BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM THE REGIMENTAL WAR CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY 1939-1945
Early in the year the Regiment had to put into effect the new organization of an infantry battalion.
This involved disbanding D Company and the anti-aircraft platoon. The new organization consisted in its main features of:
Three rifle companies, A, B and C, to each of which went a platoon of D Company.
Support Company of Mortar platoon. Carrier platoon, reduced to one officer (Lieutenant Taylor) and three sections of three carriers. Anti-tank platoon, increased to two officers (Captain Colvile and Lieutenant Carter) and some sixty soldiers with 6-pounderguns. Pioneer Platoon.
H.Q. Company of Signal Platoon. Administrative and M.T. platoon.
Regimental Headquarters of Orderly room staff. Intelligence section. Medical section. Police.
At the beginning of February Major E. K. Blyth, who had been second-in-command of the 43rd for over two years, was posted to be an instructor at the Intelligence Corps Depot, with the object of teaching members of the Intelligence Corps to become soldiers.
Preparations for G.H.Q. Exercise "Spartan" started in late February and arrangements were made for a small Regimental party and all tracked vehicles to leave on the 26th February for the concentration area.
On the 27th February a small advance party under command of Captain N. H. Pierce left for Fonthill Gifford camp, Tisbury.
At Fonthill Gifford about the same date a reorganization of officers took place. Captain G. D. Jephson, M.C., took over command of Support Company, with Captain J. H. Cooper as his second-in-command. Captain J. H. Grayburn resumed command of the carrier platoon.
On the 26th February the carrier and mortar platoons, with all their tracked vehicles, left by train from Malton for the "Spartan" concentration area.
On the 28th February the personal kits of the Regiment were dispatched by train to Tisbury in preparation for the arrival of the Regiment after "Spartan."
On the 1st March the main body of the Regiment moved out by road and stayed the night of the 1st/2nd March at Weston 2387.
On the 2nd March the Regiment moved on again and arrived in the afternoon at the "Spartan" concentration area. The Regiment's position was at Maidford.
On the 3rd March the Regiment was visited by Lieutenant-General J. A. H. Gammell, C.B., D.S.O., M.C., who was commanding the Sixth "German" Army, of which the 42nd Armoured Division was part. At midnight that night the Regiment moved via Banbury and Chipping Norton to Burford, arriving at Burford shortly before first light After a reconnaissance, the Regiment took up positions from which to defend Burford. Between the Regiment and the enemy were the 8th Armoured Corps Armoured Car Regiment (Inns of Court) and the divisional reconnaissance regiment (1st N. Yeomanry). On the left the Regiment made contact with the 61st Division, but unfortunately no contact was possible with the 5th Battalion and the 2nd Bucks Battalion, which were in that division.
The general opinion was that "Spartan" proved a very valuable experience from the point of view of administration, and also that it tested the machinery of command of the Regiment in a very thorough way.
The Regiment's new home at Fonthill Gifford was a good camp in pleasant surroundings.
On the 19th March orders were received to send five officers and five N.C.Os. on a draft for service with native troops overseas. This broke up what had been proved to be a very happy team of officers. The blow was slightly lessened by the belief that the demand was a general one throughout the Army and did not necessarily imply any lowering in the priority of the division or its chances of seeing active service soon.
The 43rd and 52nd decided to hold a combined parade on the 10th April to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Sir John Hanbury-Williams's colonelcy of the Regiment. On the 10th April the Regiment moved off at 0800 hrs. for Bulford. A practice parade was held first (a harrowing period for all concerned). At 1130 hrs. the parade proper began. The colonel of the Regiment took the general salute and made a stirring speech. The 43rd and 52nd then marched past in column of route. As far as could be seen by those taking part the parade was worthy of the traditions of the Regiment. General Sir Bernard Paget, C.-in-C, Home Forces, and other distinguished past and present members of the Regiment attended as spectators. The parade was followed by an orgy of photography.
After this the serious business of the day began. The 52nd set out to entertain the 43rd. All ranks of the 43rd had dinner and tea with the 52nd. During the afternoon football and hockey matches were played, the former being won 6—3 by the 43rd and the latter A—0 by the 52nd. All the officers dined together in the evening and an all ranks' dance was held until midnight. The 52nd Serjeants' mess showed considerable resemblance to the "widow's curse," as later did the Serjeants themselves. The 43rd finally succeeded in disentangling itself in the early hours of the morning and staggered home to bed.
On the 28th April the Regiment moved out to do battle with the 52nd. They called the exercise "Forest"; we called it, perhaps more appropriately, "Bunker Hill." The 52nd were defending a triangle of roads in the New Forest. The 43rd were ordered to destroy them. Contact was made on the evening of the 28th April. B Company patrolled actively all night and captured several prisoners. Papers found on an officer gave us a very good idea of the 52nd's dispositions. There was a thick mist on the morning of the 29th April which interfered with reconnaissance for the attack. The attack went in at 1045 hrs. By noon the forward companies, depleted by casualties, had gained then objectives. C Company on the left was counter-attacked and wiped out. A Company held on to the vital ground which dominated the battle area. B Company was in the process of delivering an attack on the 52nd's left when the exercise ended. Great enthusiasm was shown by all ranks throughout this exercise, which was valuable training. Major Nicol commanded the 43rd and Major Temple the 52nd—neither was put in the bag.
On the 4th May Lieutenant-General C. H. Loyd, G.O.C.-in-C, Southern Command, visited the Regiment. He inspected the guard, met the officers and then saw some of the carrier platoon go round an assault course under Captain Grayburn to the accompaniment of battle noises provided by Serjeant Caseley and his pioneers, other N.C.Os. of the carrier platoon firing Brens and Captain Grayburn throwing No. 69 grenades.(These were made of bakelite and made much noise, but were not very dangerous.)The charges laid in water had a most spectacular fountain effect.
On the 17th May a draft of seventy-five N.C.Os. and men left the Regiment for posting overseas. This was a severe blow and we all felt very bitter about it. It indicated that there were no prospects of active service for us and left the Regiment well below strength. It would not have been so infuriating if we had known that these N.C.Os. and men were going to another battalion of the Regiment, but this was extremely improbable. The whole thing appeared to be the result of inefficiency in the A Branch. It was one of the best drafts the Regiment has ever sent away and many of the men were a severe loss.
Yet another draft of three subalterns for the 5th D.C.L.I. was ordered on the 15th June. This was a very severe blow. The provision of three subalterns from the O.C.T.U. was poor compensation.
We also received an order to post fifteen soldiers to the 52nd, with a thinly veiled threat that they would have to be replaced if found unsatisfactory—which was adding insult to injury.
On the 17th June orders were received to post thirty men to the 9th Somerset L.I. It now seemed clear that the Regiment was little more than a draft-finder.
Owing to the disbandment of the 70th Battalion the Regiment was flooded with their warrant and non-commissioned officers. This had the effect of blocking promotion within the Regiment. Nine privates also came (for the most part too young for posting) and sixteen privates came from the young soldier battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment. In dribs and drabs other battalions' malefactors and diseased were being posted to the Regiment.
The cumulative effect of all these drafts and changes was that the efficiency of the Regiment was very adversely affected.
On the 27th June Captain Grayburn, tired of inactivity, left to become a parachutist.
FROM 1st JULY TO 31st DECEMBER, 1943 During July, August and September we received half a dozen drafts from the 16th I.T.C., 22nd I.T.C. (Warwicks) and 13th I.T.C. (Queen's). Many from the 16th I.T.C. were men of the Hampshire Regiment. With few exceptions they were under 19 and some were under 18. These brought us nearly up to strength, and D Company was re-formed.
On the 18th and 19th August we classified on Fovant range after more practice than we had ever had before. Every man had a chance of firing the courses twice before classification, and what with the Regimental rifle meeting we fired over 100,000 rounds in a month. It was the first time we had fired the new No. 4 rifle and there was a good deal of adverse comment. The experts admitted that it was mass-produced with the object of arming everyone with something and that quantity was put before quality. It takes a lot of knowing, but it is a good rifle for the short-range work which is expected of infantry nowadays (up to 200 yards), but its bad magazine causes numerous jams.
By this time rumours were rife. We knew that General Paget was going to remove us from the 42nd Armoured Division, which was to be broken up. As we also knew that we were going with the rest of the brigade to an infantry division there was no surprise when we heard that we were going to the 53rd (Welsh) Division and moving temporarily to Ramsden Heath camp, near Charlbury, to mobilize. We had a short exercise with live British mines before we left our woodland camp at Fonthill which was notable for a herd of cows charging the minefield at night, leaving three of their number very dead. Unfortunate as this was, it was not a bad thing for the troops to see the effect of the mine. The advance party left on the 10th September and the main body on the 13th. On the 15th September we started to mobilize, though mobilization orders had not actually arrived.
Having settled into the new camp, we got busy with medical and kit inspections, etc., and then sent off large leave parties, leaving essential men behind to get on with those aspects of mobilization which do not require the presence of men.
On the 20th October nineteen of the draft we sent from Tisbury to the 9th Somerset Light Infantry returned. This was a great victory.
On the 27th September we received orders to mobilize by the 10th October. Much of the work had already been done. Most drafts were composed of soldiers under 19 years of age, some items of equipment were not available, and there was little likelihood of action until 1944. However, everything went off smoothly.
From the 4th to the 16th October all other training activities virtually ceased whilst we held large classes to train adequate reserves within the Regiment for S and H.Q. Companies.
We found that our change of role necessitated more attention to route marches.
We knew that our first engagement on joining the 53rd Division was to train with tanks. Majors Jephson and Callingham did attachments to find out the technique involved, while all officer attended lectures and a cloth-model discussion on the llth and 12th October.
On the 17th October the 42nd Armoured Division was officially broken up. We had become pretty proficient at our role in an armoured division and now all the time and trouble taken were wasted. So, for the fourth time, the Regiment changed its formation.
On the 18th October the whole brigade moved into the 53rd Division in the area Faversham—Sittingbourne. We found the accommodation dirty and below standard, the cookhouse, ablutions and sanitary arrangements being little short of disgraceful. There were no N.A.A.F.Is. We soon found that in matters concerning sapper services and Q generally, the attitude was one of delaying action, indifference and incompetence. The first fortnight was spent in section and platoon training and in trying to improve our quarters. Training areas, ranges and general training facilities were sparse. In general we were neither impressed nor amused.
On the 3rd November, leaving the pioneer platoon behind to work on the quarters, the Regiment moved down to Stanmer camp, near Brighton, for a fortnight's training with tanks. The camp was a temporary one, sited in a belt of trees beside the main road to Lewes. The slightest rain converted it into a sea of mud. As there were no shower-baths everyone had to go into Brighton to the public baths. The cookhouses were fair. Ablutions were in the open, which made an early rouse and black-out restrictions incompatible. It was very cold at night in tents. In short, it was a cheerless spot somewhat offset by the proximity of Brighton with its numerous hotels, restaurants, bars, ice rink, cinemas and the Hippodrome. The 141st R.A.C. (The Buffs) were in another part of the same tented camp, and as we were working with them on training every day a close friendship grew up between the two regiments. In spite of the conditions in the camp and the hard training we did, the Regiment worked well and was in good heart. It was a most valuable fortnight's training. We all learnt a good deal about the Churchill tank. After preliminary investigations on the platoon/troop level we had a period of platoon/troop training followed by company/squadron training which ended with each company and squadron doing -a test exercise. Finally, we did a battalion exercise together, set by the 71st Infantry and 31st Tank Brigades, at the end of which Major-General Ross, commanding the 53rd Division (who had watched much of our training), said that it was a very long time since he had seen two companies work so well as B and C Companies had worked in their attack in the first phase of the battle.
Flushed by this tribute we returned on the 17th November to Faversham to find that the pioneers had worked wonders under Captain Finnemore, but that the sappers had done nothing and the water supply at Syndale House (Regimental headquarters and H.Q. Company) had failed.
On the 21st and 22nd November we all practised climbing up and down scrambling nets at Eastwell Park and embarking and disembarking from landing craft assault. We viewed this training with some misgivings, as the Highland Light Infantry had had several casualties just before we went to Eastwell Park. However, apart from Captain Farnell, who suffered minor injuries from a fall, and Private Humphreys, of C Company, who wrenched his ankle when he lost his grip and was luckily suspended in the net by one foot, we had no casualties.
On the 27th November Lieutenant-General Ritchie, who had just assumed command of XII Corps, paid us a visit accompanied by Major-General Ross and Brigadier Haugh. He saw a platoon of A Company carrying out an assault scheme with live ammunition in Champion Court quarries, a feature of which was the dramatic appearance of Private Cheeseman from the bottom of a slit trench in German air force uniform.
On the 2nd December the Regiment left its new billets for Exercise "Canute." This was the first full-scale divisional exercise since leaving Tisbury in September, and the first exercise in an infantry division since early in 1942. The exercise was set by XII Corps and took the form of a landing, move to assembly area followed by a night march, and, towards the end of the exercise, a night attack through a minefield, a tank-infantry attack and, finally, consolidation with digging-in. Everybody seemed to enjoy the exercise and it did us good to go on a large-scale exercise again.
On the 13th December General Paget, who was commanding the 21st Army Group at the time, paid us a visit accompanied by Lieutenant-General Ritchie and Major-General Ross, who were commanding XII Corps and the 53rd (Welsh) Division respectively. General Paget saw S Company doing individual training at Syndale House and C Company gave a demonstration of battle drill in house clearing in which Lieutenant Humphreys excelled himself. After leaving us at about 1130 hrs. he returned in the evening to have dinner at Nash Court, where his son Tony Paget was in mess. This was the last occasion on which we were to see General Paget before he left for the Middle East after handing over command of the 21st Army Group to General Montgomery. It was a bitter disappointment to us, as, apart from everything else, he kept a fatherly eye on us.
On the 15th December Brigadier Haugh left us for a brigade in the 51st (Highland) Division.
Christmas fare was of the highest order and, as usual, beer flowed in all directions. Officers had their dinners in their own company messes.
On the 26th December the annual officers versus Serjeants and privates versus corporals football matches were held on adjoining grounds in Faversham.
The old year was seen out at a dance held at the Institute in Faversham, when over £50 was raised for the Regimental prisoner-of-war fund and the Regimental Association. Second Lieutenant N. F. Burrell joined the Regiment on posting from the 166th O.C.T.U. on the 29th December.
FROM 1ST JANUARY TO 31st MAY, 1944 On the 1st January O.R.Q.M.S. Wyatt left us with documents to take his seat at G.H.Q., 2nd Echelon, which started on this day. We were therefore on the overseas system of documentation. This was a good idea, as it gave us practice in working before going abroad.
On the 10th January Brigadier V. Blomfield arrived. He wasted no time and held an administrative inspection of the Regiment on the 20th January. At the end of his inspection he presented commander-in-chief's certificates to the following: 5378855 C.Q.M.S. H. D. Harvey. 5379460 Serjeant H. Bowers. 5387718 Private J. Smith.
On the 18th January the officers gave a cocktail party at Syndale House to the local inhabitants, who had been so hospitable and to representatives of the various batteries, etc., who were earmarked to support.
Personnel selection teams inflicted their monstrous tests on the men during the period 24th to 31 st January.
On the 4th February Exercise "Mixup" took place. All reserve specialists, both officers and men, replaced regular specialists. Major Nicol commanded and Major Pierce was second-in-command. The adjutant commanded the support company. In fact, there were not many doing their usual jobs. The exercise took the form of a night attack. It went unexpectedly well.
On the 10th February instructions concerning the 1939-43 Star were issued and soon afterwards it was noticeable that the recipients did not wear overcoats on the coldest days.
From the 19th to the 21st March the Regiment, with an antiaircraft troop, a platoon of medium machine guns and an antitank troop, carried out a defence exercise which ended with the position being photographed from the air and then strafed by the most reckless R.A.F. fighters. The exercise showed that the principles of defence and concealment were well understood.
On the 22nd March instructions were issued about the wearing of service chevrons (One red per year of service in any Service, including civil defence, worn inverted on right forearm.) and wound stripes, (One thin gold stripe for each wound worn on left forearm.) These advertisements were no more popular in the Regiment than they had been in the First German War.
On the 25th March Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Hare assumed command.
On the 9th April Lieutenants J. K. Mulcair and W. G. Hartman, the first of the Canadian officers lent to the British Army, joined.
On the 10th April caps, general service, were taken into wear. It was decided not to have a green backing behind the badge, as it would be impracticable to keep it up in war. The new cap was the subject of much mirth for a day or two, but it was a great improvement on the fore-and-aft. At last the worry of trying to get the troops to wear their caps straight seemed to have come to an end. But, no: it was incredible what was achieved with the new hat.
On the 15th April we set off for Exercise "Henry." This exercise dealt with the break-out from a bridgehead, much river crossing and field firing. Representation of enemy artillery was most realistically done by the reconnaissance regiment. The gunners shelled the main Lewes—Brighton road, happily without causing casualties.
On the 27th April C.S.M. Roby, D.C.M., left us to become R.S.M. of the 1st Bucks.
On the 5th May we practised packing up and loading of all vehicles.
On the 12th May the following Canadian officers joined on loan to the Regiment: Captain L. Lamavre and Lieutenants A. R. Burdon, J. O. Gagne and P. E. Le Boute. All except Burdon came from Le Regiment de Joliette.
On the 13th May the snipers' section was formed under Serjeant Clargo.
On the 2nd June the following appropriate poem appeared in Regimental orders:
SALUTE THE SOLDIER (A belated tribute to the soldier. After "Warship" and "Wings for Victory" weeks to stimulate savings for the Navy and Air Force, a week was allotted in June to the soldiers.)
Hail, soldier, huddled in the rain, Hail, soldier, squelching through the mud, Hail, soldier, sick of dirt and pain, The sight of death, the smell of blood. New men, new weapons, bear the brunt, New slogans gild the ancient game, The infantry are still in front, And mud and dust are much the same. Hail, humble footman, poised to fly, Across the West, or any Wall; PROUD, PLODDING, PEERLESS P.B.I. THE FOULEST, FINEST JOB OF ALL.
On the 3rd June D Company provided a guard of honour for Generals Haining and Neame at the opening ceremony of the Faversham Salute the Soldier week. They were very smart.
Throughout these past few months preparations had been going ahead steadily. When D Day—the 6th June—dawned there was little more to be done and all were ready and eager for the fray.