FORTY-THIRD LIGHT INFANTRY JANUARY - DECEMBER 1942
BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM THE REGIMENTAL WAR CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY 1939-1945
On the 5th January, 1942, the Regiment lost Padre W. H. Cox. He had elected to come to Ireland rather than stay with the 48th Division, on whose strength he was; and it was a big blow to hear that the establishment of the new brigade did not allow him to remain. The blow to Cox was lessened by the news that he was to go to the 2nd Bucks Battalion and so join Lieutenant-Colonel Richards.
Camp improvements began to be recognizable in the first week of January. About seventy tons of rubble and road metal were obtained and proper standings made for transport vehicles.
On the 10th January the Regiment was suddenly told that it was to move to the Cookstown area as part of a move of the brigade group to the west of Lough Neagh. The Regiment's location was subsequently given as Dungannon.
A reconnaissance was made of the new area occupied by the 2nd Inmskilling Fusiliers.
The Regiment began to look forward to the move, when, on the 17th, it was postponed and an intimation given that it might be cancelled.
This alteration of plan was followed by an order for reconnaissance of the defences of Londonderry and Magilligan beaches and intermediate aerodromes, and this became the Regiment's operational role.
During February the Regiment remained at Loughanmore Camp, with its advanced party at Dungannon turned into a maintenance party and living a comfortable and secluded life in that town. Winter leave of a fortnight was given to all ranks, to be completed between December and March.
This was much appreciated, although it interfered with training a good deal.
Company exercises were held during February and some range shooting was obtained at Magilligan, where a company at a time went for half a week. The camp at these ranges was occupied, immediately before these visits started, by the 5th Battalion of the Regiment.
A number of orders were received for officers to be sent to the Indian Army, some to infantry, some to Indian Army Service Corps, always at short notice. In this way, in February and March, the Regiment lost Captain Cottrell and Second Lieutenants Overton, Exley, Cruse, Dallas and Hewlett. These departures were a very serious blow to the Regiment and, as there were no replacements, for the time being the shortage of officers was acute and March exercises took place with only two officers with rifle companies.
At the beginning of March a brigade group three-day exercise took place, involving the crossing of the River Bann, which is a fairly fast river flowing from Lough Neagh to the sea and about a hundred yards wide at the crossing points. The first crossing was made at night in assault boats. This was followed by the Royal Engineers constructing a vehicle ferry and subsequently a twenty-four-ton pontoon bridge. The crossing went well despite the fact that there was an eclipse of the moon which had been overlooked. The ferrying and bridge building were held up by a strong east wind and resulted in the end of the exercise being spoiled by hanging about in this wind and pouring rain.
During the best of the good weather in March the Regiment made a hill-climbing expedition to the mountains north of Larne. All rifle companies took part and moved out and returned by train. Each had a cliff face to climb and all greatly enjoyed it. Dinners were cooked in mess-tins on the top and companies returned by the coast road to Larne.
At the end of the month the brigade group carried out a field firing exercise in the Sperrin Mountains, in which all arms took part. The Regiment concentrated at Castle Dawson in part of the camp of the 4th Royal Berks, and marched the next morning about thirteen miles to the mountains, arriving as dawn broke. The day started fine but deteriorated later, with a biting wind and periods of rain and snow. The exercise involved an attack by the Regiment on Crockalagh Hill after passing through the 8th Foresters, with the support of a battery of the field regiment and our own 3-inch mortars, as well as of the brigade group machine-gun company, a platoon of which gave overhead fire. This was followed by the exploitation of the ridge lying beyond the hill, which provided hard going through almost continuous peat bog. The attack went in successfully and the Regiment was congratulated by the brigadier. It was watched by a full assortment of generals, staff, officers and Press representatives. The exercise ended at about 1600 hrs., but it was 2115 hrs. before the Regiment moved off in buses, and 0200 hrs. the next morning before it reached home at Loughanmore.
At the beginning of April another popular form of training was started in the dispatch of a platoon for a three-day expedition in assault boats down the River Bann. A platoon of A Company was chosen, with orders to consider itself in an uninhabited hostile country. It was given its rations and areas for spending the nights. It was only to use buildings if the weather was exceptionally bad.
On the 11th April secret information came of the Regiment's impending move. This put an end to any further boating expeditions.
A two-day exercise was, however, held on the 16th and 17th April, in which the Regiment acted as enemy to the 4th Royal Berks. The Regiment took up a series of defended localities west of the River Main above Randalstown, after a retirement from Toome Bridge, and here it was attacked at first light from across the river.
On the 19th April secret orders were issued for the move of the Regiment. The advanced party left for an unknown destination on the 20th April, and the Regiment followed on the 25th. The destination turned out to be Crewe Hall, Cheshire, where the Regiment moved into the best station it had had during this war.
The officers and mess, the Serjeants' mess and one half of H.Q. Company occupied the Hall, which was a vast and intricate building belonging, with the surrounding park, to the Duchy of Lancaster. The carrier platoon occupied the ballroom, thirty-three yards long. The remainder of H.Q. Company and the four rifle companies occupied huts grouped about the park, each in a separate area. There were excellent hot showers and washing basins and a central cookhouse and dining-hall, with electric mincing and potato-peeling machines and equipment for "family system" of feeding. To cap the satisfaction of the Regiment at finding itself here, all ranks were given forty-eight hours' special leave.
Training during the first weeks included twenty-four-hour treks by companies in the Welsh mountains, reached by train to Oswestry, and swimming instruction in the Crewe municipal baths. The combined arms training planned to take place in Ireland was reintroduced but postponed.
During the latter half of May there were attached to the Regiment the 434th Battery, 150th Field Regiment; A Troop, 286th (Independent) Anti-Tank Battery; a section of the 507th Field Company, R.E.; and No. 6 Platoon, 148th Independent Brigade Group Machine Gun Company; and a valuable period of training followed.
Two exercises were held in the area of the Weaver Hills to the west of Leek, the first against the 1st/5th Leicesters, the second against the 8th Foresters. Instruction was also given by gunners and machine gunners to our troops in the rudiments of how to fire these weapons. The sappers produced assault and reconnaissance boats and the lake was used for practice in them. The pioneer platoon was instructed by the sappers in explosives.
The Regiment made good use of some first-class swimming baths in Crewe for instruction in swimming. Plans were made for aquatic sports, but these were cancelled by an order to move, received on the 28th May.
The advanced party, consisting of Lieutenant-Colonel Colvill, Major Callingham and Captains Lowndes-Stone-Norton, Barton and Farnell and Lieutenant Patterson, left for Kent on the 1st June, the main body leaving on the 5th June.
The main body travelled by train on a scorching day. The route took them through Oxford, but with no chance to stop, and was completed at Minster at about 1900 hrs. The road party made the journey by two stages and arrived the next day. The carrier and mortar platoons with their carriers followed by train on the 7th July.
The Regiment was split up into detachments consisting of Regimental headquarters and H.Q. and D Companies at St. Nicholas-at-Wade; A Company at Reculver, an isolated hamlet on the sea coast; and B and C Companies luxuriated in modern hotels at Birchington-on-Sea.
The Regiment had operational roles to deal with invasion and enemy raids, and took these over from the 2nd /4th Hants.
Training during June was confined to a company basis owing to the highly cultivated state of the land. An N.C.Os.' cadre was started in Bkchington and companies also took turns to use a battle-drill course which was laid out in the fens between St. Nicholas-at-Wade and Reculver.
The troops thoroughly enjoyed their month, which was excellent for weather. There was bathing every evening, and many took to fishing in the fen dykes.
A cross-country race was held in the fens on the 25th June, in which some fifteen of the dykes had to be negotiated in the course of about five miles, by men dressed in P.T. kit and boots, carrying rifles. Dykes varied in width up to twenty feet and in depth up to five feet. The race was won by the carrier platoon, with No. 18 Platoon of D Company second.
At Reculver there was a fine ruin of a church maintained by the Office of Works, and in this were held weekly services conducted by the Padre, with the band. There was no canteen arrangement at Reculver and A Company opened a daily supper service of the type provided by N. A. A.F.I, canteens, at a charge varying from 3d. to 4d., with considerable success.
Further demands for officers for the East robbed the Regiment of Second Lieutenants Worthington and Dudman. Two officers—Second Lieutenants Maitland and Dugmore—joined, but the latter left almost immediately for the 7th Battalion. The advanced party had some bombing on its arrival, when an attack was made on Canterbury. The first night of the Regiment's arrival was also noisy, but apart from this and the sudden arrival one day of enemy shells in Ramsgate all was quiet.
At the end of June the Regiment changed its formation number from 68 on a brown ground to 111 on a red ground.
On the 30th July the Regiment left St. Nicholas-at-Wade for Yorkshire, where it joined the 71st Infantry Brigade in the 42nd Armoured Division. The order of battle was:
42ND Armoured Division Headquarters (Major-General M. C. Dempsey, D.S.O., M.C.).
30th Armoured Brigade 22nd Dragoons. 1st Lothians and Border Horse. Westminster Dragoons. 12th King's Royal Rifle Corps.
Royal Artillery 86th Field Regiment (341st, 342nd and 462nd Batteries). 147th Field Regiment (Essex Yeomanry). 53rd Anti-Tank Regiment (Worcestershire Yeomanry) (210th, 211th and 212th Batteries). 91st Anti-Tank Regiment 93rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment.
Armoured Car Regiment 112th R.A.C. (Sherwood Foresters).
Royal Air Force No. 169 Army Co-operation Squadron.
Royal Engineers 16th Field Squadron. 17th Field Squadron. 149th Field Park Squadron.
Royal Army Medical Corps 147th Field Ambulance.
On the 21st August, 1942, the Regiment took part in its first divisional exercise as a member of the 42nd Armoured Division.
The chief operational difference in the Regiment's role in the armoured division was the increased use of troop-carrying vehicles and wireless sets. Each company had No. 11 sets and smaller No. 39 sets were issued for use forward to platoons. Beginnings were also made with the formation of an anti-tank platoon.
On the 21st November all rifles except the P.14 were exchanged for new No. 4 rifles with short bayonets. The change was welcomed, but it involved much work in zeroing and getting to know the new weapon.
Brigade exercises during November consisted of repetitions of the forward exercises we had started on the 7th and 8th September with variations. The 3-inch mortars were brigaded and an impressive concentration of fire produced.
During the month a brigade field firing range at Acklam Dale was opened. This was an excellent valley, with grassland, hedges, trees, scrub and steep-sided hills, in the wolds behind Bkdsall and was used for platoon and company exercises of all sorts.
On the 11th December, 1942, Lieutenant-Colonel D. C. Colvill, D.S.O., M.C., relinquished command of the Regiment on posting as umpire, grade 1, to the 47th Division, and command was assumed by Lieutenant-Colonel D. Meynell, Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.