually arrived late owing to the difficulty of finding the isolated places. On the whole, the troops liked their quarters.