BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM THE REGIMENTAL WAR CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY 1939-1945
FROM 1st JANUARY TO 30th JUNE, 1941 The rationing of the men was changed several times during the first three months of 1941, cuts in the supplies of meat, bread, tea and sugar being the main items. In addition, the supply of food for tea meal was discontinued and 2d. a man provided for the purchase of this. A considerable amount was done to bring up the standard of cooking to meet the shortage of food.
Periodic brigade, divisional and corps exercises were held during the winter, the divisional and corps exercises lasting usually two nights and part or most of three days. The most memorable of these were a December visit to Bodmin Moor, two February visits to Exmoor, in which the Regiment took part in snow in an exercise designed to represent the Libyan campaign, and two March exercises with special service troops who fought as guerrilla gangs south-west of Dartmoor.
No. 10 Platoon, of B Company, won the platoon Bren gun and rifle competition and represented the Regiment in the brigade and divisional competitions.
Second Lieutenant Stapleton's platoon of A Company went to act as demonstration platoon at the junior leaders' school at Minehead from January to March and came back to give a demonstration to the officers and N.C.Os. of the Regiment in the latest "pepperpot" irregular method* of crossing open country under small-arms fire. (*In this system men were trained to dodge and jink as they advanced at the double and by so doing create a very difficult target for the enemy.—ed.)
At the beginning of March the Regiment had a visit from the commander-in-chief, General Sir Alan Brooke, with the commander, Southern Command, Lieutenant-General The Hon. H. R. L. G. Alexander, the VIII Corps commander, Lieutenant-General Franklyn, the 48th Divisional commander, Major- General R. L. Petre, and the 143rd Brigade commander, Brigadier Muirhead. This formidable body of men watched a platoon of C Company boating on the lake at Buckland Filleigh in folding boats and another platoon "pepperpotting" across the park.
The light company ceased in December and the tank-hunting platoon was disbanded. The motor-cycle platoon joined the carriers, and these and the mortars rejoined H.Q. Company, which Captain R. F. E. Hill took over. These two platoons moved to Hatherleigh in January, 1941, being replaced at Winkleigh by A Company.
The Regiment remained in its scattered detachments without any major event from March to June. It had a visit from the Infantry Training Centre band in May and at the end of that month went to Bulford for a week's firing on the ranges. This course consisted of four rifle practices, on the scoring of which depended the war-tune proficiency pay of all men except a limited number of specialists. The Bren gun was also fired at this time.
Throughout May and June the towns and villages around held War Weapons Weeks ('Designed to raise money by voluntary subscription in National Savings Certificates.) and the Regiment provided parties to attend ceremonies and take part in marches, and also provided the band at several dances.
Local work included many contacts with the Home Guard. The Regiment provided instructors and companies arranged exercises with them. The Home Guard also played an increasing part in higher training.
Training during this period involved an increasing number of divisional and corps schemes. Most of these included practising the division's invasion role, and the Regiment got to know the country of South Devon well, and to link it with varying activities. The defence of Totnes bridge by the quartermaster and Regimental cooks was one of these.
Exercises usually involved two nights out and plenty of marching, and the standard of the Regiment in alertness and endurance greatly improved.
FROM 1st JULY TO 31st DECEMBER, 1941 On the 1st July the Regiment left the Hatherleigh area after its stay of close on eleven months and moved to the Plymouth area to relieve the 1st/7th Royal Warwickshire Regiment, who had done a tour of duty in replacement of the 10th East Surrey Regiment as part of a scheme to allow battalions occupying beach defences to train with the field army.
The Regiment was split into three detachments: Regimental headquarters at Plympton, H.Q. and two rifle companies at Chaddlewood House, a derelict mansion at Plympton, R Company (Reinforcement Company) and the remaining two rifle companies in the excellent modern Seaton Barracks at Crown Hill, Plymouth.
The Regimental transport and part of the carrier platoon went to a camp at Hinton St. George which had been sited by Lieutenant-Colonel Colvill for the Regiment but which was pitched and occupied temporarily by the 6th D.C.L.I., to whom our transport and carrier detachments were attached. The Regiment used the very limited transport of the 10th East Surrey Regiment.
At training, the Chaddlewood companies carried out section treks on Dartmoor, involving each section bivouacking and cooking, and finding and attacking another section. Half-way through the month rifle companies were changed over, so that all sections were able to carry out these treks. The companies at Seaton Barracks found working parties and a guard at Long Bridge, and carried out rifle shooting on the Tregantle ranges.
The operational role of the Regiment involved the holding of the eastern defences of Plymouth and an additional role of counter-attack against the Yelverton aerodrome.
The Regiment took over a machine-gun platoon of the East Surrey Regiment and this was attached to R Company. Captain Lowndes-Stone-Norton joined the Regiment and was posted to command this company.
As the Regiment was nearly concentrated and had the excellent accommodation in Seaton Barracks, it was decided to hold a celebration parade to mark the bicentenary of the formation of the Regiment.
The 26th July was chosen for the date, and a programme comprised:
An inspection by the colonel of the Regiment, followed by a march past.
A church service conducted by the Reverend W. H. Cox and the Reverend George Bidgood, present and past chaplains to the Regiment.
A luncheon to guests.
A cricket match versus the 52nd Light Infantry.
An all ranks' dance.
A week before the day of the celebration we had the good fortune to be joined at Seaton Barracks by the 70th Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel J. J. Powell.
The programme did not work out quite as planned. First, Sir John Hanbury-Williams was at the last moment prevented by illness from attending, and, secondly, the 52nd were prevented by operational liabilities from sending a team.
The Regiment formed up in mass, the parade ground being lined by representatives of all companies of the 70th Battalion. Lieutenant-General Paget, who had promised to fly over, was prevented at the last minute from taking Sir John Hanbury-Williams's place. We received a telegram to say that the weather had prevented his aeroplane from taking off in time, and Brigadier-General A. J. F. Eden, C.M.G., D.S.O., was good enough to carry out the inspection and addressed the Regiment and took the salute at the march past.
After the march past the representatives of the 70th Battalion lining the square closed and marched past. The visitors and the Seaton Barracks companies then attended the service at the garrison church. The garrison chaplain and the chaplain to the 70th Battalion helped. While the service was going on the Chaddlewood companies were transported back to Plympton by R.A.S.C. troop carriers.
All officers, both visitors and those serving, had luncheon in the Seaton Barracks officers' mess, which had been put at the disposal of the Regiment by the camp commandant, and Serjeant Darlow served a sit-down meal to between eighty and ninety officers. Other-rank visitors were entertained in the serjeants' and company messes at Seaton Barracks. A Company looked after the 1st Bucks' visitors, D Company the 4th Battalion, and R Company the 5th Battalion and the 2nd Bucks Battalion.
After the midday meal there was a cricket match on the Bowden Park ground against the 4th Battalion which the 4th Battalion won after a close game.
In the evening an all ranks' dance was held in the Seaton Barracks companies' dining-hall.
It may be of interest to state the stations from which representatives of other battalions of the Regiment came. The 4th Battalion party came from Bishopsteignton, near Teignmouth, the 1st Bucks from Denbury Camp, near Newton Abbot, the 5th Battalion from Castlerock, Coleraine, Northern Ireland, the representative of the 2nd Bucks Battalion was on leave, but the battalion was stationed at Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. Major Meade came from the 6th Battalion, stationed in the Isle of Wight, and Major Neville and Lieutenant Burness from the I.T.C., Cowley.
On the 1st August the Regiment moved into camp at Hinton St. George and a fortnight later to Tiverton, where it found good billets.
Specialist classes which had been started at Plympton and Hinton St. George were continued, comprising mortars, carriers, anti-aircraft, bombing, signalling and bugling; and Regimental exercises continued, including the firing of the 3-inch mortar.
TIVERTON, DEVON The first half of September was filled with higher training. In quick succession the Regiment did three exercises.
The first was a two-day exercise as enemy to the 3rd Division hi the Shepton Mallet area, involving a withdrawal, and chiefly memorable for the heat of the march. Then, two days later, followed the second exercise of four days, called "Arthur." This started with a "stand by" lasting twenty-four hours, continued by a night and morning spent quietly near Launceston. Then came a wild rush to the Bodmin area, the planning and cancellation of a barrage attack and its replacement by a night advance over the River Camel, in which the adjutant went up to his neck and the Colonel to his waist in water.
The second exercise finished by a return home in the small hours of Friday morning, and the third exercise started at midnight on Saturday and lasted until the following midday. In this case the Regiment attacked Yeovil aerodrome as German parachutists.
The intensive period of higher command exercises finished at the end of the month with the biggest exercise yet held in England, called "Bumper." It involved a quarter of a million troops and 9,000 tons of petrol. It took place between, on the one side, the II and XI Corps, consisting of the 1st Infantry Division, the 43rd, 46th and 54th Motorized Divisions and the 6th and 9th Armoured Divisions, under Lieutenant-General Carr, representing a German army landed in East Anglia; and, on the other side, the V and Canadian Corps, consisting of the 3rd, 4th and 48th Infantry Divisions, the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions, the 8th Armoured Division, the 21st and 25th Army Tank Brigades and the 24th Guards Brigade, under Lieutenant-General Alexander, representing the British Army.
The Regiment's first move was made on Saturday, the 27th September, when it moved through the night to a concentration area just south of Newbury, Berkshire. The move was done in troop-carrying lorries and all transport was divided into blocks of six or seven vehicles under the command of an officer, these blocks closing in at night without shortening the whole column.
The experiment on the whole was a success.
The next day was spent in woods and farms in the concentration area and at night the Regiment moved on through Wantage and Oxford and found itself climbing Headington Hill at about 0730 hrs. From there it went to Fenny Stratford. It was now the left of the 48th Division, which itself was the left of the British force, save for the 8th Armoured Division, concentrated near Bicester.
The Regiment reached Fenny Stratford at about midday on Monday, the 29th September, and took up "anti-panzer" positions to the south-east of the town. It was very soon in touch with the enemy and spent two nights and the intervening day in this way with some useful tank-hunting, in which it was very successful.
On the 1st October the enemy attacked the British left with the 6th Armoured Division and the 54th Division. The Regiment and the 48th Division suffered heavy casualties, but broke the attack of the armoured division.
At the end of the day only Regimental headquarters and H.Q. Company, with twenty men of A Company and a similar number of D Company, were left hi the field and a composite company was formed. B Echelon managed to escape the tanks and did some good tank-hunting.
On Thursday, the 2nd October, the 2nd Canadian Division was pushed through and the Regiment found itself in Corps reserve. It concentrated at Woburn Sands that afternoon, and the following morning the "standfast" sounded.
After rapidly succeeding contradictory orders, the Regiment moved off at 1600 hrs. and harboured for the night south of Malmesbury and reached billets in Tiverton at 1600 hrs. on Saturday almost exactly a week after starting.
All ranks had enjoyed the exercise, which was excellently run and provided the Regiment's first experience of being attacked by tanks.
October was a month devoted principally to individual training. An officers' cadre course under Major Blyth and an N.C.Os.' class under Second Lieutenant Holden were run. Range allotments were made. Buglers and learner buglers were collected under Corporal Bailey and practised both in calls and marches. As a result of the class run by him, a number of acting buglers were made and buglers were used in rotation to march companies to church.
Side by side with this training, daily working parties were supplied to give help to farmers, particularly potato lifting and threshing, in the same way as parties had helped in flax pulling in August and September.
As regards the training, the time was badly needed to rub up individual training and minor tactics, which seem always to fall off during higher training; as well as to digest the many lessons of the higher training itself.
A sports committee was formed and a good start made with football, both association and rugby, hockey, cross-country running and boxing.
The novelty of living in a town with two cinemas ruled out the need for much outside entertainment. Dances were kept up twice weekly. The band worked well and we added a double string bass to the instruments.
At the end of October the 48th Division was ordered to Lincolnshire, the advanced party to leave on the 4th November and the main body on the 11th November. The area allotted to the Regiment was Coningsby, about twelve miles south-east of Lincoln.
On the 3rd November, however, the move of the Regiment was cancelled, as it was to leave the 48th Division and replace the 2nd South Wales Borderers in an independent brigade group then in Northern Ireland. This news gave rise to much interested speculation on what special role the Regiment was to fulfil.
On the 5th November the Regiment removed its 48th Divisional signs from the shoulders and on the 6th the divisional commander called to say good-bye. On the 8th Brigadier Muirhead visited all companies and spoke to the men, and in the evening dined with the officers. 143rd Infantry Brigade headquarters left the Tiverton area for Lincolnshire on the 8th November.
While awaiting its movement orders the Regiment continued individual training, and expended its practice ammunition and grenades. Route marches were held, starting with a platoon competition, marks being awarded for march discipline.
On the 13th November we lost our transport, which was taken by Lieutenant Florey to Fort Widley, outside Portsmouth (a fort occupied by a detachment of the 3rd Battalion in the last war), where it was handed over to the 10th Somerset Light Infantry, and our drivers brought that battalion's twenty-two vehicles back. These were mostly 8-cwt. utility vans and bore the Hampshire divisional sign of a hog and the number 63.
On the 19th November the Regiment learned of the appointment of General B. C. T. Paget, C.B., D.S.O., M.C., to be G.O.C.-in-C, Home Forces, and the following telegram of congratulation was sent and published in Regimental orders:
"Congratulations and best wishes upon your appointment as Commander-in-Chief.—all ranks, 43RD."
To this a reply was received by telegram dated the 20th November:
"Officer Commanding 43RD light infantry, Tiverton,— Many thanks to you and to all ranks of the Regiment to which I have the honour to belong.—Paget."
On the 26th November the Regiment handed over its carriers to the 7th Bn. Royal Sussex Regiment.
The move to Ireland now began. The advanced party left on the 30th November. A road party of the 2nd South Wales Borderers arrived on the 3rd December and handed over their vehicles. These were subsequently loaded with the Regiment's heavy baggage and taken to Ireland as a road party by Second Lieutenant Grayburn, accompanied by eight dogs.
The main body of the Regiment moved on the 7th December in two trains to Stranraer. The start was made between 0900 and 1000 hrs. and a good run took them through Hereford, Crewe and Carlisle. Tea halts were made at Shrewsbury and Carlisle. The Regiment arrived at Stranraer between 0300 and 0400 hrs. on Monday, the 8th December, and embarked on the Royal Daffodil. It was while on board that they heard by wireless of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour.
The Regiment was met at Larne by its new brigadier, Brigadier Hibbert, and Major Cleghorn, his G.2, who came out to greet the boat in a pinnace in Larne harbour. After a short train journey, the whole of the main body was in camp at Loughan-more, Dunadry, Co. Antrim, by 1500 hrs. on the 8th December.
Loughanmore Camp was constructed of Nissen huts along the drives of Loughanmore House, occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Mackean. The camp was muddy and suffered from rats, but was well laid out. It had a poor N.A.A.F.I. building and no entertainment hut, but improvement to both was promised. Electric light, the laying on of which was half-complete, was also promised.
The new brigade consisted of the 1st/5th Bn. The Leicestershire Regiment, the Regiment, the 8th Bn. The Sherwood Foresters, the 150th Field Regiment, R.A., 286th Anti-Tank Regiment, R.A., 507th Field Company, R.E., and ancillary services. By Christmas the Regiment was quite at home and held the usual festivities.